April 30, 2010

Change: Adapting to the Inevitable

We know things need to change, in our own lives and out in the world. You can ask almost anyone what needs to change in life and they will have answers. Ideas and opinions of what needs to change are as varied and diverse as the people offering them.

When the idea for change comes from within ourselves, we usually like it. It is inspiring. But when change comes in as an independent with a mind of its own, it can seem like a rebellious teenager. Just when we think things are calm it sulks around, keeps us awake at night, and makes us want to gain greater control.

Wise souls among us know that change is all we can truly depend on. We can’t escape it, though we try, and in many cases we must let it be. Mostly we try to avoid change because we have no idea what is in the future and we really don’t want to alter our world view. We decide it is best to keep things as they are, or how they used to be. Plus, we don’t want to experience the feelings of loss that often accompany change. What if we terribly miss what we had?

The idea of change, and change itself, brings up unnecessary fear which then causes unwarranted stress on the body and mind. I believe one of our tasks as human beings is to overcome fear, especially the useless fears that pervade our modern lives. I see fear restricting the body, mind, and spirit, shrinking one’s life experience into an uncomfortable little box. It takes our minds to dark narrow places where we lose a broader, more balanced perspective.

We will always have the unknown future in front of us, unpredictable circumstances will occur in our lives, our country and its people will do or say things we don’t like. At these times, we have the opportunity to either grow our fear or live every moment as if it were sacred, remembering that even the most unusual of circumstances can be profoundly healing and enriching, bringing in higher wisdom and understanding.

One way to overcome fears that arise due to change is to develop a sense of trust and faith in something greater than yourself, such as a belief that there is something beyond the ordinary mundane life. World religions and philosophies have sought to provide this for people, but many of them have fallen short of actually teaching a person how to be free from useless fears. The responsibility is on each individual.

Each time we begin to share our fears of uncertainty with others or swirl them through our heads, we can stop and take a moment to think about whether we want to be stuck in this stressful cycle. Fears grow stronger when we think about them and share them with others who then validate them by agreeing and adding in their own fears.

One way to reduce fear rather than expand it is simply to become aware of it, knowing that the wiser path welcomes change, accepts the inevitable, and chooses not to fear it. By becoming aware of our habitual reactions to the unknown future, by acknowledging our resistance to the feelings loss brings, by being aware of the times when someone says something that refutes our world view and ignites our own fears, we can begin to approach life in a more balanced way.

When we try to keep our lives, surroundings, and viewpoints the same, something will surely come along to roll them around a bit, and thankfully so. Do we really want to live a life so thin and safe that there is no new experience, expansion, or advancement of the mind and spirit? In these rapidly changing times, which I predict are just gaining momentum, the more we can flow with change and allow our minds to be free, the better off we will be. Perhaps in the process, we can grow calmer, wiser, more mature, and more peaceful.

April 22, 2010

Relieve Stress for Life

Originally, a stress response meant a threat to our physical existence: a tiger was chasing us, a neighboring tribe was invading, our ship at sea was sinking. These events led to a perfect chemical condition in the body that helped us have more physical stamina to survive. We could either fight for our lives or run very fast: the fight or flight response.

Modern stress is different. A physical attack or other life-threatening circumstance occurs rarely even though the majority of people feel excess stress daily. Why does the fight or flight response occur when our lives are not threatened? Because our minds don’t distinguish between a true threat and one that we imagine or worry about.

Managing modern stress is vital to our optimal health and well-being. When we don’t manage it, stress lets us know through anxiety, worry, irritability, indigestion, tightness in the jaws, neck, and shoulders, clenched teeth, anger, headaches, fatigue, panic attacks, sleeplessness, and overeating. We might as well include heart disease, cancer, chronic fatigue, and other modern diseases. When your body releases chemicals designed to strengthen you but doesn’t get an outlet such as fighting or fleeing, your health and well-being are undermined.

You guide and direct your own stress response based on your perceptions and actions. Sometimes other people and a hectic lifestyle affect you adversely, but nothing can disturb your inner balance except you. There are many ways you can help your body process stress that don’t involve fighting or running away. Just by incorporating these ten tips alone, you can protect yourself from the harmful side effects of stress.

1. Exercise. You’ve heard it so much maybe you’ve begun to ignore the advice, but exercise will burn off the excess fuel that stress creates in your body. It oxygenates your cells and clears out the chemicals. Make moving your body a daily habit. If you are under extreme lifestyle stress, workout vigorously and let yourself sweat.
2. Expose yourself to sunlight. It strengthens immunity, increases endorphins to help balance your emotions, and among other benefits, reduces stress.
3. Limit sugar, white flour products, and packaged, processed foods of all kinds. They increase stress as the body tries to figure out what to do with them. Instead, eat whole foods that come from nature, which is what is intended for optimal health and wellness.
4. Sleep well and plenty. If you have insomnia, visit an acupuncturist.
5. Pay no mind to stressed people and begin to clear unhealthy relationships from your life. Surround yourself with supportive, positive people.
6. Take note of how much television news coverage you watch. Once the reel comes around again and you hear the same fear-based story for the second time, turn the channel. It is extremely stressful on your body to watch horrific scenes and hear about tragedies. Take action to help, or focus on something else.
7. Lack of joy in your work is an emotional drain and daily stressor. There are two options. Change your job or change the way you think about it.
8. Find a way to reduce the amount of noise in your environment. Noise pollution is a big stressor and one which many people ignore. What irritating noise do you tolerate in your daily life? How can you bring more quiet into your life?
9. Worry is a habit to eliminate. We either can do something about a situation or we have no control over it. Get clear on what your options are and either do something to make a change or understand it is out of your control and let it go. Eliminating excess worry is a practice that can become a healthy habit.
10. When your desk is piled high, you are racing the clock, your daughter doesn’t arrive home when she said she would, and your mother comes to visit, breathe. Harmful stress involves shallow breathing. Breathe slowly allowing your belly to rise instead of your chest and shoulders. It is impossible to remain stressed when you breathe deeply.

April 18, 2010

Poisonous Gas: Just Another Day in the Neighborhood

A load of poisonous gas was dropped into our neighborhood last week. Nobody complained, everyone went about their business as if nothing was happening, a cat went missing, and the earth’s ozone layer took another hit. Just another day in paradise.

The gas-drop arrived in a perfectly legal, professional-looking package: a white truck belonging to a pest extermination company accompanied by two men in uniform. The mission: rid recently purchased home of termites. The outcome: termites and their eggs dead, ground soil contaminated and no longer suitable for organic gardening, poison in the air acting like a greenhouse gas. Trees, bushes, birds, butterflies, and helpful insects of all kinds were undefendable, plus any person within the vicinity of the home was exposed. But exposed to what?

The gas is sulfuryl fluoride, otherwise known as Vikane. Introduced in 1957 as a neurotoxin guaranteed to leave anything dead, it has been touted as the only viable solution to saving one’s home from termite destruction. Around the mid-1950’s there were other chemicals introduced to Americans, too. They were designed to make life more convenient, and chemical companies richer. This all coincided with a major blight of our day – the rise in cancer rates, and of particular concern because of its correlation, breast cancer.

We are in a state of toxic overload, not only in our bodies, but our water, air, soil - the earth itself. It is a poisonous stew. As I watched the bizarre world of pest control from my kitchen window last week, I wondered why Vikane gas hasn’t been outlawed. We don’t hear much about the ailments it can cause ranging from mild respiratory problems to death. But its routine use continues for two reasons: our ignorance and corporate greed.

For many, and I suspect this is the case with people who agree to have a poisonous gas infiltrate their homes, ease and expense are factors. If you skim the surface and trust the sellers of the chemicals, you will learn that these poisons won’t hurt you as long as you use them properly. We are advised not to breathe Vikane gas or go near it. But how does one do this when it is in the air and penetrates surfaces we might touch? And what are the long-term cumulative effects, especially when combined with other toxins in our environment?

One man cannot fill his home with poison gases and ignore the impact on himself, his neighbors, and the planet on which he lives without eventually feeling the repercussions of his actions. The day after the pesticide extermination company returned to remove the tarpaulins from my neighbor’s home, they began moving in. Since no one has told them, they are unclear whether the gas can become trapped in insulation, plastics, rubber, carpets, and other such surfaces and whether these residual amounts of gas can be hazardous to them. As for the earth’s ozone layer, it’s depletion is probably far from their thoughts.

As always, there are alternatives that are easier on you and the environment. For termite problems, orange oil is an ecologically safe treatment. It might need to be used periodically which can cause people concern about the price. But a much greater price to pay is the depletion of this earth that sustains us and the damage we’ve done to our health as a result of modern chemical conveniences.

Environmental groups in California are working to get Vikane banned, but they are up against the power elite. Often, laws have to be in place to save us from ourselves. Until we are legally restrained from harming ourselves and our environment, we can educate ourselves as to alternatives to termite control and other forms of pest control. There are eco-friendly, effective alternatives for your yard and garden, for you and your pets, the inside of your home and its structure. All it takes is educating yourself. Call around, ask around, do a little research. The time is now to take personal action and do our part to bring ourselves and our planet back into balance.

April 15, 2010

Earth Day is Coming: Can We Give it More Than Just Lip Service?

Ten years ago I lived temporarily in a suburb of Boston that didn’t recycle its trash. Coming from coastal California, my mind could not comprehend that everyone in the community threw noxious junk into a pile without attempting to recycle it. This was 30 years after the advent of Earth Day when we all began learning about the detrimental effects of pollution on our planet.

Now 40 years have passed since April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day. Since then, air, water, and land pollution has steadily increased. New illnesses have cropped up in our bodies.

This week the Marine Mammal Center in Marin County reported that many more mammals than usual are turning up sick. Twice as many sea lions, elephant seals, and harbor seals are being treated for illness than last year. Officials tell us that sea lions are indicators of the health of the ocean. They don’t know why so many sea lions are found without their mothers, malnourished, tangled in fishing lines, or affected in some way by marine trash. But the situation has worsened.

In a separate report this week researchers warned of “the great Atlantic garbage patch,” made of harmful swirling plastic debris in the ocean. It is a global problem as our throw-away culture continues to use products that don’t break down and end up in waterways. It is estimated over 100,000 marine mammals could die trash-related deaths each year.

For 40 years, millions of people and school children have been taught about the necessity to preserve our environment, yet pollution and disregard of the planet has increased. What does this say about us? About our priorities? Or, about our intelligence?

It says we allow companies to market harmful goods to us and we buy them. It says the influence of advertisement is more powerful than common sense. It says we value convenience and high profit, no matter the means to get it. It tells us that most human beings have little respect for the earth, a disregard for the sanctity of nature, and a lack of concern for the health and wellness of other living creatures.

Yet, the most conscientious among us would find it nearly impossible to have no negative impact on the environment. There is the ubiquitous use of plastics we can’t seem to avoid, to say nothing about the trash we generate. Still, the health of the planet and ourselves depends on each of us. There are a few primary things we can easily do.

The first step is basic: get control of your trash. At the end of the week there should be very little in your trash bin. Your recycle bin should hold the majority: paper, boxes, plastics, cans, and bottles. Secure your bins so debris doesn’t end up in the streets.

When you travel, visit a park, get on a boat or an airplane, manage your trash. Take it with you or don’t create any. If you live in an area that doesn’t recycle, begin complaining loudly to your town officials.

Rethink grocery shopping. Purchase food that isn’t prepackaged. You can get meat, fish, and chicken wrapped in paper. This way you avoid the polystyrene (Styrofoam) plates most meats come on. Polystyrene leaches toxic chemicals into your food and beverages, affecting your health.

To manufacture polystyrene creates hazardous waste and affects the health of those exposed. It is made with non-sustainable petroleum, harms the ozone layer, and is dumped or blown into our streets and waterways as litter where living creatures ingest it and die. Polystyrene is not accepted by most recycling agencies. It is not necessary. Avoid everything that touches it.

If you buy six-packs of cans held together by plastic, cut or tear apart the plastic. Never take one of these onto a boat or leave one lying around. They end up in the streets and the earth’s waters where they suffocate birds and sea animals.

All plastic containers are polluters. Yogurt, for example, can be bought in a large container and put into smaller reusable containers. You can replace myriad products for cleaning windows, countertops, and floors with vinegar and water. With a little research you’ll discover many ways to use vinegar (and baking soda) for most of your household cleaning, including clogged drains.

Recycle plastic bottles and tubes that hold your personal care products. Bring your own cup for the daily coffee or tea. Take water from home in a sustainable, non-plastic water bottle. Bring lunch or eat where take-out packaging is compostable or recyclable. Use only compostable doggy clean-up bags. Be mindful of plastic toy purchases for both people and animals.

Meanwhile, it’s almost Earth Day 2010. I’ll cut back on plastic in every way possible and reduce my trash, now and throughout the year. What will you do?