Look Within at Deer Park Monastery

“In, out.  Deep, slow.

Calm, ease.  Smile, release.

Present moment,

wonderful moment.”

I was standing outside with nuns, monks, and laypeople.  The majority of the monastics were Vietnamese.  We formed a circle and everyone started to sing, but because I didn’t know the song I listened to the words.  “In, out, deep, slow.”  My face turned bright red and I wondered if I had heard them right.  “Calm, ease, smile, release.”  I was so close to bursting into laughter, but instead I contorted my face into a bunch of weird expressions and somehow managed to not laugh out loud.  I didn’t mind the possibility of embarrassing myself – I just didn’t want to disrespect a bunch of nuns and monks in their home.

This is one of the many songs sung by the sangha (community) at Deer Park monastery.  All I could think about was sex!  I practice many of the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, but I definitely have a sense of humor.  The students of Thich Nhat Hanh affectionately call him by his nickname, Thay.  Well, when Thay wrote this song, it was abundantly clear that he had never had sex before becoming a monk (at least I don’t think he ever had sex – I’ve never asked him personally though).  Don’t get me wrong – I love this song; it just makes me giggle

I have a very deep respect for Thay and his teachings.  His words are so gentle and his messages are simple:  Be in the present moment; breathe; practice compassion and understanding; be aware – be mindful in all that you do.  Dwelling in the present moment and being mindful in all of your actions are his 2 main teachings.  These are very simple messages, but when put into action they can be very difficult to maintain.  How many of us can say that from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to sleep we are fully present in each and every moment?  Are we in the present moment while we’re brushing our teeth?  Are we in the present moment while we are eating our meal?  Are we in the present moment while we are having a conversation with a coworker or friend?  I’m usually not, but I’m working on it.  Some days are good and my awareness is heightened; I am able to deeply listen to others.  Other days I’m just irrational, scatter brained, or a multi-tasking machine.   My lifestyle continues to evolve as I find a rhythm that makes living in the present moment natural and familiar.

Let me just give you an example of what it is like to be in the present moment.  When I was staying at Deer Park I enjoyed eating my meals with the sangha.  The process is this:  You pay your respects before even entering the dining area, and what I mean by ‘paying your respects’ is that you place your hands together at your heart, and bow.  When you do this you are coming into the present moment, and you are showing your appreciation for the food that has been prepared for you.  Next, you offer respect by bowing before picking up your bowl and your spoon.  You serve yourself a portion of the vegetarian meal that has been prepared for you while keeping in mind that there are others waiting in line behind you.  You tend to have a bit more ‘portion control’ (the amount you serve yourself) when you’re in this type of situation.  You take your meal over to a table, but before you sit down you bow and show gratitude to the table and chair.  Once seated, you wait for everyone else to take their seats as well.  Meanwhile, your salivary glands become activated (which is great for aiding digestion) and your patience is tested.  Once everyone is seated a prayer is said aloud and everyone closes their eyes and listens while their palms are together at their hearts.  Then everyone opens their eyes and each person takes turns bowing to each other at their table as a way of showing respect for one another.  Finally, you say your own personal prayer in silence and bow towards your food.  This is your time to think of the people who prepared your food, the farmers who grew the food, the sun and the rain, and everyone else involved.  Now you can eat.

This entire process is done in complete silence.  This ritual isn’t as long as it seems and it’s actually quite enjoyable.  Personally, I love it.  You really come into the present moment.   Plus, the process helps facilitate proper digestion.  Digestion improves when we are relaxed, focused on eating, and enjoying our food.

When you eat at Deer Park you eat mindfully (or at least you try to).  You appreciate each bite and chew until your food is no longer solid.  This doesn’t always happen, but this is what we strive for.  Apparently, Thay chews his food 60 times before he swallows.  I’ve never actually witnessed this and I don’t really care to.  I do not count how many times I chew my food.  I just chew until I’m done.  That’s it.

I will say that the food at Deer Park is phenomenal and it would be very easy to eat like a vegetarian if all of your meals tasted this good.  Some of the dishes include marinated tofu, oriental mushrooms, rice, soups, quinoa, beans, lentils, and a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.  I have always looked forward to their meals.

Now that we’ve talked in depth about eating at Deer Park let me tell you why I even went to Deer Park in the first place.

In the summer of 2010 I was a full-time student studying several modalities of holistic health.  I was engaged to be married for the second time in my life to a man I no longer loved.  We were going through a very long break-up process.  I knew that I didn’t want to be with him since February of 2010 and we didn’t officially break-up until September of 2010.  It became ‘official’ when he and I were no longer living together.  The romance had died out several months before that and the passion never truly existed.  I had come to a place in my life where I was no longer willing to settle in my relationship.  I knew that he wasn’t the one.

One night I was out at a bar with a girl friend.  A guy came up to me and we started talking.  He told me about Deer Park because he had just returned from a week long retreat and this was his first day back in the ‘real world.’  He went to Deer Park as a way of coping with his heartache.  His girlfriend of 3 years had just dumped him because she was on a ‘spiritual journey and needed to be free.’  He said that his experience at Deer Park was life changing, yet as I write this I can’t help but think that he was out at a bar the first night he came back from his retreat.  Deer Park doesn’t make your problems go away.  I found that out first hand.  But it does provide you with an atmosphere that is conducive to healing, and it helps you to explore the root cause of your pain.  Deer Park is a distraction-free, nurturing environment that allows you to meditate, listen to your heart, and explore the depths of your true essence.

This is exactly what I wanted to do, so without thinking too much about it I went online and booked a week long stay.  I was a little nervous about going because the idea of looking deeply within myself could be painful and could conjure up uncomfortable feelings.  I knew I needed to do it though.  I was ready to cleanse on all levels.

My belief is that you should only do things when you are truly ready.  If you end up missing out on an opportunity, then fine.  Learn from it and move on.  I was so ready to experience life at Deer Park and because I was in that state of mind I believe that it made my experience what it was:  One of the most profound moments in my life.

Deer Park is a Buddhist monastery.  The monastics practice Engaged Buddhism.   The ‘Engaged’ part means that one is able to apply these practices to their everyday life.  You don’t have to be a monastic and you don’t have to be a Buddhist to come to Deer Park.  In fact, I’ve seen clergy members of different faiths practice the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh at Deer Park.  Many religious folks come to Deer Park not to be converted, but to enhance their own relationship with their God.  Engaged Buddhism is more like a lifestyle rather than a religion.  I don’t agree with all of the teachings, but I agree with most of them.

The monastics discourage you from bringing your cell phone and laptop to the monastery.  My time at Deer Park was technology-free and I was happy to take a break from Facebook and text messaging if only for a week.  Smoking and drinking alcohol are not allowed.  The nuns and monks do their best to provide a healthy and healing environment for their guests and for themselves.  The moment I drove through the entrance gate, I felt compelled to turn off the radio, roll down the windows, and breathe in the fresh mountain air.  I drove slowly and listened to the wind; I invited the sunshine to warm my skin, and I let myself be moved by the wonder and awe of my new surroundings.  I was ready.

I stayed in Clarity Hamlet, which is the part of the monastery where the laywomen and nuns reside.  The women typically work and eat separately from the men, except during Days of Mindfulness when anyone is invited to come and partake in daily activities at the monastery.  I participated in walking meditation, the Dharma talk & discussion, chanting, mindful eating, and ‘total relaxation’.  The men and women reside separately because the nuns and monks of Deer Park have committed to a life of celibacy, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have sexual urges.  They’re human beings after all – no better or worse than any of us.  They have desires and temptations just like everybody else, and so it is important for them to create an environment that helps them to succeed in their practice.

This was my biggest qualm about becoming a nun:  No more romantic love.  And yes, I seriously considered becoming a nun.  By the end of my first week at Deer Park I was contemplating life as a monastic.  My perception of Deer Park was still romanticized, and I had not seen all that truly existed there yet.  I wasn’t so hung up on the idea of being celibate as I was about giving up my freedom to fall in love with a man and possibly get married someday.  Some of the nuns had become monastics after they had children.  I wasn’t sure at that time if I wanted to have children of my own, but I knew that I wanted to keep that option open.

I was assigned to the Mountain Lion hut.  Each of the cabins has a name and they sleep up to 6 people.  They have their own toilet and shower.  It’s luxury camping essentially.  You are provided with a bed and you supply your own linens.  I came well equipped with all of my little creature comforts to make my stay as enjoyable as possible.  I brought sheets, a blanket, and a sleeping bag.  My vitamins, books, journal, and aromatherapy sprays made their temporary home on my nightstand. I had plenty of colorful clothes and lots of delicious smelling shampoos, conditioners, and soaps.  I had earplugs for the night, a hat and sunscreen for the day, and a headlamp for walking to the early morning meditation session when the sun was still sleeping.  I set myself up for a really cozy experience and that’s exactly what I had.

 

I replaced my late night snacks with late night reading and meditation.  The monastics discouraged anyone from bringing their own food, but nevertheless, some overlooked that request and munched on Butterfingers.  I very affectionately called this lady “The Butterfinger Pusher.”  She was staying in my hut for a couple of days with one of her girl friends.  She would frequently ask me if I wanted any candy, and I would politely decline.  I wanted to respect the rules of the monastery.  This was their home and we were their guests.

I had 3 roommates.  Two of them were only staying for the weekend while Loulou and I were staying a full week.  I found it very interesting to witness the stark contrast between 2 of my roommates. “The Butterfinger Pusher” worked as a psychologist in San Diego.  She smoked cigarettes in our bathroom and used her cell phone.  She called everyone either “Baby” or “Sweetie”, and she snored like a bear.  During working meditation she worked the hardest in the garden.  She yanked up weeds, raked, and shoveled like a madwoman.  I got tired from just watching her.  Her body was always moving.  She cried to the nuns and they held her hand.  Loulou, on the other hand, was quiet and practiced deep listening.  She was a massage therapist from New York.  She went on walks by herself, read outside in the sun, and smiled at everyone she passed by.  Her energy was calm and wise.  She and I had deep, meaningful conversations.  Her beloved husband had passed away a few years ago and she was still healing from her grief.  These women were two very different people with a common bond:  They both felt pain and they both wanted to let it go.

I spent my free time going on hikes by myself, taking pictures, reading outside, and journaling about my thoughts.  I also spent time with my new friend, Margreeth – A Dutch woman in her late 30′s who had made arrangements to stay at Deer Park for 6 months.  There was an instant connection between us and I looked forward to having tea and good conversation with her outside of her hut.

Margreeth and I talked about what girls often talk about:  Boys.  We also shared stories about personal growth, our goals, fashion, experiences at the monastery, and wine.  Margreeth hadn’t had any wine since she’d been there and although I didn’t drink wine during my stay at Deer Park, I definitely had a glass or two or three when I was back at home.  It makes me think of what was normal for me then is no longer normal for me now.  That was 2 years ago.  I’m no longer drinking alcohol – not to prove anything and not to live by the guidelines of Thich Nhat Hanh, but because I am intolerant to alcohol.  It makes me feel bad physically, and the effects have only gotten way worse as I get older.  Margreeth is back living in Holland where she still practices the art of mindfulness.  She now has a blog of her own (pretapitu.blogspot.nl) that focuses on her 2 passions:  Style and mindfulness.  She has remained an amazing friend who I will cherish forever.

I have been to Deer Park numerous times after that initial week long retreat, but it was during that first week when I really grew as an individual.  I not only learned how to be comfortable by myself, but I came to enjoy it.  The most amazing thing about the experience was that I did not feel an ounce of anger during those 7 days.  For me, that was a pretty big deal.  I was able to be compassionate and understanding the entire time.  For the first time in my life I really loved myself.

You can learn more about Deer Park by visiting their website:  deerparkmonastery.org

Better yet, go visit during one of their Days of Mindfulness (usually held on Thursdays and Sundays.  Check the website for their schedule.)

Take Yourself or a Date to The Yellow Deli!

deli

Ever been to Frontierland at Disneyland?  That’s exactly what The Yellow Deli reminds me of, except that it’s a lot more peaceful, the prices are way cheaper, and it’s run by the Twelve Tribes community.  The Yellow Deli is located in Vista, California on East Broadway.  I lived in Vista for 3 years and moved closer to the coast right before the Yellow Deli opened its doors on February 14, 2010.  Had I stayed in Vista I would’ve made this my regular lunch spot.  The staff is friendly; the service is good; the food is fresh; the drinks are amazing; and the ambiance is so welcoming.  The Yellow Deli is the opposite of sterile and impersonal.  Everything about the place is organic.  If you go there on a Wednesday you’ll have the opportunity to buy fresh, organic fruits, veggies, and their specially made green drink right in front of the restaurant.  Members of The Morning Star Ranch community put their boundless love into building their restaurant.  You can see and feel the quality and care as soon as you walk inside.  The staff wear genuine smiles and their demeanor is warm and friendly.

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My favorite drink is the papaya mate.  It’s an ice cold yerba mate sweetened with fresh papaya juice.  It’s so amazing!  I always order 2 of them, because I like it that much, but if you’re craving something a little creamier then you may want to try their piña colada smoothie.  It’s rich in natural sweetness and delightfully filling.  The soups, sandwiches, and salads are good, but their homemade chili wins hands down.  It’s rich with spices and has plenty of tender ground beef.  Let’s talk desserts and let’s remember that it’s a humble deli – the cream cheese pie with strawberries is delish but the slices are a little small (for me), but that’s probably because I’m used to massive American sized portions.  The Yellow Deli is the perfect place for a first date, lunch or tea with a friend, or a happy place to study.  It’s absolutely perfect for students!  I would feel very comfortable grabbing a table outside, setting up my laptop, and cozying up with a homemade peanut butter cookie, a slice of cream cheese pie and a variety of hot and cold teas.  That would be a freakin awesome day!  It sounds so good I want to do it right now!

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I asked the man who greeted us if he was the owner and he said, “Yes, we are all the owners.”  The Twelve Tribes members who work at The Yellow Deli live, work, and pray together at The Morning Star Ranch in Valley Center, California.  I pulled this from Wikipedia to help explain their beliefs:

“The Twelve Tribes’ beliefs resemble those of Christian fundamentalism and Messianic Judaism; however the group believes that all denominations are fallen, and so refuse to align themselves with any denomination or movement.  They believe that in order for the messiah to return, the Church needs to be restored to its original form seen in the Acts 2:38–42 and Acts 4:32–37. This restoration is not merely the restoration of the 1st century church, but of a new Israel consisting of Twelve Tribes in twelve geographic regions.”

Ethnically Ambiguous Model

In January of 2009 I quit my crappy, horrible, terrible, mundane, soul-sucking desk job and enrolled at the Natural Healing Institute in Encinitas, California.  I decided to take a chance and pursue my real passion – natural medicine.  I was also motivated to try something I had always wanted to do when I was younger, but never did:  Modeling.  I was in the best shape of my life mainly due to my growing interest in alternative medicine.  I was eating healthier, working out, and developing my spirituality.  I felt confident enough to give modeling a real shot.

I was 28 years old.  My first real experience with modeling was with a tiny company called Haiku Wear.  My girl friend was friend’s with the owner of the clothing company – they had known each other since high school.  The shoot didn’t pay anything, but I got to keep the clothes that I modeled.  That was nice, but I wanted to see how I would do with posing and how well I would photograph.

My poses were stiff and my body was rigid.  I felt like I was doing “The Robot.”  I had a girl friend at the shoot who was a natural – it seemed like she had been posing all her life.  It helped to have her there because she would make me laugh and compliment me; it was nice to have a cheerleader rooting me on.  Ultimately, I lacked the confidence I thought I had; plus I wasn’t prepared to shoot in thong underwear and I was super self-conscious about it.  It’s easy to criticize the person in front of the camera…”Oh she should be standing like this.  Her hands should be lower on her hips.  Her expressions look stupid.”  Posing in front of the camera and essentially becoming the center of attention to everyone present is so very different.  I needed to practice.  So that’s what I did.

I practiced a little bit in the mirror at home and was given plenty of advice from photographers, make-up artists, hairstylists…..everybody had an opinion!  Taking suggestions/directions from multiple people all at once can make you confused and that seems to be when the photographer snaps the camera!  It’s a learning process.  You learn what looks good and what looks weird.  In the beginning, you have to do quite a bit of experimenting with poses.

Commercial modeling is very different from being a super model.  Super models are wicked tall, thin, and beautiful in an alien sort of way; it’s also highly competitive.  High end commercial models, for the most part, are in fantastic shape (and usually skinny or very skinny) according to New York City or Los Angeles standards.  What I think is skinny may not be skinny to the Big City folks.  High end commercial models are usually young (late teens, early 20’s) and very tall.  Commercial modeling, as a whole, is a lot more forgiving when it comes to body type – you can be a little “fuller” looking and not quite as tall.  This was perfect for me because I wasn’t interested in giving up any of my food – I may have been thinner but I would’ve been cranky as shit.  Models are needed for all sorts of advertisements so there really is an opportunity for everyone.  You’ve got to capitalize on your strong points.  I decided to market myself as ethnically ambiguous.

I started out as a freelance model.  I had applied at a modeling agency 2 times and was rejected 2 times.  I didn’t take the first casting very seriously and thought I could just roll up without brushing my hair, and my portfolio sucked.  Fail.  The second time I went I said during the interview that “I wanted to see if I could be a model before I got too old.”  Rejection.  I prepared for my third try.  I had a full portfolio with a variety of good, solid photos; I was dressed professionally with my hair and make-up done, and I went into my interview with a very bright and positive attitude.  I was accepted!  You think I would’ve known all of that right from the start, right?  Wrong.  I didn’t know anything about the industry initially and that was apparent to all.

Here’s the interesting thing – I’ve made more money as a freelance model than I have with my agency.  In fact, I’ve made diddly-squat with them.  Quality representation is key.  I had to find out from experience that the agency I was with was a joke.  You live and you learn.

As a freelance model, and especially when I was first starting out, I did a lot of shoots for free.  There was no pay, but I got to have the pictures which I could use for my book.  After I had a decent amount of quality photos in my portfolio, I could demand a little more in exchange for my images;  I received a lot of free product and eventually I started to get paid.  As I said before I’ve done shoots for free or almost nothing, but then I’ve also done gigs for hundreds of dollars.  My biggest paying job dished out $11,000 for 1 day of work.  That is very unusual.  A company wanted me specifically to represent their brand and so I was able to negotiate my rate.  This is the very exciting, and stressful part of modeling – figuring out what you’re worth monetary wise.

My first time at Lightning in a Bottle! 2012

When I think of Lightning in a Bottle the first image that pops into my head is of a guy wearing assless chaps with a Puff the Magic Dragon plushie on the end of his penis.

This was my very first festival.  My husband and I didn’t know how long we would want to be there so we decided to try it out for 1 day.  We chose Sunday because it was my birthday.

Lightning in a Bottle is a celebration of art, music, performance, sustainability and life. It takes place annually on May 24th-28th at the Oak Canyon Ranch in Silverado, CA.

“In current usage, the word “freak” is commonly used to refer to a person with something strikingly unusual about their  appearance or behavior.”  I pulled this from Wikipedia.

I was in a sea of freaks.  I was one of them.  There were a few people who wore “normal” clothes, but they looked like the real freaks. Normal is boring, but totally accepted.  Everyone was accepted – how you dressed didn’t really matter.  Lightning in a Bottle is about being who you are and expressing it any way you like.  It’s a festival of non-judgement.  You want to let your boobies go bare?  No judgement.  You want to take drugs all week?  No problem.  How about men dressing in drag?  Welcome!  This is a place where you can hula hoop, climb installations, listen to music, get your face painted, do acro yoga, hear different speakers, experience gong therapy, eat vegetarian fare, dance all day and all night, take a nap on the grass, row a boat, and connect with people.

Let me suggest that you wait until after a festival to start any kind of colon cleanse.  I had to learn the hard way.  I took a bunch of herbs before we arrived at the festival and then I bought a large veggie juice from one of the vendors inside.  We were there for over 12 hours that day and I must’ve used the Port A Pottie at least 15 times.  Needless to say, my poor bum was in a lot of pain from all the wiping.  Thank God I brought a package of baby wipes.  There were a few times when all of the Port A Potties ran out of toilet paper and I thanked my lucky stars that the ones I chose always had a little teepee to spare.  I don’t want to get too graphic, but some of the Port A Potties were nasty – poo on the freakin toilet seat.  Someone had totally missed the hole and shat all over the seat.  Just gross.  I ended up holding it in until a “clean” Port A Pottie became available.  The whole colon cleansing incident played a huge part in my overall experience.  I was still able to have a good time – I just couldn’t eat anything unless I wanted to go back in line for the toilet.  You may say I was a “party pooper.”  haha!  I love making myself laugh.

Overall, I’m glad I went.  I wasn’t high on any drugs (although I think this would have been a great place to do it) and I didn’t drink any alcohol.  I felt a bit of ‘sensory overload’ at times when I wanted to just be still and enjoy some quiet.  When I danced, I danced with all my heart and I loved it.  I felt free in my movements and I felt the music inside of me.

Would I go again?  Perhaps, but I want to experience so many other things, too.  I haven’t been to Coachella or Burning Man and both of those are on my list.

 

Grow Mushrooms at Home!

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I received a mushroom growing kit for Christmas last year (7 months ago) and only decided to open it last month.  I followed all of the instructions:  Remove front panel from box, cut slits into mycelium bag, soak bag in water overnight, shake off excess water from bag, put bag in box, put box near windowsill and out of direct sunlight, mist bag at slits 2-4 times a day, be patient, watch oyster mushrooms grow!

It actually worked!  It took a little longer than the expected 10 days.  My mushrooms probably took 2.5 weeks to grow.  Once the mushrooms made their appearance, they grew really fast!  I should have plucked my mushrooms out of the kit a few days ago when the edges of the shrooms weren’t so crinkled.  I consulted a mushroom expert and found out that they’re fine to eat.  I rinsed the mushrooms thoroughly and then put them in a pan with a little olive oil over low heat.  I let the mushrooms cook for about 15-20 minutes (I try not to risk undercooking my mushrooms.)  Finally I added a little Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (alternative to soy sauce), minced garlic, and sliced ginger.  I’ll cook hearty shiitake mushrooms the same way but I’ll let them cook for about 40-45 minutes since they’re a lot tougher.  Although my kit didn’t yield a lot of mushrooms this time, the ones that I cooked were absolutely delicious!

The kit that I received was made by a company called Back to the Roots.  Here’s their website:  http://www.backtotheroots.com/

They’ve got a lot of great information on there along with some informative videos.  You can see pictures of people who grew huge batches of mushrooms.  It’s so easy and really fun to grow.  A kit is only $20.  I would definitely get this for someone as a gift (unless they hate mushrooms, of course, but if that were the case I would have to rethink our friendship).  😉

Check out this short 30 second video that I co-created with my friend, Charles Thi.  I set up my camera on a tripod and had it snap a photo of my mushrooms once every minute over the span of 8 hours.  Charles Thi, a videographer based out of southern California, created the video.  If you watch very closely you can see the mushrooms grow!!

Here are a few photos I took of my fully grown mushrooms…

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This is a photo of some of the mushrooms I chose to cook.  I used a low heat setting and cooked them for 15-20 minutes and then added some Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, minced garlic, and ginger slices.  I am so hungry it hurts!
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Book Review: Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

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Here are my 3 favorite passages from the book…

“He could long have remained with Kamaswami, acquiring money, squandering money, fattening his belly and allowing his soul to die of thirst, he could long have resided in this soft, well-upholstered hell, had this not occurred:  the moment of complete inconsolability and despair, that most extreme moment when he perched above the rushing water, ready to annihilate himself.  He had felt despair and deepest revulsion, and he had not succumbed; the bird, the fresh wellspring and voice was still alive within him; this made him feel joy, this is why he laughed, this is why beneath his gray hair his face was radiant.”

“It is good,” he thought, “oneself to sample everything one needs to know.  That worldly pleasure and riches are not good I already learned as a child.  For a long time I knew it, but I have experienced it only now.  And now I know it, know it not only by heart, but also with my heart, with my eyes, with my stomach.  Good for me, that I know it!”

“Love, o Govinda, seems to me the matter principal, foremost of all.  To see through the world, to explain it, to hold it in contempt, these may be matters for great thinkers.  But the one thing that concerns me is the ability to love the world, not to hold it in contempt, not to hate it and myself, to be able to regard it and myself and all beings with love and admiration and reverence.”

I enjoyed this book because the main character went down several different paths before attaining enlightenment.  He explored life as an ascetic learning how to think, wait, and fast.  He then pursued the art of love making followed by  indulging in wealth, gambling, and sex.  He finally learned how to love.

After reading this story I feel very strongly that every single one of us has the ability to find peace within.  No matter what your past involved, no matter where you are right now, we are nothing but infinite potential.

Herb Review: Ginger

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I originally started this blog with the intention of writing about different herbs and providing information about my experiences with them.  Almost a year later, here is my first herb posting and it’s on one of my most favorite herbs (hard “h” sound in “herbs” for non-Americans).  Ginger root.  The Latin name is Zingiber officinale.  

I first remember eating pickled ginger when I was 18 years old.  It was the first time I went out for sushi.  I was told that ginger “cleanses the palate.”  I ate it and somewhat enjoyed it.  I liked the pickled aspect of it but I wasn’t so sure about the spiciness or hotness of it.  I didn’t complain much then, so I ate it with a smile.  I must’ve eaten ginger before that time but I don’t remember it.  I lived in Japan for 3 years when I was an adolescent and I can’t remember ever tasting ginger.  Now I’m an addict in the best sense possible.  I slowly acquired a taste for spicy, hot foods and when I learned about the medicinal properties of the herb, I was hooked.

I enrolled at the Natural Healing Institute in Encinitas, CA in January of 2009.  I was working towards my Holistic Health Practitioner certification and along with that I would be certified as a Clinical Master Herbalist.  I’m not so sure about the “Master” portion of that title but it looks pretty on paper.  The fact is that I enjoy studying herbs, playing with them, making infusions and decoctions, and sharing my experiences with anyone interested in listening.  That’s it.

I drink ginger tea when I have an upset or bloated tummy.  The ginger warms my stomach and intestines and is a fabulous aromatic carminative (it helps to expel gas).  I drink it when I feel nauseous or cold.  It can make you sweat slightly, which is a great way to detoxify (via the skin).  I eat pickled ginger or ginger candy before I engage in an activity that will most likely give me some motion sickness:  long car rides in the back seat, airplanes, small boats, big boats, cruise ships, the Tea Cups ride at Disneyland, and even surfing!

I love combining peppermint and ginger together for soothing the belly.  Plus, it smells really nice!

For those of you who enjoy reading about ginger and would like even more detail, I’ve put together a list of most of the herb’s functions, the dosage and delivery, safety (always, always read!), and some miscellaneous, fun notes about the herb.  Enjoy!

Ginger, Zingiber officinale

Functions:

  • Absorbs and neutralizes toxins in the G.I. tract
  • Analgesic
  • Antibiotic activity against salmonella, cholera, thrichomonas
  • Anti-inflammatory (because it inhibits prostaglandin and leukotrine synthesis which are part of the inflammatory process, and does not effect levels of beneficial prostaglandins)
  • Antioxidant
  • Antispasmodic
  • Aromatic carminative (for flatulence, gas, abdominal cramps)
  • Assists in treatment of ovarian cysts
  • Assists lymph and blood systems in getting rid of fibroid tissue
  • Blocks effects of neurotransmitter, substance P, which transmits pain impulses in nerve endings
  • Brings more circulation to the area it comes in contact with
  • Can combine with cayenne for respiratory infections, colds, and flus (works quickly, but may be too irritating for some people)
  • Cardio-tonic (use fresh ginger which accelerates calcium uptake by the heart muscle)
  • Contains natural anti-histamines
  • Decreases platelet lipid peroxide formation
  • Diaphoretic (when taken hot.  Historically used as a diaphoretic)
  • Digestive aid (promotes secretion of digestive fluids)
  • Diuretic (when taken cool)
  • Energetics are dry, hot
  • Gastrointestinal tonic
  • Helps expel worms
  • Helps intestines detoxify meat
  • Helps lower blood pressure (normalizes blood pressure, low or high.  Based on research studies, may regulate blood pressure)
  • Helps prevent frostbite
  • Helps prevent internal blood clots
  • Helps reduce cholesterol (promotes the excretion and impairs the absorption of cholesterol, may decrease cholesterol based on research studies)
  • Helps relieve deep muscle tension and helps remove lactic acid when used in a massage oil
  • Helps with liver disease (research shows that it may protect liver from toxins)
  • Helps with nausea associated with chemotherapy
  • Improves peristalsis while exerting an antispasmodic effect
  • Improves the body’s ability to assimilate other herbs (the liver deactivates medicinal compounds in herbs; ginger protects herbs from being destroyed so that they can pass through the liver unchanged and remain circulating in the blood for a longer period of time)
  • Increases ability to fight infections (colds, flu)
  • Increases bile secretion (and also stimulates production of bile)
  • Increases thermogenesis (increases metabolism)
  • Indicated for  dyspepsia (upset stomach, G.I. distress), nausea, digestion of protein and fat, ulcers (helps prevent formation), intestinal parasites, vomiting, earaches, pain, inflammation, stiff joints (use for inflammatory conditions; decreases pain, increases joint mobility, decreases swelling and morning stiffness), arthritis (both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis), diabetic neuropathy, headaches (relaxes blood vessels in the head and diminishes swelling in the brain), migraines, morning sickness, menstrual cramps (decreases prostaglandin levels), fibroids, bronchial congestion, dandruff
  • Inhibits diarrhea
  • Inhibits platelet activating factor
  • Inhibits platelet aggregation (but does not affect ability of blood to coagulate.  This helps keep blood flowing smoothly and helps prevent development of atherosclerosis)
  • May tone the heart muscle (based on research studies)
  • Menstruation promoter
  • Oil is counterirritant
  • Secondary brain herb
  • Soothes uterus
  • Use with an herbal laxative to prevent intestinal cramps
  • Used for motion sickness (2.5 times more effective than Dramamine)
  • Vasodilator
  • Warming properties which stimulate physiological functions (herbal stimulant, warming to the body)

Dosage and Delivery:

Can use tea, tincture, or capsules.  Also available pickled and often served with sushi.  Available in a candied form.

  • Tea:  2 tsp powdered or grated root per cup of boiling water.  Steep 10 min.
  • Motion sickness:  1,500 mg 30 min before travel.
  • Inflammatory Conditions:  500-3,000 mg per day
  • Compress for muscles:  Make a ginger tea (decoction), soak cloth in it and apply to area.

Safety:

Although ginger can relieve morning sickness, pregnant women should not ingest more than 1 gram daily.  Contraindicated for pregnant women with a history of miscarriage.

Contraindicated for UTI, inflamed prostate, endometriosis and similar problems.  In large amounts it tends to irritate the urogenital tract.  May cause heartburn in some  people.  Doses higher than 6 grams of dried powder on an empty stomach may cause G.I. distress.  People with gallstones should consult physician before using medicinal amounts of ginger.  Avoid excessive amounts of ginger in cases of acne, eczema, or herpes.

Ginger may cause adverse reactions when used in combination with anticoagulant drugs such as Coumadin or aspirin; if you are suing such medications, seek the advice of a qualified health-care practitioner before commencing use of ginger.

Miscellaneous Notes:

Whenever you use a strong herbal laxative, also use a strong aromatic carminative like ginger, fennel, anise, or cardamon which will prevent intestinal cramps from the herbal laxative.

Fresh ginger contains higher levels of gingerol, and protease.

Traditionally it was used to revive a lowered sex drive, and add a warm, stimulant spice to life.

In magical traditions, ginger is said to attract love, prosperity, and success.