Friday, July 3, 2009

All too often television news, sound bites, newspaper pieces and magazines will be dedicated to one area of health. These pieces can impart incredibly important information, and keep the public informed. However, far too often, each medium will focus exclusively on one specific methodology to overall wellness. A blog that I came upon recently, creates a new genre for keeping the public informed on all areas of well being. From the truth about garlic as a healthful supplement to the affects of Tai Chi on diabetes,, gives a wonderfully impartial, unbiased overview on many different approaches to wellness. Each post offers some thoughts, ideas and good, solid facts about achieving one's health goals. Additionally, explores options, such as alternative methods to self care for breast health.

As a yogini, good health is very important to me. But, as a cancer survivor, my health is not something I take lightly, or for granted. One of the aspects of that I find the most helpful is its take on looking at holistic medicine, rather that strictly keeping its information allopathic. A balanced approach, looking at every possibility that is best for one's personal location on life's health journey, can be extremely beneficial. An uninformed patient has no idea what her options are. A well educated patient can better make the best choices for her care and for her life.

Lastly, another reason this blog found its way to a meaningful place in my reading schedule is that it debunks holistic health myths. One area that is rampant with untested theory and unproven tricks to heal is in the natural foods and health industry. I am passionate about natural, whole foods and naturapathic health. However, when something is not a product that 'works', it should not be touted as such. I believe these 'snake oil' tales do more to harm the reputation those of us interested in natural medicine than anything else. By looking at what works, and what simply is untrue, takes an honest approach in a sometimes dishonest industry. I applaud them for their hard work and efforts, and I will continue to be a faithful reader.

Please click on THE TITLE above for a direct link to

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Shack

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But he who sees, takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning

It isn't often that a fictional story can weave exceptional theological, spiritual and literary threads together to create both an interesting read, and a work of spiritual growth. I had read countless reviews for William Paul Young's controversial book, "The Shack", for months before reading it. There were readers who felt it changed their lives miraculously for the better. There were others who believed the book was heretical and dangerous. There were many people who found themselves deeply comforted, and others who found a more exceptional and extraordinary meaning to their walk with the Divine. Still, there were those churches and lay Christian groups who spoke passionately against the premise of the novel, and urged all not only to boycott it, but to ban it from libraries and bookstores. Because I'm a woman of strong beliefs in my faith, as well as a woman of strong convictions against book banning, I was very curious about "The Shack". Would I be offended? Would I be horrified? Would I have a miraculous transformation for my belief system? Would this book create a "Road to Damascus"moment for me, in opening my eyes to greater understanding of God?

In the novel, Mack is a grieving, bitter and understandably shaken father, who lost his precious youngest child to an insidious serial killer, who murdered Missy at a remote shack. After turning his heart away from his surviving children, his wife and his friends, Mack sinks into an understandable, but deeply troubling depression. Mack is angry at God, angry at his own sense of guilt and angry at a world in which vicious crimes against the most innocent can occur. When Mack receives a mysterious note to "Meet Papa" (his code word for God) at The Shack. Mack doesn't believe that God will truly meet him at this symbolic and wretched location. But, Mack does pack up and go, not sure what his actions will lead once he arrives. Mack's journey is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Instead of staying in deserted, crumbling shanty in the darkest depths of winter, Mack awakes to a light filled, beautiful cottage on a stunning autumn lake. And God is making Mack breakfast.

"Papa" doesn't appear as the tremendous Anglo-Saxon judge of the western perspective. He's not an old white man with a beard. Papa appears to Mack as a beautiful African-American woman, whose love radiates from her smile, her eyes and her glowing skin. In my own mind, as was reading this novel, I pictured Queen Latifah as playing this role. However, as with any good work of fiction, the reader is free to 'cast' the characters in her own mind and heart. As we come to know Papa, Jesus (a Jewish carpenter from the middle East) and the Holy Spirit (an Asian woman, who is light of heart), our ideas of exactly what Christianity, faith and personal opinion hold are challenged. Mack is met by the Trinity, but it's a Trinity with whom he can relate, of whom he's not afraid and by whom he doesn't feel betrayed. Mack's quest to gain closure regarding Missy's death opens doors to him to help him realize that God is far greater than any given preconceived notion that humans have devised. Mack is met by God, but not the God he was expecting....Mack was met by the God he needed to see: the loving, healing, redemptive, compassionate and unexpected Divine. Mack was looking for anger, but what he found was forgiveness and blessing.

Mack's journey, in "The Shack", is the archetypcal heroic quest. Just like Homer's Odysseus, Tolkein's "Lord of the Rings" hero, Aragorn, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and countless others, Mack must go on a journey...literally and metaphorically. The heroic quest is defined as "as much a physical journey as it is an emotional and spiritual journey and a journey toward self-knowledge.", according to Joseph Campbell's excellent paper, "The Hero Journey". Mack must separate himself from the 'real' world, he must be given a 'call', he must reject the call, he must cross the threshold, he must endure trials, and he must return triumphant. "The Shack" takes the reader through each of these stages, but in unique and spiritual ways. Mack finds the unexpected, he dismisses it, he struggles against it, he comes to terms slowly with his journey, and he returns to his own world, still saddened, but healed. Where was a frozen, barren shack, transforms into a beautiful dream cottage.

I have long believed that although my Judeo-Christian traditions 'view' God in one way, God is far too large to "put in a box" containing the opinions of a group of men from long ago. God is transcendent beyond any labels we can try to fix on Him. God is not limited, but is limitless. Just as God has the exceptional power to transform "my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy." (Psalm 30:11), God has the power to transform the Divine image into what He sees in our hearts that we need at this moment. God can speak to us through our friends, through our family, through books, and through strangers. God is not confined to being an old man in white robes with a long flowing beard. By that definition, He is confined to the image of Tolkein's "Gandalf" or Prospero from Shakespeare's "Tempest". God is Divine and consistent in the love, compassion, devotion and unbridled healing that is available to us. But, what does He have to look like? I believe that the very nature of the Divine makes that question irrelevant...or relevant only to each one of our needs. God does not change. But, He meets us where are...and who we order to reach us.

"The Shack" is a tremendous book. I highly recommend it. If you find it offensive or divisive, I beg you to ask yourself 'why?'. Although I did not experience a miraculous conversion, as St. Paul did on his own version of the heroic quest, I can say that "The Shack" broadened my imagination, and opened to my heart to ideas I had already experienced as truth. I hope that you will read this book and gain insight into your own journey.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Rainy Days & Mondays

Being a child growing up in the 1970's, I can clearly remember my parents playing their Carpenters' records. These old albums still evoke strong memories every time I hear one of the songs come onto the radio...on the oldies station. When I hear "I'm on the top of the world", I can imagine my father singing along in the car. "Close to you" never failed to bring happy tears to my mother's eyes. However, the song that seems to be playing on perpetual loop in my head this summer is "Rainy Days & Mondays". The refrain from this song is:

Hangin around, nothing do to but frown

Rainy days and Mondays always get me down....

Nostalgia can be a wonderful feeling. However, even though I can remember this song on long car trips, playing in the background of my parents cocktail parties, and simply as a piece of the memory book that creates my mental pictures of my childhood, I have to say that these lyrics have rung far too true this summer in Maine. It has rained 26 days out of the past 39 days. It hasn't just been foggy or simply disappointing summer weather. It's been a utterly, miserably soggy summer. When weather forecasts predict a minimum of ten more days of downpours, it can be very disconcerting emotionally.

What is a yogini to do? Drown herself in her swamp-like backyard? Or, soldier on and find rainy activities to keep our spirits up? As appealing as sinking up to my ankles in what used to be a beautiful lawn sounds, I vote for soldering on...and finding ways to keep my happiness factor up, even if the weather is choosing not to cooperate. One of the most wonderful ways I've found to break the rainy day blues is to switch up our usual schedule. As simplistic as this sounds, just moving around, experiencing our every day life in different ways, is an effective method for chasing off the blues. Although my children are now older, I can vividly remember swapping out the kitchen table for the living room, for evenings in which picnics are rained out. They enjoyed nothing better than throwing a blanket down on the living room floor, lighting a fire in the fireplace and creating a camping feeling by even letting the kids roast marshmallows over the fire to make S'mores. However, this last activity did require intensive burned marshmallow removal from the hearth. Regardless, we were able to break the wet doldrums, have a great deal of fun, and get out of depressing funk. We still play games in that same spot, put on music that lifts us all up and change the mood from sarcasm to sensational, on the very worst afternoons. Even if you're on your own, imagine how much more pleasant it will be to sit on the floor, eating picnic food, than to stare out your kitchen window at gray skies.

Another wonderful way to beat a case of rainy-day-itis is to create a movie festival. With older children, or even on your own, it's fun to create a Oscar nominated (or Oscar winning) film festival. We have done this with great success, and this past weekend was a bonanza of movies that were all nominated in the past year's Academy season. Slumdog Millionaire, Defiance, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and others graced our DVD and helped us create an entertainment atmosphere. On nights that we would normally be heading our separate ways, or even just outside, watching high quality movies can be an enriching experience to share as a family...or to treat yourself with. If Oscar fare isn't your cup of tea, why not try an action packed weekend, featuring heist films, or a family marathon of Disney's best? Why not invite your closest friends over for Cosmopolitans and a "Sex & The City" retrospective"? Have fun with creating an atmosphere that creates a mood for your theme...knowing that your friends and family are just as wrung out from the weather as you are. By creating a movie fiesta, you will not only be entertained, but have a great deal more fun than mindlessly flipping through the channels. Cook treats that can enhance your theme....a Vegas-like buffet spread for an "Oceans 11" theme, canapes and champagne for chick flicks or peanut butter & jelly, cut out with Mickey Ears cookie cutters, before you sit down to a night of the Little Mermaid and The Lion King.

As a yogini, I must also add that rainy days, as depressing as they can be just as July is beginning, can be a wonderful time to deepen your yoga practice. Yoga is more than exercise. It can help ease your state of mind. Practicing at least 4 rounds of Sun Salutations can be a powerful method of getting your endorphins moving, allow the heat to rise from your belly and to create energy out of doldrums.
Sun Salutations have a proven impact on stimulating the part of the brain that helps us feel incredible joy, so the more rounds you can practice, the more stimulated that region of your brain will become...and the better you will feel. In ending Sun Salutations with Lightening Bolt pose, as seen in the picture to the left, you can channel the activity outside into a dynamic asana inside...and also gain definition in your quads and shoulders to boot. Lightening Bolt can be held for as long as your body is feeling mighty, or can done in sequential flow. However your practice finds its path, adding in elements from the 'outside in' can bring a natural link between the world outside your door, and your practice on the mat.

Reading your way through a series of books you've wanted to tackle, window shopping in catalogs, trying new recipes to cook, visiting museums, and volunteering at places like your local library (who are often swamped on rainy days) can bring a sense of vigor to the gray sky slump, too. The key to overcoming "rainy day and Monday" melancholia is to find ways around it. Shaving cream fights, water balloons (the kids are wet already!) and slip and slide in the rain can get even surly teenagers out the door and into a spirit of laughter. Most of all, take just a few moments at the beginning, and end, of each day to count your blessings. Rainy weeks or not, there are an infinite number of things to be thankful for. Gratitude can be great mood elevator....and it can also help you to see that rain, while inconvenient for our short summer season, can also bring opportunities we wouldn't have had otherwise.

The realist sees reality as concrete. The optimist sees reality as clay. ~Robert Brault