Awakening Within The Fertile Silence Of Nature

Awakening Within The Fertile Silence Of Nature

“I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.” -John O’Donohue 

We were four days into a week-long backpacking trip in the White Mountains of New Hampshire when Aurelio busted his ankle descending Tuckerman’s Ravine, a craggy glacier cirque just south of the summit of Mt. Washington. Before us was a mile of talus deposits, like staircases for giants, that we would have to negotiate before Lion’s Head trail merged into the more pedestrian section of Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail. It’d be another two miles before we reached Hermit Lake Shelter, where we would stay for the evening. 

There was no way for help to reach us, so Aurelio ground out the last few miles by leaning heavily into his hiking poles. He didn’t utter a word of complaint so that Cameron and I were surprised when we reached camp and he removed his boot, revealing an ankle twice the size it should have been and a dark purple bruise spreading across the bottom edge of his foot. 

With Aurelio unable to hike, we decided to set up a more permanent camp for the remainder of our trip. The next morning, we abandoned the established trail and headed deeper into the forest, until we found a secluded spot along Peabody River. There we slung our hammocks and fell into an unspoken rhythm of camp chores: scrubbing pots, filtering water, washing clothes, and building fire. 

We spent the afternoon relaxing on boulders in the middle of the river, listening to the immense volume of water rushing by, ever so slowly bending those enormous stones to its will. Aurelio submerged his bum ankle in the cool water. We each kept a journal at our side and would stare into the eddies of water like soothsayers for hours before finally jotting down a line, an insight, a revelation. 

That evening, as we sat together in the chiaroscuro of firelight, it occurred to me that we had hardly spoken a word to each other all day, yet I had never felt closer to my friends. I suggested that we read a few poems, as is the tradition for us on the trail. As I read my poem, the words seemed foreign. All form and no content. Usually, we relied on the poetry to draw us deeper into the moment, deeper into connection with one another, and to remind us of the holiness at work in all of this dirt and sweat, but now the words only seemed to efface the profound silence that had already settled over us. As the words faded away, becoming but felt memories in the tiny bones of our ears, we settled back into the fertile silence of nature like deer, having awakened to the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. 

“The ancient rhythms of the earth have insinuated themselves into the rhythms of the human heart. The earth is not outside us; it is within: the clay from where the tree of the body grows.” – John O’Donohue 

In the West, we have the tendency to prioritize our minds over our emotions and physical bodies. We tend to see the brain as the primary organ, and the thoughts that the brain secretes become the dubious foundation for our sense of self. But what about the ancient rhythms of the human heart; the way joy and sorrow precipitate one another? What about our forgetfulness, which allows for the beauty of the world to be continuously rediscovered? What about the landscape of the human body: its pleasure and pain, the secrets held in its musculature, the way it always tells the truth? The body is a universe of sensations that precedes any labeling done by the mind. 

There is a practice in Tibetan Buddhism called Dzogchen, in which the practitioner breaks through or sees through to their natural, primordial state of awareness. In Dzogchen the symbolic and imaginary layers of human perception drop away and there is direct knowledge of the ground of Being. Dzogchen is the clarity and wakefulness of the senses left to their natural state. It is faith in the flow, ease, and spontaneity that naturally arises when we surrender our hypervigilance and obsessive mental reflection. In Dzogchen the individual’s way of being-in-the-world is as simple as a tree producing fruit. 

I believe the concept of the soul, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, can bring us into a way of being that is similar to Dzogchen. If we become silent enough to listen from the soul, the delusions of ego fall away and we can become directly connected to that deepest part of ourselves, to our true and authentic core. Whatever actions arise out of this mode of listening-from-one’s-soul will necessarily be of the spirit of love, will be of God. This is not the surface level mentation about morality and ethics, but the spontaneous compassion and wisdom that arises from the soul’s natural goodness. 

In the west, we tend to fear this spontaneous action. We distrust our instinct and view the unconscious as a realm full of shadows that must be contained, tamped down, and repressed by our ever-vigilant mental activity. Nature, therefore, is important because it teaches us to accept the epistemic limitations of the mind. Nature insists that we stop identifying with our capricious mental arisings and enter into a deep engagement with the truth of our heart and body. Nature insists we fall in love with the mystery of Being. 

When we nurture a consistent connection to nature, we are reminded that we too possess the same simplicity of being that is present in the birds and the trees, the same uncomplicated is-ness of the natural world. We begin to feel intimately woven into the emerging pattern of all existence, connected to all things in this present moment as if by an umbilical cord stretching back to the singularity. 

We all have access to the fertile silence and stillness that nature inspires. Don’t worry, it doesn’t require that you spend weeks in the wilderness, I just happen to be a tough case when it comes to awakening. An occasional overnighter in your nearest state park or evening strolls in your local nature preserve might be all that you need. Perhaps tending to a small garden is enough for you. As the Buddha taught in his Flower Sermon, when we enter nature, listening attentively at this soul level, a single flower is enough to awaken us to our natural great perfection. 

 

Transformed by Nature

Transformed by Nature

I found myself chasing butterflies at the Cole Road Prairie one afternoon.  While my goal was to capture images for a new website, the result was actually much more.  I truly felt transformed by my experience in nature.

When first arriving at the prairie, my mind and body were tight with stress from a morning full of deadlines, issues, and screen time.  At first, my head was still back at the office. But little by little, as I paused for a photo here and there, I became more mindful of my surroundings and my senses took the lead.  

The sights of dancing butterflies and bees softened my stressed face into smiles. The sounds of birds and insects brought a song of joy to my heart.  The fresh air and scented flowers filled me with new energy. The breeze and sunshine on my cheeks felt invigorating. I was like a new woman, at least for that day! 

That particular day helped me personally and profoundly experience some of nature’s health benefits that I had been reading about.  This field of study has grown from Dr. Qing Li’s research on shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, in Japan. Since then researchers in the U.S. and beyond have studied the benefits of forests, parks and green spaces.  Essentially, through science, they are trying to understand nature’s wisdom. 

A growing body of research suggests that time spent in nature can provide numerous health benefits.   Research compiled by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/90720.html) states: “Exposure to forests and trees: boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, improves mood, increases ability to focus even in children with ADHD, accelerates recovery from surgery or illness, increases energy level, improves sleep.”  Wow, that’s quite an impressive list of benefits, check out their extensive bibliography too.

Recent research looks beyond “if” being in nature is beneficial and asks “how” it might work. One theory suggests having all the sensory stimuli might reduce brooding.  Essential oils such as pine and cedar, have also been studied for their positive effects. Even elements in the soil may produce mood-enhancing effects. This is a young field of study based on ancient ideas, and the results are looking promising!

 So next time you want to feel restored and rejuvenated, visit a natural area.  And when you get to your favorite place in nature, let your senses take the lead.

The Travel Bug: Exploring The Self

The Travel Bug: Exploring The Self

While thinking about writing this blog, I started looking back to the many opportunities I have had to travel over the years. I have been to 6 countries and all but a few states.

I didn’t grow up traveling. My dad was a truck driver and the last thing he wanted to do was go for a “Sunday” drive with mom and 5 kids piled into our small car! Vacations at my house were when dad and mom went away for a week and we stayed home with a babysitter.

My first bus trip was on my Senior class trip to NYC.  I had never stayed in a hotel or seen so many different people from all over the world. I loved the lights and excitement of the bustling city. As an impressionable 18-year-old, that was my first peek at the world and I was hooked!

In general, my approach to life has been to be prepared, ie. fix things when they break, get things checked before they breakdown, make sure I have the right equipment for the weather (snow shovel, blankets), etc. When planning to travel, I want the appropriate shoes, gear, clothes, maps and always several flashlights. I become motivated to train to get into shape and stay healthy. That being said, I am now more flexible and accepting when things don’t go as planned.

In 2017, I had the opportunity to backpack across Spain on a 1,000-year-old pilgrimage trail called the El Camino de Santiago. My friend Anne had been wanting to do this walk for a few years, so she asked me to go with her. When sharing the possibility of walking the El Camino, a friend told me that although opportunities to travel may come up, most people do not take them. I realized that I have often “jumped right in” when I got the chance, even though I am NOT a brave person and I didn’t always realize all that would be involved. My trips have been hard sometimes, but amazing!

What I have learned from my travels so far, is how these trips change me. When I return home and am looking at pictures and sharing my experiences with others, I realize how much I have accomplished and how much I have grown spiritually. I have been able to meet new people, extend myself mentally and physically, and definitely function out of my comfort zone! I know that I can live out of my backpack, carrying 18 pounds for a month, do better when I don’t have expectations, can live in the moment, and that we humans are more alike than different.

So, when you travel are you your same self, someone else, or your real self? We certainly can see ourselves in a different way when meeting new people, in new settings, or even when traveling with people we know.  

HAPPY TRAILS!   BUEN CAMINO! BON VOYAGE!

Health Elevated – Biohacks for Modern Aging

Health Elevated – Biohacks for Modern Aging

I remember the cartoon The Jetsons– George, Jane, daughter Judy, son Elroy, and their dog, Astro. They were zipping around with jetpacks, moving sidewalks, robot maids, and flying cars. It was fascinating to see their “out of this world” use of technology and dream about what it would be like.  Seriously, can you imagine a world of video conferencing, robot vacuum cleaners, drones that delivered packages, and smartwatches? Or how about seeing the cellphone in “Star Trek;” or a computerized tablet in “The Space Odyssey;” or even a brain-controlled prosthetic limb from “Star Wars.” Oh wait– you can imagine it… better yet– we can LIVE it!  

The speed of technology in and around us is progressing every second.  If you can imagine it– it is likely possible. In the world of Anti-Aging medicine, it is a similar phenomenon.  It is estimated that the doubling time of medical knowledge in 1950 was 50 years; in 2010, 3.5 years. In 2020 the amount of medical knowledge is projected to double in just 73 days.

My mind starts racing when I think of the information we have access to regarding Anti-Aging medicine and our longevity.  For me, trying to narrow down the topic is like trying to get a child to pick out only two candies when there is an entire bowl full to choose from.  I’ll stick to a few developments that research shows can bring life-changing and life-lengthening benefits to you.

Let’s start right out of the gate with the amazing emerging science of Peptide Therapy.  Peptides are small proteins made of amino acids in short sequences and they have the ability to rewrite your body’s destiny. There are over 7000 peptides actively being studied and 150 in use currently.  The small molecules act as signals for very specific reactions.  Because peptides are naturally occurring, big pharma has not regulated their use– YET.   

If you know anyone who struggles with memory issues, concentration or focus; or has concerns about dementia or neurologic disorders; or brain inflammation issues like biotoxin exposure– then RG3+NAD nasal peptide spray is one you must know about.  It works to stimulate brain healing and repair. Substances used to enhance brain function are known as nootropics. In fact, iRG3+NAD is the only thing we have found to stimulate neuroregeneration.

Maybe you have become very aware of the dramatic increase in cancer rates in those around you and even the very young.  Peptide science is revealing molecules that can actually carry a chemotherapeutic inside of a cancer cell for incredibly targeted treatments.  This allows for a significantly increased response to chemotherapy. Peptide PNC-27 has been shown to be highly effective in several cancers– specifically pancreatic cancer.  Cancer cells turn off the bodies ability to “see” them and this peptide turns this back on. Hide and seek is over with certain cancers when this peptide is on board.

In a society focused on anti-aging, peptide therapy offers some uses that almost everyone can find appealing.  How about a Fat Loss Peptide cream? This cream is used to spot treat areas like the abdomen, upper arms, and thighs.  It decreases the fat under the skin by an impressive amount considering you are rubbing a cream on every day. The average waist measurement difference is 11cm in 12 weeks.  As you can see, peptide therapies will bring incredible changes to our lives starting… NOW!

Medical research is revealing that some modalities can not only feel great but do great things for us.  Let’s turn our attention to Infrared (IR) Saunas as our next Anti-Aging treatment. IR saunas use invisible infrared light to heat up the body.  Instead of just using a heat source like a dry sauna or steam sauna, the IR light penetrates the skin to jump-start the body at the cellular level.  This approach stimulates the healing and repair of tissues as well as increased detoxification. IR saunas have been proven to lower blood pressure, increase weight loss, speed injury healing, stimulate collagen production, and reduce pain levels by up to 70%.  We can thank NASA for justifying the use of this anti-aging modality. Just think… you can get the benefits from IR saunas by simply relaxing and possibly listening to your favorite podcast (not-so-subtle plug for the MBA podcast “Second Sip.”)

Let’s finish up with a couple of things that you have complete control over, as well as being quick and equipment free: High-Intensity Interval Training, Fasting and Mindset Effect.

Now don’t be turned off by reading the words High-Intensity Interval Training.  HIIT, as it is commonly referred to, can be a game changer for your approach to exercise.  Imagine exercising in small amounts of time… I mean really small like 7.5 to 20 minutes PER WEEK and actually getting results.  There are some great apps available such as Seven, Sworkit, and FitBit Coach HIIT that are free and offer workouts from 7-35 minutes.  To get the researched benefits, you must perform the workout with an intense effort and follow it with short recovery periods.  HIIT actually boosts your metabolism for 48 hours after workouts.   The benefits seen include weight loss, improved exercise endurance, and improved heart function.  There’s no need to hop on the treadmill for an epic hour and a half. You can simply do brief, high-intensity exercise for proven health benefits.

Fasting is another phenomenal longevity modality that continues to have research proven benefits.  The scientific and medical literature contains literally hundreds of papers dealing with the therapeutic use of fasting.  It has been extensively used in the treatment of a variety of conditions including obesity, diabetes, epilepsy, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, cancer, and autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis. There are two main types frequently studied.  Intermittent fasting is limiting calories between 8-24 hours and prolonged fasting is longer than 3 days.

Why does fasting work?  Think of your body organ systems as a game of red light/green light. When you eat, the lights are green allowing that organ to do its job. The organ also has a stoplight allowing it to stop when it needs to.  The more the body functions together, the better “traffic keeps flowing.” But also think about repairs– if you need to repair a road, the stoplights have to go to red to stop traffic.  The same happens with our body. It needs downtime to restore and repair. Your body naturally goes into a “red light” stop and repair mode within 10-12 hours after your last meal. The repair mode is crucial to our body being able to recover from injury or cell damage that might have happened throughout the day.  Your genetic makeup is actually programmed to function this way– turning genes on and off. The only way you can control this natural rhythm of repair is by allowing 10-12 hours between eating typically overnight as in Intermittent Fasting or Time Restricted Fasting.

If your body is attempting to heal and repair major issues such as autoimmune disorders, cancer, or heart issues to name a few, we are finding that Prolonged Fasts can be very helpful.  Don’t fret– there are protocols that allow you to eat small and very specific foods if you don’t want to do a complete fast for 5 days. We work with ProLon who provides a box with everything you eat in 5 days.  This more intense fast modulates immunity, improves brain function, lowers blood pressure, decreases inflammatory markers, and lowers cholesterol. It is a comprehensive system “reboot.”

Wrapping up the proven Anti-Aging modalities that can help us live longer and healthier lives is the discussion of the Mindset Effect.  William James said, “Man can alter his life by altering his thinking.” Research is continuing to reinforce this principle. Did you know that just thinking positively about exercise or how much activity you do leads to increased longevity?  And to be clear, I did not say you actually did more exercise. In the study, the positive thinkers tended to outlive those who didn’t feel good about the exercise they participate in even when they did more exercise.  Because of your beliefs, your body responds with changes that have lifelong effects!

Another mindfulness activity involves joyful journaling. I bet you have heard about the benefits of joyful journaling and how it can reprogram your brain.  To do this, simply think of three things that brought you joy and write them down before you go to bed.  Researchers have found that when you do this nightly for one week, it enhances happiness for up to one month and reduces depressive symptoms for up to 6 months. Again we see how our mindset affects our health and wellbeing. Through natural chemicals like dopamine, endorphins, endocannabinoids, serotonin, and gaba we can enhance chemical reactions that positively affect our longevity.

In the world of Anti-Aging medicine, there are literally hundreds of treatment options.  Our goal is to always put together the recommendations that best fit each person’s current condition and their goals.  Simply start by eating real food, moving until your mind is clear, and getting adequate rest. Start incorporating changes and build on those new habits.  If you need or want help, we are here for you. By listening to patients, we can openly discuss options that will help them lead the life they imagine living.  It is not always easy and not always fast, but using the bodies innate ability to heal we believe it is possible. I feel blessed to be able to walk alongside patients in this incredible journey that we call life– in the most revolutionary time of medical options. 

 

 

 

 

 

Creating Your Sanctuary

Creating Your Sanctuary

My first thought when approached with the subject of Creating Your Sanctuary was “easy peasy, I’m a designer at McCready Interiors, I do that for clients and customers every day”. I ask many questions to find what they want their environment to reflect, then select styles and fabrics or leathers that will be successful in creating that feeling.

A sanctuary is a place of refuge, a place of safety, a place to retreat, it should reflect whatever brings you a sense of peace and tranquility.

In reflecting and researching for my blog, I considered that my personal sanctuary actually changes quite often. My home is obviously a sanctuary where I retreat at the end of the day, but I soon realized I have many opportunities for a sanctuary; a walk in the woods, my gardens, a yoga class, even a visit to the home of my best friend since high school to enjoy the hot tub and catch up.

Your sanctuary may be the beach, an exercise class, a girls night out, or a space in your home you can make your own. It could be those moments when you have the opportunity for “no boys (or kids) allowed”, a big comfy reading chair or a place you can have quiet time to reflect, meditate, or just slow down to recharge.

As women, many of our lives are centered around taking care of others;  we are nurturers, caregivers, helpmates. We tend to do for others before taking care of ourselves. When we give our all to everyone else, there is little left for ourselves.  The importance of self-care is critical to our well-being. We must take the time to regard ourselves highly enough to carve out time and space to enjoy a sanctuary of our own.

Creating your sanctuary is simply making a space that gives you the opportunity to surround yourself with an area to take a breath and unwind.

If you are able to start with a blank slate space, select a wall color that reflects calm to you. Select pieces that avoid clutter and chaos, keep the space simple. This is an area you want to be able to completely relax in.

Carefully edit what you place in your sacred space, less is usually more when you are looking for a place for quiet or meditation. If nature brings you calm and joy, place greenery or nature-inspired artwork there. Position your comfy reading chair facing a window so you can enjoy the view. If the beach is your sanctum, use colors that reflect the sand, sea, and sky. Surround yourself with beauty and an atmosphere of calm. Turn off the TV and turn on your favorite music if you don’t want silence. I have many Pandora stations I can select from to enhance whatever mood or feeling I want to focus on. I choose Motown if I want to escape and maybe dance a little (when no one is watching), Glenn Miller if I’m feeling nostalgic, Eric Clapton or the Beatles for a variety of reasons, and slow smooth jazz or classical choices to for a quieter environment.

Candles whether real or the real-looking battery powered styles can set the mood with soft lighting. Many of us have essential oils and diffusers to provide soothing scents to help create the perfect environment.

When we make time to devote to ourselves and nurture ourselves, we become our better selves. A sacred space is a perfect place to let our best selves shine through. Creating a sanctuary isn’t difficult. Just remember to keep it reflective of who you are and what kind of energy you want it to invoke.

Last diet hack for lifelong wellness

Last diet hack for lifelong wellness

In 2015, I was among the almost 40% of American adults that are obese, and me, morbidly so. Little kids would hug my leg and call me Santa Claus. I was on several blood pressure (BP) medications, cholesterol control, antacids and used a sleep apnea machine. After almost 2 weeks in hospital due to a septic infection, I had plenty of time to think about how I wanted to live after I got better. It wasn’t as a big guy on a bunch of medication anymore…

Diet and exercise is a start

I started with diet and exercise to lose weight. It can work, I lost 150 lbs doing just that. I used the “Lose It” app along with a Fitbit. Every day I faithfully recorded exercise and everything I ate to make sure I was in a calorie deficit and losing weight. But after my initial success a year into dieting, I started questioning if I wanted to diet like this forever. Also while I had greatly reduced medications due to the weight loss, I was still on BP and cholesterol pills.

A change with good results

In Oct 2016, I was able to attend a 10-day immersion program focused on eating a whole-food plant-based diet. At the end of the program—in just 10 days of eating differently—not only did I start losing more weight, my BP and blood work results showed I could stop the rest of my Medications.

The hack

A whole-food plant-based diet that works two-fold. First, calorie density is the term used to describe food mass versus calorie content. In various articles, there are diagrams depicting how full your stomach gets when eating whole-food plant-based (WFPB) items like vegetables, potatoes, rice, beans, fruits, whole wheat pasta, and bread, versus processed food and snacks, oil, sugar, cheese, and meat. For example, see Forks Over Knives article, “The Calorie Density Approach to Nutrition and Lifelong Weight Management.”  Check out the Calorie Density Scale illustration toward the end. Picture a liter bottle of soda as your stomach. The WFPB foods fill up the bottle, and you feel full without excessive calories. For the same amount of calories, meat, cheese, and processed foods only fill the bottle up a third and keep you wanting more. Even worse, you pack on excess calories if you do eat until you fill the bottle – and the want to feel full is a natural response from your body! So by eating minimally-processed plant-based food, you lose weight or maintain weight without calorie counting. Secondly, if you eat mostly meat and cheeses, and oils, then you are at risk of having issues with cholesterol and various inflammatory problems. There is also a lot of evidence of problems with industrialized meat and milk production such as the overuse of antibiotics. A whole-food plant-based diet also looks to minimize sodium intake; a big contributor to BP issues.  For example, see The US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health article, “Plant-Based Diets: A Physicians Guide.”

It’s working for me

Over a year and a half eating this way, I lost 30 more pounds – and I’m not focused on restraint and rigorous dieting. I’m feeling more in harmony with my body by eating when I’m hungry and making sure I’m full. I am also still off on blood pressure and cholesterol medications with my Doctor’s blessing. Throw in some moderate exercise and I can do this long term.

It could work for you

There are lots of free helpful recipes, resources, and tips on the internet to help you start. Just do a search on WFPB diet. You can do it without an expensive program or a fad approach with a celebrity spokesperson. Don’t want to jump in all the way? Start by adding 1000 calories of plant-based food to your diet to begin to feel full and more satisfied.  It worked for me, it could work for you. I’d be happy to correspond.

Views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author, Mike Solon.

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