Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine ● Longevity Nutrition

Happiness

Screen Shot St. FrancisThe only remaining people in the native Ecuadoran village of Agua Santi were women, children and the elderly.  There was so little water that no one had bathed or washed their clothes in several weeks. The only food left was fava beans. Most of the men had left home to find work to help feed their families. Patricio, one of the only farmers who still had a trickle of water, remained behind to help supply food for his people and care for his trees and his grandmother. 2010 saw the tipping point of a severe drought that plagued the Chimborazo Province in the heart of Ecuador.

A few years prior, Patricio had lost his two young daughters in a cistern he had built that was intended to supply water to his crops. Since then, his heart’s mission was to reforest Mt. Si Sic, which stood behind his farm. Centuries ago the Spanish had pushed the native people from their land and had destroyed much of the surrounding forests. Patricio believed that if he could restore the forest on the mountain, the rains would return. In his “spare time” he raised native tree saplings and trekked up the mountain with water to plant them. When he began his mission he quickly discovered that planting non-native trees destroyed the quality of the soil. As he overcame a sharp learning curve, he began to understand which trees were native and how to effectively cultivate them. By the time of our meeting he had managed to re-forest scores of acres on Mt. Si Sic.

On his occasional trips into the town of Rio Bamba Patricio would stop at the library and learn a few more English words on the Internet to serve as a bridge between the western world and his native Kichwa. Somewhere along this path he met Jonathan Sparrow, an ethnobotanist who had taught himself to speak Kichwa. Jonathan had been traveling to numerous indigenous villages in Ecuador. His sole purpose was to teach the native people how to support themselves and their communities by protecting their forests. He was succeeding and the people were deeply enthusiastic. Over the previous decades many native communities were seduced into working for companies who would clear-cut the forests to harvest the wood and make room to grow coffee and other crops. Over the years, Jonathan had helped Patricio carry out his mission and they had become close friends.

We were a small group of women healers from the World Healing Exchange and Jonathan was our guide. This is a branch of Acupuncturists Without Borders whose purpose is to help heal trauma in communities who have been stricken by disaster. Until the psychological aspect of trauma has healed, it hinders its victims from moving forward and participating in the healing of themselves and their communities. Our purpose was to reach out to these indigenous villages and exchange wisdom with their native healers while helping them to move through these difficult times. The remaining indigenous people of Agua Santi were experiencing deep loss and trauma.  We performed an acupuncture protocol for trauma called, NADA, on the entire village. Afterwards, the village gave us fava beans (I still can’t believe they fed us), and insisted that we come with them to the top Mt. Si Sic.

At age 75, Margarita and her friends from Agua Santi ascended Mt. Si Sic in their brilliant native indigos, reds and purples, as if they were fairies floating effortlessly up through the young secondary forest. We struggled to keep up as they guided us, eager to show us something. When we arrived at the top, Margarita and her elderly friends were lying on the forest floor laughing and throwing pebbles at anyone who dozed off in the filtered sunlight. A few children played on rock outcroppings. When everyone finally arrived at the top we all walked together towards the mysterious project. It was a cistern that the community had been building that would supply water when the rains came again. Jonathan was there to help them with the final construction and afterwards there was a joyous ceremony with chanting and blessings.

The following morning we woke to find that Margarita and many others from Agua Santi had walked several miles from their village to the monastery where we were staying on the outskirts of Rio Bamba. Patricio was there too. Their smiles were as bright as the sun and they wanted to come with us. The Ecuadorian government had kindly provided us with a small bus for traveling through the country and we managed to pack in everyone. No one in Agua Santi owned a car. As I understood it, for some, this was their first ride in a motor vehicle.

There is a certain odor that a person develops when they haven’t been able to bathe or wash their clothes for months. Yes, their drought was that bad. I never would have believed I could associate such an odor with pure joy. However, riding in such close quarters on what would become a magical day, that particular odor permeated everything. Afterwards, I could never bring myself to wash the blouse I wore that day. I keep it in a plastic bag in hopes that it will never lose that beautiful, loving scent.

That morning we visited and treated another village that was even worse off than Agua Santi. It was more populated and the people were despondent. This is a story for another time but I want to mention something that I will never forget where we convened in their town hall. While we were there, one of the native people stood up and screamed something in Kichwa. He was clearly angry. Jonathan translated “You tell your people to take back their poison seeds and give us back our own! You brought us these seeds that produce only one time and then they are barren!” Jonathan explained that some people from a corporation had come in and shown the amazing plants they could grow from GMO seeds. They gave them the seeds in exchange for their own. They failed to mention that they were hybrids. The following year, when the people planted the seeds from these crops they found that none of them could reproduce. These poor people wasted their energy and their water on planting seeds that could never sprout. This was a dangerous scenario that threatened their food, their animal’s food and their ability to survive.

We left the village that afternoon and Jonathan mentioned that there was a hot spring about an hour away. No one from Agua Santi had ever been to a hot spring. We went and soaked in the healing waters of San Francesco. I’ve never seen such joy pouring from other human beings. These beautiful people, who were surviving a severe drought, hadn’t bathed in weeks were splashing and playing and laughing for hours. The elderly ladies unbraided their hair that reached past their wastes and let it float and swirl in the water. As the day came to a close, the waters were drained out of the pools. The people of Agua Santi all gathered in the main pool that had a likeness of St. Francesco. In it, they all held hands and prayed and chanted. As the water drained out, they moved closer and closer together so they could remain in the water. They held hands and said prayers until the very last drop had drained out.

Several days later, when I arrived back in civilization, I came to realize that this day, with these people whose drought-stricken village bore the namesake, Saint of Water, happened to be International Water Day.

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“If you had the opportunity, would you want to live to be 150 years old?”  This question was posed by Alex Lightman at the November 2009 Humanity Plus Summit.  Based on the way you perceive this question you may or may not be surprised that about 30% of the people raised their hands.

When I first began practicing longevity nutrition ten years ago at my husband’s clinic, I had some fairly negative, preconceived notions of the types of people who would deign to spend a significant amount of money to take advantage of cutting edge science with an outlook towards living longer.  To my absolute delight, instead of overflowing egos, I discovered a unique group of illuminated, fulfilled, alive, happy human beings.  I believe I can say with certain objectivity that people with a true desire to extend their lives don’t partake in this endeavor for any ego-based reason.  They partake in this endeavor because they absolutely love the lives that they have created for themselves.

I recently got together with one of these remarkable people, Kazuo, who periodically makes the long trip from Japan to our clinic to make sure he is growing younger.  If there were a contest to identify the happiest people on the planet, Kazuo would be one of the finalists. Sharing a bottle of Perrier Jouet* over sushi I asked Kazuo what he thought the secret was to happiness. Before giving his final answer there was some discussion about theories of happiness.  Aside from the usual subject of Bhutan and the National Happiness Index, he mentioned a study performed on money and happiness. First of all, it is important to know that if you ask people if they are happy you will get a certain percentage say yes.  If first however, you ask them how much money they make and then ask them if they are happy, the percentage decreases dramatically.  Kazuo also pointed out that to be happy, you cannot make your happiness dependent on external events.  That if you think your money or your marriage are what make you happy then you give the outside world the power to influence your happiness.  Kazuo went on to discuss Nobel Prize Laureate, Daniel Kahneman’s, theory of Focused Illusion.  In a great TED talk, Kahneman points out that “We make decisions about the future based, not based on experiences but based on memories of experiences.  We can think of our future as anticipated memories”. Our perceptions of how positive or negative a previous outcome was is the basis for our future because it’s the basis of our decisions.  My question to you is:  are you making your decisions based on avoiding unpleasantness or are you making your decisions based on creating happiness.

“The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise” –Tacitus

He goes on to ask, “Why do we put so much weight on memory relative to the weight that we put on experiences?” Kahneman’s assessment of our experiences is not unlike the teachings in Buddhism as well as some new age philosophers like Eckhart Tolle who emphasizes that our mind is not our reality and only creates our perception of reality based on past experiences. Kazuo’s final answer was, “I keep saying thank you.  I say thank you to my body, thank you to my food, thank you to God, thank you…”  I asked Kazuo what he does when he in particularly difficult times and surely he must be affected like we all are.  He replied, “you may experience the emotions that accompany difficult times but these emotions don’t have to determine your happiness.  In challenging times, I say thank you even more”

Other cultures view happiness differently.  The following is a quote from Tanya Tagaq, an Eskimo Throat Singer, responding to the question regarding her perception of beauty after performing a “lullaby” on NPR’s, The World.

I’m not trying to sound beautiful.  I remember seeing the blood of caribou splattered across the snow, you know and seeing their insides and touching it and feeling the warmth…that beauty is so intense to me and commenting on life…it’s OK to die, it’s OK to have bad things happen.  I think everyone tends to chase this eternal happiness or utopia that’s completely non-existent.  I just don’t think that’s smart.  It’s so beautiful that times of life challenge you”

Working as a longevity nutritionist has truly altered my perception of people’s happiness.  Now if I want to know if someone is truly happy, I don’t ask them if they are happy. This question is too subjective.  I ask them Alex’s question…If you could live to be 150 years old, would you want to?  If they answer “No” then I know that they are not happy.  I would estimate that only one out of ten people answer yes to this question.

Here are some tools that I give my patients for achieving happiness:

  • Realize that your experience of the world is the perception that your mind creates.  Everything is already as it is.   Shakespeare said it perfectly, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
  • Learn about and spend time in Nature.  If you can give yourself the opportunity, find an area that is still wild (un-tampered with my man).  Realize that everything you are seeing at this moment started from the beginning of time.  Try to understand that your body is made of the same thing as everything you see around you.  Ultimately we are all made of the Earth and ultimately everything comes from the death of stars.  http://karenkurtak.com/blog/?p=15 If you live in an area where it’s difficult to access Nature read some of the greats:  EO Wilson, Darwin, and Thoreau.  Watch Planet Earth or start studying astronomy.
  • Reduce or eliminate your exposure to the mainstream media. Period.  These organizations point their telescope towards anything that they know will increase their viewer numbers. Once they’ve identified their next drama, they use their zoom lens to alter your perception of how pertinent any subject is to your life.  “Believing” that you know what is going on in the world through these organizations is like a goldfish in her fishbowl believing that she understands the oceans.  Instead, fill this time with simply being or read something more positive like Ode Magazine which comes from the Netherlands.  I read this every morning while I exercise or have tea.
  • If there are subjects that you notice often spike your interest embark on a deeper understanding of them.  For example, if you notice you get emotionally fired up about climate change, read the IPCC reports and make the decision for yourself.  If the daily gossip column suits your fancy then learn about the psychology behind these behaviors.
  • Remember, there are certainly atrocities but there are also just as many, if not more, good things happening around us.  Seek out information about new ways of thinking and new technologies that have the potential to not only solve some of what you perceive as the “world’s problems”,  but that will help to make the world more amazing.  Check this one out: http://www.ild.org.pe/
  • Remember to live.  Two of my favorite quotes spontaneously came from friends whom I was sharing time with.  “Just because you are on the planet doesn’t mean you are living”
  • “Are you living, or are you watching other people live?”
  • Practice gratitude. Take a few moments in the morning or evening and simply identify and try to feel gratitude for the various things in your life.  Like Kazuo said, if you are having a difficult time or can’t feel gratitude, “Say thank you more.”

*For anti aging discussion, champagne raises blood sugar and HgA1C less than almost any other alcoholic beverage

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