Beyond A New Year’s Resolution

A new year, a new you. Should the emphasis be on “new” or “renew”?

New Year’s Fireworks in Prater Park – Vienna


New Years Resolutions are very much a western idea, measurable goals if you will. The concept of “reflection” however, transcends many religious and spiritual traditions. What would you reflect on for the past year? Basic questions can include:

  • Did I learn from my successes and mistakes?
  • Have I changed at least one thing about my consumption habits that will lead to a better health outcome? (Diet, exercise, use of substances, financial spending)
  • Do I ask for help when I need it? (Social support, counseling, etc.)
  • Am I learning more about myself and others? Accepting those things I cannot change….
  • Do I better understand love, friendship, family, and society?
  • How often have I given thanks for what I have?
  • Have I visualized at least one goal that I managed to succeed at?

The above help one gain “insight” and it could be a habit each year to reflect using a journal about what we accomplished during the previous year, and what we hope to accomplish or strive for in the next.

Some common goals like “exercise more” seem unattainable in the strict sense (e.g. join a gym, run a marathon) either for physical or monetary reasons or life circumstances. If you focus on what you’ve done and congratulate yourself for persistence and alternative course of action it’s more effective than being unreasonably hard on yourself.  Work toward “renewing” your outlook. Even Forbes Magazine had a set of New Year’s Resolutions to focus more on the ‘we’ and less on the ‘me’… what our overly narcissistic culture needs to be reminded of!

Examining patterns of behaviors will help you recognize them faster. We often think that we will remember everything but our memory deludes us, think “false memories.” It is most useful to write things down as your pattern may become more obvious — that “aha!” moment. Think about these issues:

Financial health — do you continuously spend more than you earn? We’re not saying starve here, or not “treat” yourself to something nice like a good bottle of wine, a fancy dinner, a new shirt or dress. BUT, do you really need to buy caviar and champagne, or the most expensive shoes for that night out? The basic rules most financially responsible families pass on to their children are:

  • track what you spend your money on
  • pay for necessities (for your health, food, insurance)
  • don’t rely on credit (pay off debts)
  • invest (start with your time, create ideas, start small think bigger) and reinvest (training and education).
  • teaching children at each stage (7 Smart ways parents teach kids about money; Parents.com even has a set of age-by-age list of money teaching recommendations).

Physical health – Can you modify some things? Take public transport and walk longer distances as this will help you get more in shape and notice things you would otherwise miss if you were driving! I often observe architecture and stores, take photos!

One night I walked 2 miles in the cold from the metro/subway in the middle of the Moonlit night….crisp January nights can offer one the most amazing ‘star’ features, you just need to be aware of your surroundings (and any stray dogs).

Rococo architecture (photo as roadside observer)!

Relationship health — Do your relationships fulfill most of your needs? This includes friendships as well as romantic relationships (are these ‘needs’ realistic…. not narcissistic?). The key here is, do these people enhance you overall? are these people  well-intended or do they drain you? (if they are toxic to your health think about setting some limits) Are you able to forgive and put your ego aside and apologize when it is needed?

People come into your life to offer something, teach you something, share something. The Eurythmics song “Sweet Dreams” says it best — some of them want to use you, some of them want to get used by you, some of them want to abuse you, some of them want to be abused… keep your head up!

There are many articles about healthy relationships which includes

  • supporting each other, open or improving communication, reducing our expectations (too many romance novels or unrealistic movie experiences of ‘romance’ or ‘love’ may add to unrealistic expectations — do you really think you will fall in love with someone you meet at a bar? rarely happens…),
  • keeping our bodies safe (no abuse/violence – check out the Duluth Model “Power and Equality Wheels”, preventing STDs/STIs/HIV by using condoms every time you have sex, getting annual check-ups like pap smears).
  • Long-term support and commitment may be better for our health — marriage may not be such a ‘bad’ thing! Are you a commitment phobic? seems to be a trend according to experts, reinforced by our fast-paced societies. 
  • Many people afraid to even take one basic step into the sea of a more fulfilling ‘relationship’ often let their lives pass them by… they are so afraid of being ‘hurt’ again, they simply shut down and close off any chances of love.

A very useful book about this was written by a Rabbi,  “Why Can’t I Fall in Love? A Twelve-Step Program” to get you to think about your patterns — do you often pick the ‘wrong’ people, do you sabotage your relationships, do you think everyone is not perfect or you’re too picky? have you closed yourself off to love?

A great movie (the book is better) on the reality of our self, potential limitations, and sometimes luck in finding love is “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. The emphasis for me on mindfulness, and especially allowing yourself indulgences like food without guilt, dressing for yourself and not others, are very important in a society obsessed with perfection… and no, you don’t need to travel to Indonesia, India, or hike the Himalayan mountains to find peace. Then again the experience of seeing truth ‘in front of us’ sounds a bit like Paulo Coelho’s book The Alchemist.

Spiritual health — Do you feel you have a place in the world?  Do you feel you have a healthy relationship with God? (even agnostics or atheists in times of trouble may question if there is something ‘more’, and we know from research that those with a spiritual foundation fare better long-term in terms of their health outcomes).  The turning point for me was meeting renowned cosmologists and physicists who in essence are scientists, they also understand there is something greater, we are all interconnected, we simply need to ‘notice’ more and work together.  For counselors and for self-improvement I recommend Scott Peck and Thomas Moore books.  My favorites are: “The Road Less Traveled” by Psychiatrist Scott Peck, M.D. and “Care of the Soul” by a former monk turned psychologist, Thomas Moore. For healing trauma, see Edward Tick, Ph.D. books based on ancient rituals of healing such as “The Practice of Dream Healing: Bringing Ancient Greek Mysteries Into Modern Medicine.”

“Disappointments in love, even betrayals and losses, serve the soul at the very moment they seem in life to be tragedies. The soul is partly in time and partly in eternity. We might remember the part that resides in eternity when we feel despair over the part that is in life.” ― Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life

2natures

Bringing storytelling to the holidays

We are natural storytellers. Whether it’s a folk tale, a fairy tale or your own “tale” the importance of the written and oral word are vitally important for building traditions and maintaining relationships. This includes family and even your healthcare provider as sharing of stories helps build empathy and health literacy.

During the cold season it has been a tradition for hundreds of years to gather around the fire 🔥 share stories, drinking hot beverages, that bring generations together. What better then to start your own tradition now?

Belonging to a self-improvement group like Toastmasters allows those advanced speakers to formally plan and be evaluated on their oral speaking skills includes establishing eye contact and rapport with your audience with the help of props and vocal variety. This year for the annual Christmas 🎄 and Holiday party I had the chance to retell the classic Hans Christian Andersen story “The Little Match Girl” with the goal of reminding our audience about the less fortunate and why we all need to maintain hope and be mindful of others.
Friend and compatriot Toastmaster Sylvia, gave a great tale of “Sophie” the working girl who just wanted to stay home with her alcohol “friends” ….and how a few “elves” brought her back to her senses reminding her of the basics!

Yes Sophie please mind the cup, and remember Santa is good for our health, and please drink plenty of clean water!

No one is perfect in the oral tradition, it’s the small steps that matter ….speaking of which I appreciated Queen Elizabeth’s recent holiday speech of the generations coming together and how often small steps like thinking of climate change, the spirit of good faith, bring reconciliation and positive change.

Whether it’s hot chocolate or peppermint dreams do take time with those you care about, and share some good stories. As always be good to your body, mind, and spirit for better health! Happy holidays and best for the upcoming new year!

Great storytelling!

Santa 🎅 is good for our health!

He’s a jolly old Good-fella you might say, and we love the myth of Santa Claus 🎅 !

Along the lines of Camelot and King Arthur legend, there are parts of the myth of “Santa Claus” (really St. Nicholas) based on truth, and it turns out a little bit of “fib” might be good on our own and children’s health.

One article indicates that “Santa mythology for children may be important for executive functions like attention skills, which provides parents with good evidence that they should not be discouraged from stimulating their children’s imagination.”

Marketing the Santa myth

On the other hand it is quite a money-making venture and Coca Cola figured it out years ago with their initial red and white clothing to match their brand name, starting in 1933 to be exact.

Well it turns out marketing the North Pole has also been good for countries like Finland who take marketing Santa Claus pretty seriously and has increased their local business with booming locales like Rovaniemi.

However the original Saint was a Greek Bishop living during Roman times in a place in Asia Minor (now Modern Turkey) in about 280 A.D. And as usual despite his good deeds was eventually persecuted. Even his remains were fought over as this National Geographic article by Brian Handwerk indicates.

Listen to those winter tales “Twas the Night Before Christmas…” with the Good company of family and friends keeping warm with healthy soup and drink, cheers!!

Favorite Fall Comfort Food?

What is your Fall Season “comfort food”?
One of my breakfast comfort foods is oatmeal (boiled with water, bit of milk). Even better in times of “low energy“ adding some extra vitamins with pumpkin seeds, cranberries, some goji berries and a bit of maple syrup …yummy!

Breakfast, start your day with energy

Wikipedia defines comfort food as something of nostalgic nature from our childhood usually that makes us feel “cared for” and indeed a hot breakfast around cold Fall and winter days makes us feel better. A reminder that “all that falls” could be your mood and a bit of seasonal depression so do something, be active, put on that warm cuddly sweater and make something good for yourself !

I absolutely love this “Autumn Sonata” by Igor Krutoy (Fall music compilation)

What is your comfort food ?

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” Albert Camus, French philosopher, journalist and Nobel winning Author of The Plague a novel of poignant questions of the human condition.

Dark Moon, Black Cats, Evil Eye: Superstitions & Health

The children of U.K., U.S., and Ireland say “trick or treat” on October 31st for Halloween 🎃 while many parts of the world celebrate “all souls day” on November 1st. Images of dancing skeletons, ghosts and the candlelit jack-o-lantern add an air of mystery against the moonlit sky.

“Dark moon” may have been a movie thriller (year 2009) and the Black Moon back in 2016  — a phenomenon of approximately every three years and supposedly precursor to the “end of the world” got me thinking of all the superstitions that we are exposed to in our lifetime from our family circle or cultural traditions. More importantly how these can affect our thinking and ultimately our health and those around us!

I’m impressed by fellow bloggers’ images and information like this one by a man with an appropriate last name “Wolfe”…what would a full or dark moon be without?!   Supposedly some of us have urges of creativity, hatred and envy (anyone have any of these issues today?) but we can learn to hone it into more healthy behaviors as the first step is awareness.

During a black 🌚 moon,  the sun perfectly illuminates  the back side of the moon, hence giving it the eerie glow while it appears like the “apocalyptic night.”  In societies whom we may consider low health literate by our standards, people often have perfectly thought out alternative approaches to what we may consider crazy or out of this world!

We love mystery, as musical hits like the Dark Side of the Moon, Shakespeare’s line “my mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” (Sonnet 130) later copied into one of Sting’s greatest hits “Sister Moon” (1987), reminded me of a question I asked years ago of a serious scientist — “do you believe that planets affect us?” — in my attempt to better understand my own fascination with astrology and astronomy. I was surprised and secretly thrilled with his answer: “if the moon affects the tides and our body is hugely made up of fluids, why can’t planets affect us?” Perhaps the answer is the interplay of our biology (thinking, chemical balance or imbalance, genetic predispositions to anxiety or our amygdala giving us the wrong signals leading to fear) with our experiences… do you like ghost stories?

Those of you who believe in the evil eye (mati) will understand when I say, if a talisman makes you feel more secure wear it or hang it outside your home…. this allows you some form of ‘control’ which may reduce your anxiety use it! BUT if this becomes an obsession (e.g. “I can’t function because I have the evil eye”) or we blame natural phenomena such as fatigue on the evil eye (e.g. “the baby is crying, must be the evil eye”), you may need some good old fashioned counseling.

There is hope!  In an article written in the Huffington Post “How to Get Rid of the Evil Eye” the author reminds us that we all have cultural quirks, and though the evil eye is a tradition of Eastern Europe, the middle east, what I discovered in my past cross-cultural learning is that some beliefs may have permeated to other cultures like in Haiti when my friend spat three times (to supposedly ward off the evil eye), or to my great surprise appeared in more nature-oriented traditions such as the native Americans (or American Indians) who believe in the “eye of timg_7363he lake” or the “eye of Providence” as affecting all mankind.

Lastly, this thing in the west about black cats bringing bad luck — unless you find yourself not seeing the cat in the late night because your eye’s rods aren’t firing fast enough in low light and you wind up stepping on its tail or worse falling over the cat into the trash receptacle, well, don’t blame the cat! They are truly beautiful creatures, in ancient Egypt the black cat was revered and there was even a cult of the cat well until several hundred years A.D.

During the summer of 2016 we had the opportunity to rescue a kitten stuck in the fender of our car (don’t ask how or why, he was very scared from something…. now I better understand the phrase “don’t be such a scaredy cat“) who with a lot of care and love is one of the sweetest creatures I have known, and very lucky to be alive, hence why we named him “Lucky.”

Reframe it to “Black Cats bring me love and good luck, especially if we treat them with love and respect!” You may be a dog person, but any pet contact on a very ‘down’ day or dealing with chronic illness, or with those with whom communicating is difficult (autistic children, elders with dementia) is truly healing and why so many people are learning more about pet therapy.

I may not, in contrast to Sting, wanting to “howl at the moon the whole night through” but I am drifting off to sleep before the witching hour (yes I did read the famed New Orlean native Anne Rice’s novel “The Witching Hour“) thinking of Selene, the moon goddess drifting across the skies…

Carbonara, Coal mining, Carbon dioxide, and Capitalism

The 4 Cs, not in this order, are key local and global issues. Well here is what we “left over” from our Italian “carbonara” a delicious mix of pasta, meat (usually ham/pork), Parmesan cheese, and egg, all grilled over a hot stove inspired by coal miner’s foodstuff. Nowadays this meal may contribute to our over-eating and high calorie cholesterol diet which is to be avoided but, for hard labor and athletes this is the food to help keep them going!

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Capitalism is never 100% bad as I say and many others prove that “responsibility” lies in balance ….much of the time progress for cities and towns that otherwise would be ages backwards ….indeed brought by capitalism but we don’t “see” it until centuries later. We need to reflect on improving quality and create more opportunities as well as maintain worker’s health.

This is an example of Lavrio (Laurium), a city in Southern Attica marked by a long history of mining (the ancient site for the first minting of silver coins used as money happened here). Factories contribute to depleted ozone with emissions and the so-called greenhouse effect by harmful gases like sulfur oxide or carbon dioxide.  Let’s keep up with our scientific and civic literacy — both components of health literacy— shall we? I particularly liked this scientific article.  Thus this place has an oxymoronic history, even though it was a place of progress, with many problems around mining worker’s rights …. many people died and sacrificed in the late 1800’s so that others don’t have to work straight 12-13 hour days (similar issues even in modern day with migrant workers!).

Lavrio overlooks Makronisos (the island in East of Attica, a place where those considered “opposing” the Greek state were sent to political prison in 1940s through 1970s). Many neoclassical buildings are now starting to be rebuilt as we say “respect cities” to be able to attract more tourism on land and sea.  As statues and memorials are built, universities in Greece now use the old mining areas for places of study it occurred to me that we can all be ‘transformers’ and as I thought this a beautiful rainbow appeared on the road back home …. after the rain, hope and promise are soon behind but we need to grab the opportunity when it arises!

 

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The gods, history, art, food and agriculture of the Isle of Naxos, Greece

There are a lot of pages and references  dedicated to the Greek donkey as of late. A sturdy animal used often for the purpose of agriculture by farmers or by villagers without cars to carry heavy weight in incredibly hot temperatures. This is what they were built for as they are similar to the desert camel.  So, please people, unless the donkey owners are untrained or ruthless “meanies” most of these animals are beloved in Greece. I should know, we owned several in our family in years past.

Greece is considered the “hottest” country in Europe with summer temperatures  exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). The last “hydration” post is most important to review as one can even get sunburnt if they don’t wear a hat often — it happened to me! Health literacy indeed should include the “donkey” holistic model described on this site if we are to look at the bigger picture.

Greece has over 6,000 islands but only 227 are inhabited. So this post will be one of several where I will be sharing some extraordinary experiences with the hope that you will visit there too!

4783E0CD-5D4B-4609-9D92-23BDA16D81FALast year, during this summer period,  we were privileged to stay at the “Princess of Naxos” on the isle of Naxos main town, and interview the owner and island hotel association rep. who was very proud about his island and more recent tourism developments. It’s an island for “all tastes” for families, couples, or individual adventurers. We had the chance to walk and drive around various parts of the island enjoying the pristine blue waters of the sea (Agios Prokopios, Agia Anna, Agios Georgios were personal favorites) visiting museums with remnants from ancient, medieval, to modern times. An island of antithesis yet complementary sites, smells, sounds and tastes. Also a geological marvel with stones and minerals, including Naxos marble, would make anyone want to “dig” for more!

The marble Sphinx is proof of the Hellenistic and Egyptian relationships while the marble “portal” door welcomes visitors to the island. 8110DEED-9A7E-41EE-AC52-469304D7F4F1.jpegAs if a sleeping pharaoh, the gigantic statue of Apollo is carved on the mountain side for worshipers and the majestic pillars of the temples of Artemis and Demeter (female goddesses of fertility and earth’s bounty), or the site of Dionysus (merriment and “wine god”) remind one of how important fertile land and the bounty of food is for human survival.  The gods of pagan times likely affected the mentality of Christianity as various saints are important to Orthodox Christians. We remain with elements of various personality types and the cosmos: earth, air, fire, and water — ancient philosophy, astrology, and later psychologist Carl Jung aspired personality experts Myers & Briggs to better understand ourselves and others.

One can take a side trip to neighboring islands of Paros or Mykonos, and the small (uninhabited) isle of Delos dedicated to the sun god Apollo with a fabulous “terrace of the lions” built around 600 B.C. with infamous Naxos marble showcasing the strength of dominance of the island as biggest sea trades happened here of all the Cyclade islands, the name of the island “group”—  see fellow blogger’s site here.

 

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Following Artemis’ path, I became a “huntress” of sorts to try and understand the island “identity” and driving towards semi-mountainous Filoti (Φιλώτι), we stopped right before at at a local pottery maker whose family art goes back three generations. We still admire his work today in our home and they deliver goods almost anywhere globally. The impressive “wine glass of equality” was fascinating as all drinkers could only have equal amounts — if you went over the ‘line’ wine would be lost pouring to the floor (one would not be happy).

A small shop owner told us stories of agriculture and dedications to the ancient gods as people aspired to live off the land and how Naxos became the main trading isle of the region. Some of the popular trades of the island continue to be their cheeses like my favorite graviera (γραβιέρα), Naxos potatoes (something similar to the U.S. Idaho potato), or their famous citron (κίτρο) green colored liqueur.

His shop was full with handwoven baskets, and anything from mountain oregano to sheep’s bells or khoudounia (there is a site on their origins in Greece here) in smaller animals the smaller bell is called a “trokani” (τροκάνι). Noteworthy is the fact that there are similar herbs and medicinal plants shared among other islands and mainland Greece (Alan Touwaide’s research work is highlighted in a past post on ancient and medicinal plants). This shop is a cultural treasure that will hopefully make it through the ongoing financial crisis of the country.

 

Find out more about this “must visit” Greek island via the website Naxos.gr — from museums to gastronomy, or simply a relaxing seaside vacation, that will leave everyone wanting to return.