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Archive for November, 2010

The other day someone mentioned to me that America’s health crisis could be largely resolved if people would avoid everything in the middle of the grocery store and only buy items currently on the outer walls.

I had to think about the statement for a moment, but once the picture of the last grocery store I visited filled the screen in my mind it occurred to me that he was on to something. Perishables – vegetables, fruit, juices, milk, eggs, fresh meats, fresh breads and so on – line the perimeter of just about every big-box grocery store. The middle of the store, conversely, showcases heavily processed, sugared, salted, chemically-enhanced conveniently packaged whole and fresh food substitutes.

My brother-in-law and I were chatting the other day about how few people have a chance to see their food in its original, live state before it is butchered, harvested or processed. Chickens to most children nowadays are slabs of clean, skin-free meat enclosed in styrofoam and shrink-wrap. Cows, pigs, lamb and fish suffer the same misunderstanding. There is hardly any connection between the original plant or animal and its eventual consumer anymore.

In my mind this creates a situation where healthy food choices are more difficult to make. Everything in the grocery store is put on equal footing, the primary difference typically has little to do with the item’s provenance and everything to do with its price to the average consumer. Fair enough, but I have to wonder if we are missing something by accepting the “big-box” distribution system which is backed by industrial agriculture as the only possible solution.

I came across a courageous talk given by an 11 year old, Birke Baehr, at the recently held TEDxNextGenerationAsheville. Sometimes children put it best, despite their lack of life experience.

Wasn’t that wonderful? Don’t you love the fact that he wants to be an organic farmer when he grows up? I wish Birke well. What an inspiring story.

Is our present system sustainable? It’s hard to see how it could be. If we are to escape from the downward spiral we are presently on relative to the health of our nation, we need to take Birke’s advice and learn about ways to get back in touch with real, wholesome and nourishing food. Believe me, there’s more to it than getting sufficient macronutrients.

I’d love to hear what resources you use to help you make healthy food choices as well as any success stories you’ve come across…

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I had the pleasure of watching Cirque du Soleil’s “Ovo” in Atlanta yesterday evening. What a remarkable display of human capability! I almost wrote human “physicality” but to limit what they did to mere physical acts would likely understate what was involved in their performance. To do what they do must take enormous mental focus and emotional steadiness.

This particular show is an “immersion in the teeming and energetic world of insects.” The costumes were fabulous and the acts, especially the high wire and the trampoline/climbing wall, were breathtaking. It can be refreshing and inspiring to see such a spectacle, where people are functioning at the edge of the performance envelope available to human beings.

I am of the opinion that it is good to stretch your figurative legs on occasion. Pushing yourself to go beyond the familiar or the comfortable keeps life interesting as it typically broadens your ability to touch and inspire others. So doing also bolsters self-confidence, an element of character that can work wonders in a pinch.

Two of my extended family members have undertaken falconry, a sport that challenges comfort zones in more ways than one. The falconer’s life begins with the passing of a difficult written examination administered by the Department of Natural Resources, followed by a two year apprenticeship. To top it off, the first task of the apprentice’s life is to trap a wild bird, more often than not a maniacal, sharply-taloned Red-tailed Hawk and to “man” it, which means to get it used to close human contact.

Their progress is a delight to behold as it seems that not a day goes by without some type of new challenge that pushes each one to their limits and then slightly beyond. You cannot expect to grow as a person if you are not willing to push yourself or to be compelled by others on occasion. It matters not if the activity is mental, physical or emotional, the point is that if you reach beyond where you are you will gain flexibility, capability and strength in the process.

While I don’t anticipate jumping repeatedly (and untethered!) from a 30 foot rock climbing wall onto a trampoline and back up again anytime soon, I do know that I will rise to whatever occasion may come my way, even if it requires that I push through or conversely, relax more deeply to overcome fear, weakness or unfamiliarity.

So can you!

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One of the most valuable lessons I learned as an adolescent was to take care of what needed to be done before I undertook what I wanted to do. Sometimes the two coincided but more often than not something I wanted to do had to wait.

The ability to prioritize in this way requires a level of maturity that extends only slightly beyond that of the common teenager. While children and early teens are rightly self-centered, the failure to launch into adulthood is caused more often than not by the young adult refusing to let his or her world grow to the point that it includes others. This refusal may be caused by insecurities, insufficiently cured character or an improperly managed balance between responsibility and privilege during the child’s upbringing.

Learning to care for others beyond oneself is an important step in the process of maturation. The cultivation of that care can be primed by learning to take care of personal possessions or perhaps animals, but ultimately the individual has to come to the point in his or herself that he puts the needs of others ahead of his own, when the situation warrants it (which incidentally is most of the time).

Strangely enough, as soon as you do put the needs of others ahead of your own you find that others help to fill your needs. There is a natural quid pro quo that works out most of the time (you win some and you lose some) and the net result is that many more needs are met all around than could have been had everyone been acting selfishly.

Should you fail along the way, don’t crumble, beat yourself up or hide from the embarrassment. Instead, redouble your efforts by channeling the terrible feeling you have into making sure that you handle the next situation rightly. This fact alone would save a great many people from spinning their wheels in the mud of self-deception, rationalization and denial. Remember, you’re not fooling anyone when you indulge in self-deprecation. It’s a trick that everyone knows and that most can see right through.

If you have to play catchup, don’t despair. Progress comes quickly to those who truly apply themselves. If you are feeling pressed to do something for yourself, take a quick scan of your world to make sure that there are not more pressing needs. It is easy to lose perspective and this can be an important time to check yourself.

When your priorities are in balance you’ll find that there is plenty of time to take care of your personal concerns.

“Disciplining yourself to do what you know is right and importance, although difficult, is the highroad to pride, self-esteem, and personal satisfaction.” ~ Margaret Thatcher

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I take the time every night to review my day, to tie up any loose ends and to set the stage for the day to come. Some days end like a neatly wrapped package at Christmastime. Others end like a pile of fall leaves, tumultuous and disorderly with little hope of settling into order.

No matter how your day unfolds, take time to access the quiet place in your heart that no man, woman or circumstance can ruffle. Each one has this place available to him or herself, though the failure to visit it regularly allows the weeds and the bushes to obscure the path that leads to the gate of the garden of tranquility.

The golden scissors of forgiveness, thanksgiving and appreciation keep the way clear. Some days you may need to be more specific or persistent than others as you maintain the garden path, and last evening I found this poem (written by the author of Anne of Green Gables) to be particularly helpful as I sought to organize my thoughts, soften my heart and mind and come to rest.

I hope that you enjoy it this morning and I highly encourage you to read it once again before settling in for the evening.

November Evening ~ Lucy Maud Montgomery

Come, for the dusk is our own; let us fare forth together,
With a quiet delight in our hearts for the ripe, still, autumn weather,
Through the rustling valley and wood and over the crisping meadow,
Under a high-sprung sky, winnowed of mist and shadow.

Sharp is the frosty air, and through the far hill-gaps showing
Lucent sunset lakes of crocus and green are glowing;
‘Tis the hour to walk at will in a wayward, unfettered roaming,
Caring for naught save the charm, elusive and swift, of the gloaming.

Watchful and stirless the fields as if not unkindly holding
Harvested joys in their clasp, and to their broad bosoms folding
Baby hopes of a Spring, trusted to motherly keeping,
Thus to be cherished and happed through the long months of their sleeping.

Silent the woods are and gray; but the firs than ever are greener,
Nipped by the frost till the tang of their loosened balsam is keener;
And one little wind in their boughs, eerily swaying and swinging,
Very soft and low, like a wandering minstrel is singing.

Beautiful is the year, but not as the springlike maiden
Garlanded with her hopes rather the woman laden
With wealth of joy and grief, worthily won through living,
Wearing her sorrow now like a garment of praise and thanksgiving.

Gently the dark comes down over the wild, fair places,
The whispering glens in the hills, the open, starry spaces;
Rich with the gifts of the night, sated with questing and dreaming,
We turn to the dearest of paths where the star of the homelight is gleaming.

Have a brilliant day!

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How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world.
~ William Shakespeare, “Merchant of Venice”

Anyone who performs a good deed in the world the way it now is runs the risk of casting pearls before swine. You needn’t look far to see that goodness and virtue are often devoured as soon as they are delivered. Apologies met with disdain instead of forgiveness, gestures of kindness trampled upon rather than reciprocated and revelations of the heart misinterpreted and unrequited happen with alarming and potentially discouraging frequency.

While you cannot control the actions of others, you can make a difference in this naughty world by carrying yourself with dignity, that is, by refusing to sink to the lowest common denominator. John E. Southard offered helpful advice in this regard when he said: “The only people with whom you should try to get even are those who have helped you.” That single piece of advice, properly heeded, would bring an end to the poisons of vengeance, cursing and retribution.

One of the strangest things I’ve witnessed is when people attack you for helping them. If the nature of your giving doesn’t line up with what they were expecting to get for themselves, there is a chance that they will turn and rend you. No matter how much you give to people there is always the risk that they will refuse to seal the blessings with thankfulness. Blessings thus unsealed quickly leak away.

I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks. ~ William Shakespeare

Giving thanks is the least expensive, yet most effective form of life insurance. It is not hard to do once you’re in the habit and thanks can be given in a million different ways. Henry Ward Beecher instructed: “The unthankful heart…knows no mercies…” and every student of life who seeks a life well-lived is wise to invest heavily in the attitude of thanksgiving.

Where to start? Why, exactly where you are! You needn’t have one single additional blessing to engage in giving thanks, here and now. Even if the only thing for which you can be thankful is that you still have life in you, you have an adequate starting point. If you lack the ability to be thankful for what you have, you’re unlikely to have the capacity to be thankful for what you’re going to receive.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend and invest wisely in the world around you. Do so on the basis that you place no expectation on the return and you will discover an inner sanctuary that nourishes, comforts and reassures.

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A friend forwarded a fantastic link to me the other day and I thought you would enjoy it as you think about how to handle the remaining weeks you have to live.

The average person in the Western world now lives to the ripe old age of roughly 75 years in a body that properly cared for could live much longer. Look more closely and you see that you have 900 months or 3,600 weeks to do what you are going to do while on earth.

If you haven’t heard of thevisualMD, they produce fascinating educational videos on topics such like health and wellbeing. This particular video gives you a good feel for what they do and for what you can learn in just a few short minutes:

http://www.thevisualmd.com/health_centers/wellness/the_9_visual_rules_of_wellness_preview/return_to_the_path_of_good_health

My readers and subscribers in the USA will no doubt be enjoying some version of Thanksgiving today. Thanksgiving to me is a time for appreciation, celebration and remembrance.

The freedoms and security we enjoy now came at a great cost to many over the years. As is so often the case in history, great nations were subdued as a new order was established, disenfranchising some while empowering others. It’s not pretty, but it happened and I have no doubt that it will continue to happen in the future unless there is a fundamental shift in human consciousness.

How that would happen I am not sure, but the possibility of its occurrence is something that I am not entirely willing to write off. I’ve received a number of links to the increasingly popular “flash mobs” that are popping up in public spaces around the country, where planned but unannounced musical or dance performances are put on to the delight and amazement of an unsuspecting crowd. It’s funny to see how significant an effect a small catalyst like that can have on people. They are inspirational!

Inspiration needn’t be contrived or practice to be effective. In fact, every conversation you have, every glance you give one of your fellow human beings, every word that comes out of your mouth can either inspire or discourage those within view and earshot.

As you celebrate this Thanksgiving, make an effort to give thanks for the blessings you’ve received in your life. Share your appreciation of others…don’t be shy. Emphasize that which you wish to grow in others and take note of but don’t dwell on that which is destructive or abrasive. All things come to pass and as with the Abominable Snowman, once the teeth are gone you might find a helpful and enjoyable person underneath the grizzly facade.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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A poem came to mind following yesterday’s consideration which has haunted me ever since I first read it in middle school. It is one of the most evocative pieces of literature I’ve ever read:

The Listeners, by Walter de la Mare

Is there anybody there?” said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grass
Of the forest’s ferny floor;
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
“Is there anybody there?” he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
‘Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:—
“Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,” he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been on both sides of the equation in your lifetime; at times the Traveler whose call was unrequited and at others a Listener who did not respond to a call obviously meant for you. The failure to communicate is often at the root of the problems we face as individuals and as a race. It reasons, then that improving communication will have the effect of improving our ability to meet the challenges we will face in the days to come.

If someone speaks or writes words that call forth the greatness deep inside of you, for goodness sake, answer the call! Don’t wait for the sound of the hooves; be a good listener! Likewise, if you find yourself in the shoes of the traveler, speak up, knock and don’t give up when nothing but stillness answers your cry.

For those of you who are more auditory, I encourage you to sit back and enjoy this unusual reading and animation of The Listeners by de la Mare:

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