Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

Month: May 2010 (Page 1 of 3)

Gardening for health, joy, & awareness

My garden has become a medium for improving my health, increasing positivity and happiness, and learning lessons in self-awareness. Gardening helps me to evolve on all levels—physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. You can profit in similar ways from many different types of physical activity, however holding them with mindfulness and awareness adds much more to the mix.

Physical gains

In the garden, I am in motion—walking, bending, twisting, digging, shoveling, raking, all very carefully and in moderation. Fresh air is coursing through my system, heart throbbing, blood percolating along bringing oxygen and nutrients to tissues, reaching into congested areas, sweat pouring gently releasing toxins. A body needs all this!

Gardening is an especially judicious choice of exercise as it involves all three types of physical endeavor: flexibility, strength, and endurance. According to the Mayo Clinic, regular physical activity reduces the risk of a range of chronic conditions including:

  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • harmful cholesterol levels,
  • Type 2 diabetes,
  • osteoporosis
  • some types of cancer.

Physicality promotes better sleep and boosts your energy level. Sensible sun exposure increases Vitamin D levels, critical to immune function. Gardening itself can be an important element in any weight loss program as it burns 300-600 calories per hour. I love digging in the dirt with my bare hands. This stimulates the acupuncture points and draws in subtle earth energy, a needed balance in our mentally over-focused culture. Just being surrounded by nature and in contact with the earth—even with gloves—can help balance the earth element in your body.

Gardening perks up my mindfulness and awareness. In order to avoid injuring myself, which is a serious consideration given the status of my muscles, I need to listen to my body, tune into its physical capacity, be aware of its limits, and find ways to work wisely. This includes changing positions every so often, alternating the side of the body I am using to avoid repetitive muscle strain, alternating the types of garden work in any one session so I am not constantly using the same muscle groups, and lifting properly or asking for help.  I recently made the mistake of focusing on one task far too long and ended up with exquisitely sore muscles for two full days. Gardening can be almost like a dance—keeping the body flowing and in motion rather than stuck in one position.

The bounty from my efforts is loaded with vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, and other beneficial compounds, and is grown without the use of pesticides or other chemicals.  Organically grown produce contains triple or quadruple the amount of nutrients. By eating according to the seasons and my geographical location, I am adapting to nature instead of trying to bend it to my will and preferences.

Stress reducer and happiness instigator

It’s well know that any type of regular physical activity is a stress reducer. The extra oxygen going to your brain releases chemicals, which help to bring about an overall feeling of relaxation, happiness, and sense of well being. Gardening in particular places you in a beautiful, nourishing atmosphere teeming with life, colors, and textures. All your worries and distractions can melt away, as you focus upon the physical activities at hand. There’s also the wonderful sense of pure joy and accomplishment that comes as you watch your seeds burst forth from the ground and gradually gain full maturity.

A mirror of self awareness

Any activity can reveal your unhelpful habitual patterns when you take a moment to look. A tendency to push my limits, over-concentrate, and work without taking breaks all manifest in the garden. It is these lifelong counterproductive habits, ones that contribute to ill health, that I am seeking to eradicate. The garden is both a mirror reflecting these tired patterns and an opportunity to reject them and function in an entirely new way.

A spiritual boon

Gardening is a terrific form of mindfulness practice. I breathe out, relax, leave my senses wide open, and simply stay present and aware with the task at hand, while leaving my mind resting spaciously as well.  When thoughts and emotions arise, as best I can, I let them pass by like clouds in the sky instead of chasing after them.

Gardening also imparts many profound spiritual lessons. For example, I am always amazed by the magnificent job the worms accomplish in my compost pile.  All those solid forms magically disappear. Observing the process is like watching life, death, and transformation as it occurs.  I can’t help but realize that one day the elements of this body too will dissolve. It’s a tremendous reminder of impermanence and the preciousness of this human life. The truth of impermanence is an impetus to set my priorities intelligently, live this life well, and love others without limits.

Any physical activity can be either an extension of our personal neurotic style or a wellspring of learning.  The choice is up to you.

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Yesterday, my husband and I were talking about our obsessions.  Sometimes, it seems to be the very nature of life to be discontent.  In fact, this is precisely what the Buddha expressed in the First Noble Truth.  This “truth” is often translated as “the truth of suffering” but other translators use the word “discontent.”  Something is always just not quite right, and we are always seeking for something else.

This disconent can manifest in mega ways with our aversion to illness when it strikes, to losing our job, or having our partner move in a new direction and then it truly is full blown suffering.  Discontent can also manifest in very minor ways — not liking a particular color, the way the flowers are arranged, or the taste of a food.  It can be a constant state of never feeling quite satisfied.  We’re unable to allow ourselves to simply just be with whatever is without attachment and clinging, in other words wanting it to remain as it is, or without aversion, wanting it to be different.

This is the essence of how unhappiness and suffering manifest in our life.  The Buddha didn’t make this up — he simply observed his own mind and the minds of others to see how they typically work.  We can find lasting happiness and a sense of inner peace, but it is beyond preferences for this or that.  It’s a sense of spacious and humor that can emerge, when we recognize just how transitory all the phenomena of life really is and thus am able to let go and take life more lightly.

One ridiculous way this sense of discontent manifests in my life is never being satisfied with my blog theme, which is a tiny example of how perfectionism has been a predominant theme in my life.  The truth is that no one and no thing is ever perfect.  Even if it is for a moment, it changes again, or you see something you think is better, and have to have that. I want to leave perfectionism by the wayside.

In terms of my blog,  I know I am not a designer.  I want to focus on content not design.  For the moment, I’ve returned to Inuit Types theme, which presents content in a simple way.  I will probably mess around with it to some extent, since old habits die hard, and I will probably try new themes and maybe even old themes.  Maybe I will even go back to Bueno.  Who knows!  I’m changeable and that’s OK.  I’ll just try to soften up any sense of obsession, perfectionism, or discontent, stop treating life like a rock climbing event, and just be happy and content.

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What’s healthy for YOU?

“What is food to one person, may be bitter poison to others.” – Lucretius

Do you sometimes feel that there’s too much information available these days on how to stay healthy or get better if you are ill?  It can be so overwhelming and confusing that it’s enough to make your head explode several times over.  How do you decide between one “healthy” option and another?  Are they all really healthy for YOU?

I’m the queen of health strategies, having tried just about everything under the sun.  Eventually, I discovered that some very, very “good” things, are very, very bad for me.  Still, inculcated with so many strong concepts about what is “good,” it took me a very long time to stop harming myself with a number of “healthy” foods.  I just couldn’t quite believe that eating vegetables could be bad for me.  Finally, it became painfully obvious.

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Organic, treated, or untreated seeds?

Is it better to use organic seeds for gardening?

As a novice organic gardener in beautiful tropical Zone 11, this question has been on my mind.  I was surprised to learn the local farm that produces the “organic” fruits and vegetables that I buy each week does not use organic seeds.  They use organic methods, but not the seeds.  This farm’s produce is not USDA Certified Organic, which is often the case with smaller farms that cannot afford the certification process.  Nevertheless, I wish they would use organic seeds because it’s healthier for the environment and thus for you too.

During my own recent online effort to buy organic baby bok choy (pak choi) seeds,  I learned that a seed is not simply a seed.

There are three types of seeds available:  organic, conventional, and treated.

  1. Organic seeds are untreated and must be grown in compliance with the guidelines set forth by the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic certification program, which requires all organic foods bearing its label to meet strict standards for growing, handling, and processing.  Look for seeds that say “certified organic” or “100% certified organic” and bear the USDA organic label to the right.  There is one caveat:  untreated seed may be allowed in Certified Organic production if there is not a comparable variety available in Certified Organic seed.
  2. Conventional, untreated seeds are from plants grown conventionally with the use of synthetic and chemical products for pest control, weed control, and fertilization.
  3. Treated seeds have been treated with hot water, chemical, or biological methods to protect them from pathogens and hence increase their performance.

Non-GMO seeds

Organic seeds cannot be genetically engineered, but conventional seeds can be Non-GMO.  Check whether your seed source has signed the “Safe Seed Pledge,” which says

“Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners, and consumers who want an alternative, we pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically-engineered seeds or plants. The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families, or kingdoms, poses great biological risks as well as economic, political, and cultural threats. We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing are necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically-engineered seeds. Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems and, ultimately, people and communities.”

Which seeds are best?

Using organic seeds is the best option for the health of the environment, which impacts personal health as well.  It means that chemical and synthetic treatments for fertilizing, pests, and weeds were not used in the production of the source plants.  These are the very chemicals that contaminate ground water and increase pesticide exposure, leading to health risks like cancer, nerve damage, and birth defects.  In addition, the DNA of the seed has not been impacted by exposure to chemicals.

Seeds of Change and Botanical Interests are two companies that offer organic seeds.  Seeds of Change carries only organic seeds and offers a wide selection of 1200 varieties. Organic seeds are more expensive, but the cost of seeds is already low, making organic a good investment.

Organic seeds are not available for all types of fruits and vegetables though.  In the end, I wasn’t able to find organic baby bok choy seeds.  If you ever come across them, please let me know!  Instead, I bought conventional, untreated seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds because they provide clear online information about which seeds are organic, treated, and untreated and they won’t send treated seeds as a substitute if you check the appropriate box on checkout.  Always check carefully to be sure you are not buying treated seeds.

Your health and the health of the planet are interconnected.  Every small step you take to live green makes a difference—for you and the world.

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Chemicals are serious business

Environmental chemicals are affecting each and every one of us and not in a good way.  For example, cancer is on the rise, with 40% of the population being diagnosed with the disease in their lifetime. The Environmental Working Group recently reported:

“…according to a new report from the President’s Cancer Panel, environmental toxins also play a significant and under-recognized role in cancer, causing “grievous harm” to untold numbers of people. Environmental Working Group’s own research has found that children are born “pre-polluted” with up to 200 industrial chemicals, pesticides and contaminants that have been found to cause cancer in lab studies or in people.”

For most of us, the harm occurs on a silent level until cancer, autoimmune illness, or another chronic disorder suddenly pops, seemingly out of the blue.

Others develop hypersensitivity to chemicals.  You may be very surprised to learn that chemical sensitivity affects 16% of the population.  An astounding 10 million people have severe symptoms and 25-45 million have mild to moderate sensitivity.  Many people suffer in isolation, unable to leave their homes.  Others struggle day-to-day with a stream of difficult symptoms, trying to hold together a normal life, always at risk for disease progression.

People who develop multiple chemical sensitivity, due to a chemical injury or ongoing exposure to low levels of chemicals, are like canaries in the coal mines, who, through their early demise, warned  miners of impending danger due to toxic leaks.   They are harbingers sounding the alarm bell to wake us all up to the toxic effect of chemicals.  Let’s listen before it’s too late.

What can you do?

You can help yourself, your children, people with chemical sensitivity, and the planet by taking positive steps to reduce the use of chemicals in your own physical environment and thus in the environment as a whole.  Here are some suggestions.

1. Eliminate the use of fragrance, which poses any number of health dangers for all of us. The volatile organic compounds in fragrance permeate the air and are inhaled by everyone in your surrounding environment.  It is no wonder that indoor air pollution now ranks as worse than outdoor air pollution.  Eliminating fragrance starts with perfume, which typically contains ingredients derived from petrochemicals as well as other noxious substances.  Then gradually switch to fragrance-free household and personal care products.  Be aware that “Unscented” and “hypoallergenic” does not necessarily mean a product is non-toxic or fragrance free.

2.  Make a commitment to green living. Just by taking the first step, you’ve already made leaps and bounds towards greener living.  No need to stress yourself. You can continue a a gradual changeover.  Visit these helpful and upbeat information resources. Simple Organic is about sustainable and healthy living for mainstream people.  Green Living Q and A is another invaluable resource written by Deborah Lynn Dadd, the queen of green.  The Environmental Working Group will keep you apprised of all the latest news related to public health and the environment.  Remember that green doesn’t always mean non-toxic or safe for those with MCS, but it’s a big step in the right direction.  You can continue to fine tune overtime.

3. Reduce the pesticides in your foods. Eat organic, or, if that’s too costly, at least avoid the fruits and vegetables that contain the highest levels of pesticide residues.

4. Educate yourself on the effects of chemicals on our children. Create a safe, clean, and green home for your children.  Babies and young children, in particular, are even more vulnerable to the effects of environmental chemicals.  Healthy Child Healthy World exists:

“…because more than 125 million Americans, especially children, now face an historically unprecedented rise in chronic disease and illness such as cancer, autism, asthma, birth defects, ADD / ADHD, and learning and developmental disabilities. Credible scientific evidence increasingly points to environmental hazards and household chemical.”

5.  Don’t perpetuate the myth that chemical sensitivity is psychogenic. Instead offer understanding, compassion, and support to those with this disorder.  Until a health problem is thoroughly understand by science, allopathic doctors often tend to label it as psychogenic.  They have been proven wrong repeatedly.  A classic example is the occurrence of peptic ulcers, which was incorrectly blamed on stress for years.  Science now offers viable hypothesis’ for the etiology and mechanisms behind multiple chemical sensitivity.  Research indicates that anxiety and depression can be the result, not the cause of chemical sensitive.  Don’t confuse the effect as being the cause.

6. Know that there are now treatments for multiple chemical sensitivity. While treatment for MCS is still the frontier of science and as such is experimental, people are reporting improvement and, for some, recovery by using newly emerging treatments. In addition to avoidance, these protocols in particular are showing promise:  Pall NO/ONNO Neural Sensitization Protocol, Dynamic Neural Retraining System, The Amygdala Retraining Program.

By reducing your own use of chemicals, you will be creating a safer world for those with multiple chemical sensitivity, yourself, and everyone around you.  Live consciously so the prisoners of multiple chemicals sensitivity can be set free from their homes.

May is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Awareness Month so please pass this information on to someone you care about.

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Zen parable ~ temper & true nature

A Zen student came to Bankei and said: “Master, I have an ungovernable temper — how can I cure it?”

“Show me this temper,” said Bankei, “it sounds fascinating.”

“I haven’t got it right now,” said the student, “so I can’t show it to you.”

“Well then” said Bankei, “bring it to me when you have it.”

“But I can’t bring it just when I happen to have it,” protested the student. “It arises unexpectedly, and I would surely lose it before I got it to you.”

“In that case,” said Bankei, “it cannot be part of your true nature. If it were, you could show it to me at any time. When you were born you did not have it, and your parents did not give it to you — so it must come into you from the outside. I suggest that whenever it gets into you, you beat yourself with a stick until the temper can’t stand it, and runs away.”

[The full story can be found in The unborn: the life and teaching of Zen Master Bankei, 1622-1693 by Bankei , Normal Waddell, translator.]

If you liked this story, please share the link!  Thanks for reading and thank you for your support, Sandra

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