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Time for a Change

Many years ago, when some MB friends began to settle on land in Ashburnham, MA, there was some discussion about intentional communities and self-sufficiency. One evening, I asked Michio Kushi how long he thought it would take Ashburnham to become self-sufficient and independent. He replied, “Oh, not too long, maybe a couple hundred years.” This answer was not made in jest at all — he was speaking from his perspective of time to which few of us can relate.

Whenever I hear a journalist ask some candidate something like, “well what can we do in the short term”, I shudder. Immediate actions are vital to our survival. Changes we must make as a society to our daily habits around food, energy and consumption of resources will make huge difference, but until there is a long range vision, and enough people committed to it, we are, as David Suzuki wisely quipped, ““We’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyones arguing over where they’re going to sit.”

Collectively, few cultures on the planet have been more effectively able to respond to the crisis presented by coronavirus than in New Zealand and I do not believe this is because of scientific reasoning or even political leadership; indeed, those down under often credit an Anzac spirit of good humor, ingenuity, courage and endurance. One only need watch the Maori present the haka to get an idea about how those from this culture might face a challenge.

The US democracy, a Republic, is young — not much more than a couple hundred years. During its formation, settlers eviscerated tens of thousands of indigenous people who inhabited the continent for millennia — ancient people who related very differently to time, who understood the sacredness of nature which modern people have chosen to try to master but instead have all but destroyed. 

The pace of life now prevalent in most places may never slow enough to prevent our mass extinction; meanwhile, more than just making decisions that impact tomorrow, without a “big view” of life, one that thinks decades into the future rather than cycles of “every four years”, we may just be completely blind to where we are heading and about to hit that brick wall. 

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TURNING COVID INTO A COLD WITH MANAGEABLE SYMPTOMS

Can diet and lifestyle changes help us return to some sense of normalcy?

In some individuals who have not incorporated a healthy diet for at least the prior six months prior to being exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the virus can invade the respiratory system looking for a host. Even now with smoke from fires blanketing many communities and environmental toxins wafting in the atmosphere, we’ve got to do something to improve our own body’s onboard air filters — our lungs.

Serious symptoms from inhaled smoke and viruses that may result are not caused by an infection per se or by the body’s ability to fight or cleanse itself, but rather by a set of reactive processes these invasions cause. Fat deposits and toxins housed in the lungs are a primary concern.

Accumulation of fat deposits in the lungs poses a greater risk of complications from viruses like SARS-CoV-2 that target the respiratory system.

The challenge in minimizing COVID’s death toll and the long haulers it sometimes produces means supporting the body to clear the virus without going into pneumonia or respiratory failure. Doing so might result in far more mild cases allowing people to deal with manageable though uncomfortable symptoms that feel more like a common cold and mucous-like discharge. 

While many eyes are on the phenomena of cytokine storm, that reaction may be secondary to what is taking place in those with high levels of fatty substances (lipids) in the bloodstream.  Individuals with diabetes, hypothyroidism,  kidney and liver disease are at greater risk — not because of these conditions alone, but because once the virus does make its way into the lungs, debilitating symptoms often increase. Simply speaking, it’s essential to break those fat deposits up safely to prevent the body’s own protective systems from overreacting.

If hyperlipidemia is present and the virus does enter the lungs, mainstream medicine might prescribe various cholesterol lowering drugs – Lipitor, Lovastatin, Crestor, Zocor and many others (like Repatha, which acts differently) — but for those who need to reduce cholesterol more quickly and for the many who would not consider taking such medications, there are other good choices. Doing so long before exposure improves outcome ten fold.  An immediate switch to more plant sources of protein is an essential first step. Switching ones focus to fiber rich vegetables and fruits and a reduction of refined, simple carbs is the obvious next task. 

A diet of whole grains, vegetables and plant protein can reduce lipids in the blood

But considering an urgent need and short term goal to break apart fat molecules is of prime importance, there a few other actions to consider even for those who wish to reduce the risk of playing host to viruses of any kind.

And so, ….. to the kitchen.

NATTŌ is an amazing traditional food of Japan that has potent fibrinolytic (dissolves blood clots) activity, antihypertensive, anti-atherosclerotic, and lipid-lowering, neuro-protective effects. If you cannot find or make this wonderful food (or do not like the taste), “nattōkinase”, the enzyme produced from nattō, is available as a supplement. It is even listed now on the website of Sloan Kettering Caner Center among many other mainstream institutions. Research around its efficacy in fighting blood clots is impressive.

DAIKON — fresh, raw, grated or lightly cooked, can help break down fats. Dried daikon, soaked and cooked with kombu sea vegetable, can help dissolve fats held deeper in body tissues. Even red and black radishes have slightly less fat-dissolving effect but can be substituted in a pinch.

FRESH, GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLES — Kale is plentiful now in the fall season in the US, collard greens, radish tops, mustard greens, boy choy, mizuna, arugula, Chinese cabbage, watercress, micro-greens are all good choices. Though both Swiss chard and spinach contain good elements, I recommend minimizing the use of these two greens as they also contain some less favorable qualities.

Leafy Greens support healthy lung function

GINGER — is a natural decongestant, served in tea or used in cooked dishes. THYME AND OREGANO are both herbs known to benefit the respiratory system but beware of strong spices (the above are herbs) as many have an unexpected “dispersing” effect that can hinder healthy lung function.

….and then away from the stove…..

MOVEMENT is a must to reduce fatty deposits in the body — think the opposite of “couch potato” and get your heart rate up! Aerobic exercises and high-intensity interval training (short bursts of high activity followed by slower rates) increase the efficacy of aerobic exercise. Traditional practices like QiGong, Tai Chi, Yoga and Natural Chi Movement are also helpful — just to get energy and blood flowing in the body. But you don’t need a class (though there are plenty of free, online options to choose from) or costly equipment to get the job done. Get off the couch, turn the music up, and dance. No one’s watching anyway, right?

Stuck inside? DANCE!!

Everyone wants to return to life without imposed restrictions but for some people doing so can be literally life-threatening. As we improve our own conditions with diet and lifestyle adjustments, let’s help others with simple suggestions that can heal as only nature can do — something that always occurs from the inside out. Changing our blood quality is a good start.

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CORONAVIRUS: A WIND CHIME FOR A CHANGING WORLD

I know, that’s a bizarre headline, but you’ve read this far ….. give it a chance.

One aspect of the study of feng shui and Chinese medicine is the opportunity to become more in tune with the cycles of nature, our own body, and our immediate and distant environment. Given how much China seems to be on everyone’s mind, it seemed only fair to look further into this tradition to discern what hidden messages we might uncover.

The Chinese zodiac consists of twelve animals first arranged in a calendar in the 5th century B.C. The 12 animal signs revolve around a cycle of five energies (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water) resulting in a larger 60 year cycle (12 x 5 = 60). Determined long ago, 2020 is known as the Year of the Metal Rat. For those who study feng shui or the Nine Star Ki system, this is well known. The previous Year of the Pig was ruled by Earth.

2020 is the Year of the Metal Rat

Every year also brings our focus to a specific area of the body; Metal years relate primarily to our respiratory system. It is believed that in a Metal Rat year there is a particularly weakening effect on the Lungs that can lead to more colds, fevers, dry coughs, asthma, infections like the flu, and persistent fatigue. 

With me so far?

Holding that in a corner of your mind, now turn your attention to the practice of feng shui in which wind chimes are recommended for certain situations. We’ve all seen various types: the tiny metal ones that hang over the archway at a store’s entry, tinkling as we pass through; the long bamboo mobile hanging on a front porch that “clunks” with the breeze; or the one with varying lengths of shiny silver pipes arranged in a circle whose pleasant, melodious tones rattle with a chord when a gust of wind surges.

In feng shui, the purpose of a wind chime is moderation. One is placed to delineate one distinct area or space from another. It announces to both visible and invisible energies that pass by a change is necessary, that now is the time to moderate your Chi, to adjust from one way to another. 

Bamboo Wind Chime

For example, walking with a friend along a busy street, the volume of our voice and the length of each step in our overall walk will need to be very different once we enter the store, passing under the wind chime. It’s as if the chime says “lower your voice” and “shorten your gait” and we do so automatically once inside.

Yes, the chime clearly announces our entry, informing the shopkeeper a customer has arrived, but it also tells us to moderate our own energy and this is further accomplished by the sound of the chime. Air circulation and wind, primary to our respiratory system, brings the message and with it comes a subtle request to adapt to a new environment.

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Perhaps that is what this new coronavirus brings. Maybe this is a harbinger of “change in the air”, and whether foreboding or encouraging, it is up to us to determine. Rats, small though industrious, cannot accomplish much on their own – just enough for survival. But in the Year of the Rat, one clear change we have realized if that we are called to examine our interconnectedness as occupants of the same environment. It is nothing less than an invitation to work together.

Is coronavirus a conspiracy? Yes, I think so — but only in the etymological sense of the word. This is a highly infectious virus – that much most people accept as true, but is this an act of evil, a plot to wipe out populations, to create a new world order? 

Sir Karl Popper coined the term “conspiracy theory” and prior to its use in the 1950s, we all managed quite well despite there being many viruses –yellow fever, scarlet fever, cholera, Spanish flu (1918 was an Earth Year, 1919 a Metal year), typhoid, polio, etc. — when plenty of nefarious forces were at work behind the scenes. Is this time different?

Rather than think of clandestine cadres with morally corrupt motives which may or may not be at play now, instead let’s examine the word itself: con spire. The prefix “con” implies “with”; the root “spire” comes from the Italian “respirare” or “breathe.” Also think “resiratore” or respirator.

In other words, a conspiracy is “the act of breathing together.” 

A Conspiracy of Qi Gong practitioners

So it is my contention, as the headline makes clear, that coronavirus, present in the Year of the Metal Rat, with its focus on lungs, is a wind chime – a call to moderate our chi, to look within, to acknowledge our interconnectedness, to work together – and conspire in the truest sense of the word. 

It is my fervent hope that we may all read this message of change from a place of one breath, one Earth, one family conspiring to change ourselves and the world around us. 

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Making Love

A few years ago, at the gym where I used to work out, a friend of mine said he was going to his men’s group that night. I asked him who the members were and he proceeded to name 7 or 8 local guys. I knew all of whom though none were especially close friends.

“What does it take to get invited?” I inquired.

“Oh, you wouldn’t like it – believe me – it’s just a bunch of old guys sitting around talking about their prostates.”

While I knew that wasn’t entirely true, I understood the joke since far too many men are diagnosed with cancer of the prostate every year, despite significant evidence that diet and lifestyle modifications, particularly reducing dairy fats and animal foods, reduces the risk.

But perhaps more than cancer, what many men fear most is becoming impotent.

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Reflecting on this, it occurred to me that actually everyone shares this fear – but it has little to do with our bodies. Impotence is powerlessness, helplessness, and a pervasive feeling of being incapable of making something happen. Impotence breeds impatience, frustration, and anger. Social media is rife with impotent anger now. When we feel impotent, we have no agency – a loss of personal power — and suddenly, in the face of a global pandemic, hundreds of millions of people find themselves impotent.

The way in which we talk about “the act” between individuals has gone through a quiet revolution. The term “fucking” was always bleeped from airways, or censored from print, so we began to refer to that particular practice as “doing it.” Eventually, we even dropped the term intercourse from the lexicon and started to use the more romantic term “making love” even when love wasn’t present at all. Those who were physically challenged in some way, by a malignancy, hormonal changes, injury or other means can still participate in making love, and therein lies my point.

We are all challenged now, physically, and these changes are for the most part as unwelcome as a diagnosis of malignancy. But we are not impotent at all. We each have a choice; we can either voice our impotent anger and frustration, announce to the world how wrong it is that this or that is happening, place blame on everyone else, point to everything that coulda, woulda, shoulda been done, bitch and moan and stomp our feet.

Or — we can make love, alone, together, in bed, across the room, in the building, over the internet, through the mail, or shouted from the rooftops.

We have not lost our ability to bring love to the world, to share what is unquestionably the most powerful force of all. No doubt, there are many things we have to offer that can help make the world a better place, but right now, impotent anger is not one of them.

Love is – and making love is glorious, profoundly life-changing. It is divine.

So I offer here some ideas of how you might make love tonight, and in the days ahead:

  • Call a friend. Just check-in and say hi, see how things are “over there.”
  • Send a friend an Email. Go ahead, make it short – just drop a tiny love bomb in their inbox. Nothing special, just a “hello, thinking of you.”
  • Forgive someone you know. Tell them, or don’t – it doesn’t matter, though if you let them know, it’ll be like a love letter to yourself as you lift the burden you’ve been carrying around for however long it’s been since “that thing” happened.
  • Make an anonymous donation. $5. $10. $2 a month for a year. Get your giving going.
  • Thank someone you know who made a difference in your life – that neighbor who dropped off your mail that time, the student who helped you study for that exam, that woman at work who emptied your trash, your mother. Anyone – there are dozens to choose from – pretty much everyone!
  • Pay it forward. You’re probably going to go back for a haircut someday, or to that veterinarian’s office with your cat. Reach out and offer to send a small deposit toward future visits. So many “non-essential” businesses are hurting. Make love to the ones that are “essential” to you, and perhaps even some that aren’t!
  • Surprise someone with a random act of kindness. Leave a good book you’ve read on the hood of their car, in the back seat of an Über, some stamps in their mailbox, an anonymous love letter, a late Valentine. Give something away you value.
  • Chop wood / carry water – look around and tackle the most basic chore in your house or apartment that someone else has been doing and do it for them – just this once, or maybe twice. Clean a toilet, do some laundry, wash a window or two. Peel some garlic.
  • Go outside and find a wildflower, or a four-leaf clover, and put it in a tiny cup and leave it on your partner’s desk, by the bed, or outside the door of the apartment next door.
  • Record a silly song or find a joke and send it to some kids you know. Be zany, a little crazy – make them laugh with you, or even at you!!

Please use the comments below this post and add your own ideas of how you make love…..

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Now — close your eyes and take back your power.

Put your hands on your own body, everywhere, over all your organs – one by one. Tell those eyes how grateful you are for vision, your ears for hearing, your fingertips for feeling. Tell your tongue and taste buds how grateful you are for sweet and sour, for salty – your nose for fragrance, fresh air, oxygen. Let your belly know how much you appreciate the unseen work of digestion, of sustenance, of transmutation of nutrients.

Look up at the sun and the moon, if you can. Send love into space, to anyone who needs it. And put your hands over your lungs, and heart, and breathe.

There is no time for impotence at all – not now, or ever.  Make love to yourself, too!!

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COVID-19

Electron microscopic image of an isolate from the first U.S. case of COVID-19

A different way of seeing…..

One of the unquestionable benefits of the study of macrobiotic principles lies in the ability to put on the magic spectacles of the Unifying Principle. Doing so allows us to observe not only the visible, physical body and organs but also to begin to consider how the world of vibration and energy plays a role in health and disease.

This way of seeing actually forms the theoretical foundation and underlying basis of most traditional approaches to healing, among them Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, both of which seek balance and harmony in prevention and cure by investigating forces they call “Chi” or “Prana”.

Though the very existence of such energies can be called into question, these ancient teachings have much to offer in the ongoing quest to broaden mainstream medicine’s efficacy against chronic infection and degenerative illnesses like cancer and cardiovascular disease.

The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.Albert Einstein

With respect to the current attention on an emerging pandemic, the web is being inundated with advice from every corner of concern as the Center for Disease Control, the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and even pop culture physicians are all weighing in – and for good reason. What we’ve seen so far as COVID-19 spreads is most certainly only the tip of the iceberg and the impact of the spread of this disease is likely to worsen in the coming weeks and months.

Using traditional approaches to reflect on the proliferation of this virus, what occurs as it enters the body, and how it either worsens or improves in different individuals over the short time it invades the human body might help us to better manage onset and improve outcomes.

Viruses tend to be seasonal …..

COVID-19, like influenza and other viruses, usually appear as weather changes from hot and dry to warm, and from warm and moist to cold and damp. This is a contracting (yang) movement and manifestation, as summer changes into fall, and fall into winter.

In hot weather, many people in the Northern Hemisphere indulge in more grilled meats, fruits, sugar, and acid-producing vegetables (think summer cookouts, ice cream, watermelon and smores around the campfire) setting up an ideal host for viruses that thrive in an acidic blood environment. After the Fall Equinox, with unseasonable hot weather often returning briefly, viral infections begin to emerge. Historically, this is when most cases of polio first emerged before Jonas Salk got to work on his vaccine — and now these months are commonly called “flu season.”

Cases of bronchitis or sinus congestion at these times, accompanied by mild fevers and malaise, are usually easily managed with common over-the-counter remedies, rest and the proverbial chicken soup approach preferred by our elders.

But too much animal food or salty dishes (yang) during this time can complicate recovery, often driving infections deeper into the respiratory system and sometimes causing pneumonia.

Instead, foods rich in Vitamin C, and even supplementation, are expansive (yin) approaches that counterbalance the downward energy of meat, eggs, and salt; however, a far easier as a way to shorten the illness and return to balance is by limiting or totally eliminating animal food and in particular all milk-based dairy from the diet as soon as upper respiratory symptoms first emerge.

The principal food of most cultures is whole cereal grain — not animal food — and has helped populations all over the world maintain ecological balance.

A  2019 study from the Journal of the American Heart Association found that middle-aged adults who ate diets high in healthful plant foods and low in animal products had a lower risk of heart disease. Plant-based diets focused on whole cereal grains, seasonal vegetables, and fruits, nuts and seeds are best not only to prevent disease but for the health of our planet.

What should I do right away?

Don’t panic if you begin to show any signs of illness! COVID-19 is not a death sentence, and most people will experience only mild symptoms and recover as we have seen with cases of the flu. Stay hydrated, minimize social contacts and rest; short term use of any number of natural nasal sprays readily available on the market can also be used to keep a runny nose from spreading the virus and relieve nasal congestion although this symptom is more often an indication of influenza or the common cold than a sign of COVID-19. One benefit of acting quickly when symptoms first appear is to assure a good night’s sleep – vital in maintaining a healthy immune system.

But this is not the flu — this time it’s different – but not entirely!

COVID-19 presents us with a new challenge, though the principles to follow remain the same. Clinicians in China report that individuals with hypertension and cardiovascular problems tend to have greater complications and morbidity than others, so one must reflect on what might have been the original cause of these imbalances. The answer more often than not is that this population has consumed animal food resulting in acidic blood resulting in a contracting, downward force that narrows blood vessels and increases pumping pressure; in other words, hypertension.

When the coronavirus invades the body through the air, it first enters the nasal passages, sinuses, throat and the upper airways. Keeping the nasal passages clear through the use of steam or humidifier is a good idea, particularly in a heated, dry home. Gargling with warm, salty water and placing a warm compress over the face and bridge of the nose may also be helpful. In addition, experiment with a saline nasal gel or mild herbal salves to keep the passages lubricated and keep tiny viral particles at bay.

Steaming with natural essential oils from peppermint, eucalyptus or tea tree oil can help keep nasal passages open.

If the virus becomes particularly virulent, it will have a tendency to move downward (yang) as it replicates and will eventually impact lung tissue while attaching itself to the epithelial cells or lining of the entire respiratory system. In this environment, mucous causing foods like milk, yogurt, cheese, and butter create the perfect environment for the virus to take up residence and do considerable damage.  Though some practitioners recommend the use of spices, strong spices will disperse the harmonious energies of the lungs (despite some anti-inflammatory benefit of some) and are contraindicated when symptoms are present.


Garlic contains hundreds of minerals and nutrients. It is very likely that no one ingredient is the “active ingredient.” It is likely that garlic’s effectiveness and safety come from these ingredients working together in concert.

One exception is garlic, a member of the Lilly family whose closest cousins include the onion and shallot – more roots – and in fact, most healers don’t consider it a spice per se but rather recognize its immune-boosting quality.

Time for chicken soup? Vitamin C?

Not necessarily! What about piling on Vitamin C-rich fruits? Maybe not so wise either since acidity can make things worse. In that sense, it’s prudent to avoid vegetables that cause too much acid as well, like tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant. Though many natural health providers recommend various vitamin supplements to boost the immune system, making smart choices in daily food has the most direct effect on our overall blood quality and offers us the best defense.

But are there any supplements or tinctures that can be beneficial now?

The regular use of astragalus and elderberry syrup are great preventative measures that can be included; however, if symptoms appear, discontinue astragalus immediately as this will “keep the burglar in the house” as the Chinese adage says about its use when already sick.

Vegetable foods that possess gentle upward (yin) energies, like leafy greens (also known as signature choice foods as the green leaves of collards, kale and others have the same form as the lungs and bronchial tree) offer the balancing energy needed.

Leafy greens provide calcium, Vitamin C and other important nutrients with an upward growth energy.

Spinach, though high in iron, can create acidity due to its high content of oxalic acid so that particular green vegetable is best minimized. Mushrooms in small quantities – especially cordyceps, Reishi, maitake, and shiitake, are ideal foods and should always be cooked and used often in small amounts and a variety of dishes. They match the upward energy criteria perfectly; also think scallions, leeks, and chives in this regard.

The overall goal is to create and maintain alkalinity. To that end, become familiar with the miraculous Japanese plum called umeboshi. These tasty “pickled” plums have an alkalizing effect on the body, as both the shiso leaves, the citric acid, and the fermentation process form a triple-punch of health benefits that help to combat and eliminate nausea, diarrhea, bacterial infections, and many other ailments.

The combination of health benefits and unique flavor make the umeboshi plum an invaluable superfood to alkalize the blood and defend against viruses and bacterial infections.

Viruses and bacteria which cause bronchitis and colds thrive in an acidic environment. Keeping pH in the slightly alkaline range of 6.8-7.2 can reduce the risk and lessen the severity of colds, sore throats, and bouts of influenza. One way toward achieving this important balance is by including gently upward, relatively quick-growing vegetables and mineral-rich foods that are easily digested. It is logical that eating a lot of animal foods after testing positive can be catastrophic – especially for the elderly who for decades may have already eaten plenty of salted pork and beef, or for those individuals with diabetes or other immune-suppressed conditions. Consumption of animal food makes it nearly impossible to maintain an alkaline environment especially when sugar is present in the diet as well. That’s the perfect combination for worsening an already bad situation.

What might the ideal menu look like? What foods should be included?

Use of root vegetables (onions, turnips, carrots, parsnips, etc.) in stews with a dash of rosemary is appropriate in such cases.  Serving whole grain dishes like soft cooked millet (the only alkaline grain) mashed with cauliflower (the signature vegetable of lungs and the bronchial tree) are very digestible and satisfying.  

Especially in colder weather, daily intake of warming soups — sometimes including small amounts of thinly sliced daikon radish (to break apart fats in the upper body) and wakame sea vegetable (mineral-rich) seasoned with mild miso (enzyme-rich fermented foods) are always helpful.

A large variety of sweet winter squashes make ideal soups for cold nights.

Sweet soups served with generous scallions as a garnish once a day moistens tissues and helps a dry cough; if fresh lotus root is available, small side dishes with other sea vegetables like arame or hijiki can be helpful as well. Overall, salt should be used sparingly if symptoms present – but by no means avoided!

Fall and late fall cooked fruits like stewed apricots or applesauce can help those with sweet cravings. As coronavirus is sensitive to heat, hot liquids like herbal teas and soups are beneficial; as such, icy beverages should remain out of sight until there’s reason to celebrate.

Most people who do test positive will recover within a short period of time, though many will suffer through weeks of discomfort. Should breathing become labored or extremely difficult, immediate medical attention including respirators can be lifesaving. There’s a time and place for compresses and special dishes, but not when gasping for air.

What’s the best way to prevent getting sick?

Aside from handwashing hygiene and social distancing, keep in mind that what we eat creates the best defense against illness and boosting our immune system every day need not be complicated or costly.

To that end, the Web also offers another great immune booster. Rather than reading the daily news about the spread of COVID-19, find some funny videos and laugh!! There is plenty of science behind this last recommendation; mirthful laughter increases NK cells in the body (the ones that mount defenses against invaders) and it’s a lot more fun than contemplating where the spread of this virus might go next.

So now that you’re stuck at home, invite a trusted friend over for dinner, chew well, and find a funny way to laugh yourselves to health and happiness.

Good Health!

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Here are a few of the recent Facebook posts my “friends” have posted:

“Here is a list of Bernie Sander’s $19.6 Trillion tax hikes.”
“Muslim Refugees Cause Panic: Rapes and Looting Become Widespread in Europe.”
“Putin to Show Proof 9/11 was an Inside Job.”
“Trump’s Claim: “Shooting someone wouldn’t lose me a single vote!”
“Chemtrails and the Secret Poisoning of America.”
“Hillary Clinton: Career Criminal.”
“One more reason to love Pat Buchanan!”
“Twin Kittens Play Chopsticks on Family Piano.”

The cacophony of anger, disappointment and outright disgust with the American political process coupled with the banality of cat videos and lottery winners gone bust has reached epic proportions. I’ve written before about the state of madness we are witnessing as concern over mass shootings results not in gun control but record sales of handguns. Millions are convinced that government measures to limit the sale of weapons of war like AK-47s are only meant to disarm an unsuspecting public.

A national disagreement over mandatory vaccinations versus parental freedom has led to numerous state-sponsored legislation both pro and con with those on each side claiming science as its champion. While election polls gyrate, town halls turn into shouting matches and televised debates create never before seen revenue for the media. Citing the public shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, a neighbor of mine, when informed about a local “talk-back” with our Congresswoman, told me she wasn’t attending since “I don’t want to be a target for some whacko.” Stories about terror and homelessness receive less attention than football scores and reality stars. No one can claim we aren’t entertained but are we better informed? And so I wonder how many, new online friendships have made a meaningful contribution to my personal growth and evolution as a father, a husband and a caring man?

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My first experience with political activism occurred when I was 12 years old. A recent transplant from Pittsburgh, I found myself in Atlanta only a few months before a 34-year-old attorney named Charles Weltner announced his candidacy for a seat in the U.S. Congress. My new stepfather (also an attorney) was a friend of his, and soon other teenagers in our community became interested in his message. We were easily inspired by this young liberal Democrat and within a few weeks, many of us volunteered to stuff envelopes, working nights and weekends in his campaign office. I cannot think of one person I knew who didn’t support him.

Later that year, Weltner first defeated a seven-term incumbent in the Democratic primary and went on to win the general election, trouncing his Republican opponent by ten percentage points. Weltner was the only member of the Georgia congressional delegation to vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Two years later, he refused to run for reelection when the state Democratic Party demanded he sign a loyalty oath that would have required him to support Lester Maddox, an ardent segregationist who eventually became Georgia’s governor. Weltner told his supporters he “would give up his office before giving up his principles.” U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. both hailed his courage for rejecting Maddox. Those years in Atlanta marked the beginning of my active involvement in the larger, social landscape and partisan politics. My small circle of friends defined my white privilege and soon gave birth to our shared interests for the rights of minorities, poverty, health care and education.

Charles Weltner went on to become a highly respected judge and served for twelve years as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia until his death in 1992. Only a year before, in 1991, he became the second recipient of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. From my perspective, few elected officials in modern times truly embody the essence of that award as well as he did.

“Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.”
John F. Kennedy

For a multitude of reasons, political activism today is vastly different than it was 50 years ago. I am not pointing to problems with campaign finance, immigration, racial and ethnic tensions or robocalls; instead, it is the impact of television and social media in the global village we share with so many friends both down the street and on the other side of the planet that has vastly changed the landscape. The world is no smaller; we’re just closer together. And ironically, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and hundreds of blogs are not only sources of endless information that can be easily shared but have at the same time become turbocharged fuel for conflicts between cultures and even the best of friends.

Passionate devotion to a principle or candidate in ways less obvious to me than when I was 12 now seem to intensify rapidly into bitter arguments where civil discourse is almost impossible. Some issues are so important to many of my friends that a calm difference of opinion or support of an idea or candidate often gives way to harsh words and a deteriorating friendship. It doesn’t seem to matter which idea, person or party is discussed since the difference of viewpoints can be so great. More and more people, identifying as “independent voters” are often the opposite: slaves to mainstream media, the internet and tired dogma and misinformation.

But at the moment, the issues themselves are less of a concern for me than are friendships with people whom I witness taking views opposite from my own. I question if some friendships can survive the venom. Case in point, I often wonder how James Carville and Mary Matalin survive in the same house?!

“What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.” Aristotle

My friend Julie is an attorney living in New England who has been an ardent supporter of Hillary Clinton. A bright woman and deep thinker, Julie frequently joins an online chat to weigh in about the Democratic race. In a thread on Facebook, she will insist that Bernie Sanders has no credible foreign policy experience only minutes before another friend will point out that Clinton looks like a neocon warmonger. Back and forth they go before other friends take sides (“Bernie isn’t electable” or “Hillary will never get tough with bankers”). Soon, viewpoints turn to insults, and thoughtful observations are branded as foolish. Perhaps if we were in the same room, we could better judge facial expression and tone of voice, but I read many comments from those who attack her as downright mean-spirited and offensive.

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And then there’s my neighbor Wes, a construction worker who pulls out of his driveway no later than 6 AM every morning, who doesn’t want the government to mess with his rights to own a gun. A good-hearted, tolerant family man who probably doesn’t even go online except perhaps to research a new hand drill, he identifies with Trump’s anger and bravado and is convinced he’d change Washington. In any discussion Wes has with our neighbor Chuck across the street – a pro-life insurance executive who says that marriage is between a man and a woman — Wes will stand dumbfounded as Chuck quotes a verse from the Bible seconds before sharing his excitement for the candidate of his choice, Ted Cruz. The two of them could hardly be more different; Wes lives in a two bedroom log home he built himself while Chuck’s residence – quadruple the size and worth, at least, triple the value – is one of three homes he owns. The two are at best only casual friends, but I can easily see them as enemies with little common ground in the year ahead if, that is, their friendship even survives.

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A third example, Alice, who lives with her husband and three small children in the Mid-Atlantic, seems to live 24/7 on Facebook and continually posts negative bashes about virtually every candidate, often anti-Semitic vitriol under the auspices of being a “truth seeker” and educator. To her credit, she promotes many wonderful causes but seems intent on mixing them with bizarre stories that Snopes.com found totally fallacious months ago. I’m stumped as to how she has so much time on her hands given that she’s pregnant and no doubt busy with everyday responsibilities, yet to my utter amazement she keeps dropping new links into her feed. It’s a rare day when she doesn’t also post at least one conspiracy theory about mind control, Princess Diana or the Illuminati. When Alice is challenged by any of her many Facebook friends (she has thousands), she lashes out at them, ending her diatribes with “peace to everyone.” As I contemplate un-friending her and thereby eliminating the need to wade through the smorgasbord of links to irate blogs, Facebook remains one way we’ve stayed in touch. I’m sure I’m not the only person who faces this same dilemma – to keep in touch or fade into the background.

“Whenever you have truth, it must be given with love or the message and the messenger will be rejected.” Mahatma Gandhi

Facebook has no doubt conducted proprietary research on the subject of friendship and has positioned itself at the central crossroads in many people’s lives. True friendships are as rare as the full truth and nothing but the truth. The best ones are the kind one of my buddies calls “the 2 AM friend.” That’s the guy who will get out of bed and pick you up on the highway in the middle of the night when you run out of gas – and make no mention of it again. Those “shirt off my back” friends probably aren’t going to end a relationship as a result of a disagreement over an issue or a single news story. But I do question how easy it seems to throw caution to the wind when we exchange perspectives online about one candidate or another, an issue or topic of interest without awe for the rare privilege we have to voice even a difference of opinion.

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I ask myself, with less than a year to go before the general election, will I have the courage to stand by my principles and respectfully pay attention to those with whom I might fervently disagree? Clearly, to be the change, I will continue to try to listen with compassion and respect as I roll my tongue back when my personal viewpoints on every matter are challenged. It is always helpful to remember that the great sages urged us to love others, and very few suggested we also had to like them.

“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.”
Elbert Hubbard
 

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37

Since traveling to Sri Lanka in 2004 following the tsunami, our foundation has sent trauma teams to Indonesia, Samoa, Japan, the Philippines and Nepal. We’ve worked with other international disaster groups for weeks at a time in remote mountain villages — sometimes with only a dozen residents — and played with thousands of children in makeshift relief camps in every corner of the world. Cyclones, tsunamis, earthquakes and superstorms all leave behind victims who must rebuild their homes and lives. As the refugee crisis worsened in Europe, and with the support of our donors, my son and I set off to train Red Cross workers near Zagreb who struggled to keep up with the increasing numbers of migrants headed for Western Europe.

This time, I have been away for about a week. As the plane touches down at the new Terminal 3 at Heathrow after a short trip visiting the refugee camp on the Croatian border, the frightened eyes of one resident there are still visible — burnt on the back of my tired eyelids.

I walked the long jetway into what seems like miles of cold marble leading to a checkpoint below the huge sign, “UK Border.” Here, I present my US Passport, answer the predictable “What is the purpose of your visit?” and “How long will you be in the UK?” and am quickly cleared to board the escalator down to retrieve my suitcase. I reflect on the fact that my US passport is a privilege easily taken for granted.

In my bag is only what I felt I’d need to visit both London and Croatia: a sturdy raincoat, a pair of good boots, three sweaters, as many shirts, a few pairs of jeans, a pair of dress slacks, underwear, socks, pajamas, toiletries, some wires and adaptors and something I rarely leave behind – a small temperature gauge. I find it difficult to sleep outside of about a ten-degree range, so it’s helpful to have an accurate reading. Over my shoulder, I carry a small case that holds some snacks, my computer, two pairs of eyeglasses and the book I am reading, “The Children of Katrina.”

About my age and roughly the same size, the man whose eyes remain in my consciousness probably left Syria many weeks before I left my home in Connecticut. Unlike him, I heard no bombs dropping near my home nor did I sense any imminent danger when I prepared to leave my home. While I saw the colors of changing leaves in the woods as I drove, he saw mostly burnt out buildings, piles of gray rubble, smoke still rising from the ruins of his corner market when he took flight. I bought groceries before I left and drove to JFK; he stuffed his small backpack with fruit and crackers, walked for days across a neighboring country and eventually climbed aboard a small rubber boat with a dozen others to float off to an unknown future. Only a mile from shore, the boat’s pilot jumped into the water to return to shore leaving everyone else to make the trip alone. Nearly 3,000 of his friends drowned this year including one three-year-old boy whose picture the world has seen and will never forget.

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On dry land hours later, my alter ego began a long walk similar to the tens of thousands like him who have made this journey. If he was one of the lucky ones, he was handed a bag containing bread, water and maybe some figs or grapes along the way, gifts of any number of good Samaritans in Greece or Macedonia who cheered him on. Many hours aboard a bus, a train ride packed to the max and then another long bus ride brought him to the camp near the Serbian border, at Opacovac, Croatia where we met less than a week ago. I was dry, well fed and dressed in warm clothing. He was every opposite.

At Heathrow, once I retrieved my suitcase, I walked through the exit marked “EU Arrivals.” The doors at the other end just passed the inspection tables used by customs opened to shelves holding boxes of liquor, dozens of brands of perfume, jewelry, watches, chocolates and row upon row of gifts I could purchase without paying VAT. Welcome to the United Kingdom! I spotted the driver I’d asked to meet me and was soon on my way to my hotel in central London. I was in the back of a late model sedan.

Far from his home, my Syrian friend climbed down the stairs of the bus inside the fences of Opacovac where border police shuttled him into the UNHCR camp built to house 4,000. He was part of a group of 7,500; all led along a muddy path to sit on benches and processed. Neither he nor any of his group carried passports. He announced that he was seeking political asylum and wanted to go to Germany.

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After a few hours sitting on wooden benches, he was taken to one of many tents where small cots had been stationed for him to stretch out and sleep.

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If he was lucky, he’d be under shelter; if not, he’d be outside in pouring rain under a thin poncho issued to him when he entered the camp. Asked if he had any medical issues, he also had an opportunity to visit a Red Cross station where he could receive emergency care for blistered feet, a hacking cough or diarrhea. I learned later that many sought help most often for these three maladies. Plastic bottles of clean water were placed near the tents next to latrines where he and others could defecate. Most of the paths were covered with freshly placed gravel though some muddy patches remained. He received four pieces of bread stacked neatly on a napkin together with a tin of fish pâté and an apple. He may have left the camp the next day, boarding a bus to the Hungarian border to take another train through Slovenia to Austria; he might also have waited another three days before leaving the camp when Hungary closed their border the day after we met. I’ll never know.

* * *

No one we met in London denied the moral necessity of allowing Syrians and others who made this journey entry into the European Union; at the same time, no one had answers as to how to improve the situation. With colder weather and the snows of winter looming around the corner, this migration will most likely turn into an even more desperate humanitarian crisis.

A vocal right wing is calling for closed borders, and some immigrants are already being deported. Europe has quickly become a tinderbox, tense and volatile without leadership and consensus, burdened by struggling economies made worse by the demands of millions of refugees seeking opportunity. One German man told us about a small country village in Bavaria where 200 residents have lived peacefully for centuries. The government just settled 2,000 refugees there.

* * *

The ride into London presented me with the most extreme cognitive dissonance I’ve ever experienced. Every third car a six-figure purchase, the owners hurrying into restaurants and clubs where champagne and caviar overflow. Shop windows sparkle while the homeless panhandle between fur coats, diamonds and cashmere. Drunken rugby fans mix with art collectors considering million-dollar abstracts for their living rooms. Crowds of shoppers along Oxford Street seem oblivious to life outside the comfort zone of an illusory future, sobered no doubt for a few moments by the morning news.

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Consumerism may be the most destructive degenerative sickness of our culture, and fashion, as Mark Twain remarked, the whore of time. Together, they take our attention away from poverty, wealth disparity and world hunger.

* * *

Refugees in Opacovac cannot adjust the temperature in those tents to help them sleep, and I cannot deny my life of privilege. Now, returning to the US, we all live amidst this unbelievable paradox of haves and have-nots. It will take all I’ve got to reach deep into my soul for the resilience, hope and optimism I had with me when I left home.

Truth be told, this trip ripped my heart out. For those of us at Second Response, there is not much more we can do but keep on keeping on.

May I, and all beings, be free from suffering.

 

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On September 15th, Hungary’s construction of a 13-foot-high fence along its Serbian border forced refugees fleeing Syria to re-route through Croatia. On September 20th, the U.N. quickly established a refugee camp at Opatovac, Croatia with a capacity to temporarily shelter 5,000 refugees trying to get to Western Europe.  The space required for that many cots would take up six football fields; however, more than 85,000 migrants have now entered Croatia since September 15th, when Hungary erected that fence and more are arriving every day. Try to visualize instead an area that would cover 100 football fields instead of just six — and that’s just for the area needed for the cots.

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With Hungary’s border closed, tens of thousands of refugees are now corraled in a UNCHR (United Nations Commission on Human Rights) facility at the margins of Croatia — an already struggling Balkan nation of 4.2 million, swelling roads near its border as relief workers and government agencies attempt to improve the situation and journalists race to cover the story.

Yesterday’s constant rain inflicted misery all around. Aid workers handed out dry clothes and described their horror at seeing infants soaked to the skin through layer after layer of wet clothes. Refugees are sleeping out in the open, and temperatures are dropping.

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For months now, I have listened with shock and a feeling of helplessness to the news of the plight of refugees from Syria flooding the European borders. This tragedy has a cause we won’t soon resolve, and although this crisis is merely a symptom of a senseless war, I am even more motivated to do something beyond reading the news while I wonder what will happen next. This crisis is already an unprecedented exodus and requires an “outside the box” intervention that can support everyone on the ground.

In two weeks, Second Response will have an opportunity to directly reach some of our nameless brothers and sisters who are now living through this horrific trauma – but to do so we need support. With it, my eldest son Jonah and I will first be conducting a PLAYshop training at the International Macrobiotic Convention in Zagreb attended by delegates from all over Europe. Following that, we expect the Croatian Ministry of Social Policy and Youth to help us get to Opatovac on October 14th and 15th where we can offer our support to the refugees — especially the children – and train the UNICEF staff, Croatian Red Cross responders, and other volunteers on site in our PLAYshop trauma protocol — the same, effective work we have done in Nepal, the Philippines, Japan, Samoa and Indonesia. Gaea Logan, our partner from the International Center for Mental Health and Human Rights – herself experienced in traumatology following decades of similar work particularly with Tibetan refugees — will join our efforts.

To get on the ground in Opatovac, Second Response needs to quickly raise $12,000 to cover costs of air and ground travel, simple meals & accommodations for our instructors, plus medical supplies, printing, translation costs and other necessities. We are experts in this labor of love and are dedicated to do everything we can to relieve suffering and reduce the traumatic stress impacting children. Without such simple yet effective psychosocial interventions, history suggests as many as 10-12% of children will suffer the lifetime consequences of P.T.S.D. Our work can reduce those occurrences and help to restore calm and stability to both overworked caregivers and thousands of refugees.

Please consider ways you might support our efforts with a donation or other resources.

We are grateful for any amount and inspired by your trust and partnership in our shared vision to help children around the world facing traumatic events. Now more than ever, we are especially thankful for financial support that will enable us to provide relief in the urgent situation in Croatia.

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Not long ago, as is their practice, pharmaceutical companies in the USA conducted a series of experiments. One of particular note involved the behavior and speed of mice in a maze. Once a baseline was established, subjects were exposed to mild electric shocks immediately before entering. Following the shock, most of the mice exhibited difficulties achieving the goal; some slowed down, others shivered, convulsed, defecated, or became disoriented, and some even went catatonic before finally proceeding. A few, unlike before the shock, never made it to the end at all.

A week later, the mice were run through the maze a third time, but this time, after the mice were shocked, they were given a small amount of an opioid similar to oxycodone before being placed in the maze. As before, their total travel time was recorded as well as any unusual behaviors. These mice did considerably better than in the second case with only a few mice even struggling to finish; however, the average time to completion decreased.

The manufacturers of the opioid were particularly interested to note that while the mice given the drugs moved more slowly through the course, they did make it to the end with a significant reduction in observable neurological disturbance.

*     *     *

Some of my friends cannot understand why I often arrive at my office at 6:30 in the morning and often remain there for 12 hours. One of the reasons is that I have a recurring nightmare. In real life, only last week, Purdu Pharma – a drug manufacturer implicated in reports correlating the introduction of opioids to a 435% increase in heroin addiction – announced the availability of a new form of the drug oxycontin, a time release variant of the pain killer Oxycodone, specifically designed for use by children. This synthetic form of the opiate heroin is already being marketed for use by children with cancer who are experiencing extreme pain. Not surprisingly, however, doctors have also prescribed drugs of this nature for use in treating or preventing serious traumatic pathologies in children.

What we have been doing for the past two years at Second Response sometimes feels like a race against the clock, against pharmaceutical companies and doctors who are waiting in the wings to treat children’s traumatic stress with mind numbing drugs. As a former drug and alcohol rehabilitation counselor, this possibility, together with society’s collective desire for magic bullet treatments for every malady, is actually my personal nightmare.

While we promote our training protocols as an alternative to this misguided practice, I can still imagine thousands of children being given drugs to help them deal with the traumas of disaster, or after being displaced by earthquakes or floods, under the banner of palliative care. Children impacted by stress, distress and trauma do not suddenly develop a new biologically based chemical imbalance that requires the use of drugs like serotonin uptake inhibitors, opioids, or anything else manufactured by big pharma. While some may consider this widespread distribution of remedies an acceptable solution for a massive problem, why not explore every possible intervention without using those that have well documented, long term side effects that carry the potential to develop chemical dependencies?

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If we act compassionately and with haste, children’s futures need not be one in which medications of this type play any role at all. Despite increasing incidence of traumatic stress, it is still quite possible to teach strategies for self regulation, mindfulness and programs that include play as ways to mitigate stress effectively and put kids back on a road to joy and fun instead of leading them down a path to addiction and a lifetime of dependency.

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(23)

You don’t know me.

I came from a small village where grainy bread, kneaded by the leathery hands of my grandfather, was made fresh every day, sold to farmers and school children who packed it into their satchels on their way to face the world. My grandmother stayed at home most of the time, her mind still sharp as she sat in a wooden chair knitting, humming and praying that the end would come soon.

My father drove a truck, making just enough to feed his small family, my Mom, brother, and me. But he knew we had to leave — there seemed to be little choice. With each new day, there was more reason to escape, to walk and ride and walk again to the edge, an exit point from this despair and an entry to another world.

You don’t really know me, but I matter, because I am the son of a mother who weeps at night in fear that she will lose me, that my future is in her weak hands that barely have the strength to hold my frail body. Like your son and daughter, your cousin or neighbor, I want to be strong and brave, but I am scared because of what I see and hear.

My uncle says we will go soon, we will leave at night when I am asleep, and he will carry me in his arms. My aunt will take food and water so I should not worry. Be brave, he says, we will all be OK. Our journey may be hard at first, but there will be many friends along the way who will go with us, so we won’t be alone. We have hope.

No, you don’t really know me, but I am your past. I am the Irish son of your great grandfather who nearly starved to death eating only potatoes. We came to live in Boston. I’m the Columbian nephew of your housepainter who was almost taken by the drug lords. He rents an apartment in Atlanta.  Do you remember the nice Korean bank manager in Seattle who helped you with your car loan? I am her aunt who worked eighty hours a week at the corner market to put her through business school. I am the old friend of the kosher butcher whose parents escaped the Nazis in Poland and came to the Lower East Side to work in the sweatshops, who saved enough money to open that deli where you bought Matzoh for Passover this year.

How about that cop who wrote you that speeding ticket a few years ago on I-80? Guess what — he was the godson of the parish priest who arrived after war broke out in Bosnia, who heard that you had a statue with an inscription that said “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.”  Immigrants

That’s why he came and worked so hard to make sure his divine progeny could realize his dream of helping others. I am the great uncle of your college professor who left Kenya when he was still in the belly of my mother while she slaved on your plantation.

No, you think you don’t know me, but I am your past and your future, your brother and sister. I am the rest of those words from that statue, the one in your New York harbor that talks about the wretched refuse coming to your teeming shore. I am a homeless, tempest-tossed foreigner — a child caught in a world gone mad.

And I am no different than you, my skin wrapped around my beating heart — pleading for mercy and loving-kindness and waiting for this long night to end.

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