This Imbolc, take some time to connect with nature, let go of what no longer serves you, conserve your energy, and plant some seeds for the year to come.
The days are getting longer and on a sunny day, your heart swells inexplicably at the thought of the return of spring. That’s you tuning into the energies of Imbolc.
Imbolc kicks off the mid-season, halfway between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox here in the Northern Hemisphere. It does not quite feel like spring, yet we see the signs of Nature awakening—a bud, a sprout, a blossom at a time. In fact, the word Imbolc means in the belly of the Mother. There is a sense of anticipation in the air, as the days get longer and the temperature gets warmer. Nature’s Magic is literally in the air, full of potential for growth and transformation.
For millennia, ancestors all over the world celebrated this time of year with feast and ritual. They observed the sun and moon cycles, believing that this was a way to harmonize human activity with the cycles of Nature to ensure fertility, abundance and fruitful harvests. I think the these rituals and celebrations helped our ancestors align their lives and heart resonance with the cycles of Mother Earth and her heart beat.
The rituals of our ancestors differed in content and performance but there are similarities across cultures. Offerings were made to goddesses responsible for home and hearth, protection and fertility. Cleansing and purging rituals were done, setting the energetic tone for a fresh start in the Spring. Often these would involve fire, symbolic of the way fire purges the land to restore the soil. They opened the door to a clean slate, and new beginnings. Still more rituals celebrated the union of sacred masculine and feminine energies and the blessings of new life, while other rituals honoured the larger cycles of creation, preservation and destruction. The rituals helped focus intentions through this pregnant pause time, while embracing possibility, new hope and new life—Nature’s and their own.
There is a special kind of magic in this transitional period when you can sense the excitement of something coming into being. Maybe it is something you dreamed already; maybe it is something completely new. With the many demands of our daily schedules in the hustle and bustle of urban/sub-urban life, we can sometimes forget to notice the beauty of Nature’s quiet, slow, often subtle movements.
So what rituals and processes can we use now, in the 21st century to help us connect with the Earths current cycle? How can we focus our intentions to set into motion, ever so slowly, the dreams we dreamed for our year during the hibernation state of Winter?
1. Spend some Time Communing with Nature
Go for a wander in the woods or thorough the nearest park. While you’re walking, listen for the birds, watch them fly around with each other. Look for squirrels and watch them play. Look for evidence of new life coming in around you—a new shoot poking its head up from the soil, a bud forming on a tree. Take the time to allow wonder to bubble up inside you, as though you are discovering all this for the very first time. Allow yourself to experience this nature walk the way your inner child would have—with awe and wonder. Take a moment to express appreciation to the Earth for the beauty of this season. Take a beat to feel the connection of your heart to hers.
2. Let Go of What no Longer Serves You
Think of this as preparing your own soil for what you want to grow in yourself this year. It is a cleansing and purging of your mind, beliefs, programmed expectations, energetic field. If you find yourself in a rut or a comfort zone, this is your time to make a shift—not a whole sale overnight change, but a shift.
We are living through times of big changes in the world. There are going to be things within us—ways of thinking, behaving, reacting, organizing, caretaking, believing—that will not support these changes with ease and grace. The Imbolc season is a time for going within and finding what those obstacles are. They will most often look like fears of some sort—loss, security, the unknown. My favourite way to get through this part is through sitting with it, looking at it from every angle and journaling my observations and epiphanies. There is always something abstract brewing within you, a feeling or a sensation. It remains abstract until we sit with it, get to know it and name it.
Once you name the obstacle, think and feel about what you would like to replace it with, something that would support your process of change. The obstacle might be a belief or a story that you have invested in for many, many years that no longer serves you. Or it might be a habit that you go to in times of stress that is not actually supporting you.
Hold a compassionate space for yourself while letting go. It can be a difficult process sometimes. The key here is to take small steps, nothing too overwhelming. You are preparing your soil and putting in the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical nutrients you need to grow this year.
3. Build Your Inner Reserves and Resilience
Being able to conserve your energy and build resilience during times of transition is a super power. It is at the foundation of self care. It is also how we prevent burnout by refusing to take on more than we can handle and taking care of ourselves—physically, emotionally or spiritually.
Physically, this could look like getting enough sleep, supporting your wellbeing with nutritious foods, herbs and aromatherapy, and getting regular exercise. Emotional health care might look like not taking on too much drama, refusing to invest in limiting beliefs or stories fuelled by fear, quitting the judgement train, talking your feelings through with people you trust, laughing for no apparent reason and journaling. A practice of being in stillness, peace and gratitude definitely helps your spiritual health. It is how you can more consciously align your heartbeat to that of the Earth’s.
These are just some suggestions. You’ll know you’ve found the right thing when you feel expansive about it—literally the feeling of your heart opening in your chest. If you feel contractive, then this is not the right thing for you.
4. Plant Some Seeds
Studies show that planting more trees and plants will help slow the effects of climate change. Plants, like us, also resonate with the Earth’s heartbeat. In fact, when they are off beat, their ability to photosynthesize is affected. Planting plants is a way to solidify our connection to the Earth and our plant relations by participating with each other’s processes.
This is also time to plant seeds for what we want to create in our lives this year. Now is the time to start taking small steps towards actualizing the dreams we dreamed during the Winter Solstice season. The goals we set are not an end; they are the lighthouse or the guidepost for the journey we will take to get there. So the plans you make right now need not be huge or detailed. Just get the journey in motion, know that you are walking towards your dream, even though you don’t have all the information about it. Feel into the direction, as you go. Your True North will be your Why. If you find yourself at crossroads, choose your path, base it on a Why that is grounded in what is most loving and for your highest good.
So this Imbolc, take some time to connect with nature, let go of what no longer serves you and plant some seeds for the year to come. Enjoy your journey, your life safari!
Lessons from the Trees
On Mindful Meditation, Journaling and letting go
Fall is the season for learning how to let go. And the trees are our teachers. As we come out of the summer and into the fall in the Northern Hemisphere, plant life gradually dies away and becomes dormant. The dead matter folds back into the soil and provides nutrition for seeds yet to be planted. It’s all preparation for coming back to life in the spring. We humans are also a part of this yearly cycle of life, death and rebirth. But what does it mean for us?
In the fall, the trees give us the most amazing colour show as they gracefully let go of the leaves they have outgrown. When it’s time to let go of a leaf, they simply LET GO. There’s no fight, no doubt, no struggle. It just simply IS, an inarguable truth. Leaf’s dead. Time to let it go so that it can be recycled into the soil to feed future growth.
Letting go is our work this season, too. In order to make space for rich new growth experiences in our own lives, we, like the trees, have to let go of what no longer serves us. This could be people, habits, limiting beliefs, a job that no longer fits, clothes that no longer fit. The list goes on and it is as individual as you are.
How do we know what our dead leaves are, what we need to let go?
Identifying your Dead Leaves with Mindful Meditation
Ever thought you might have to Mari Kondo your inner world? Yeah, me neither. But it’s actually a useful approach, believe it or not. It is about identifying that within your life that sparks little or no joy. And these feelings point to or actually ARE your dead leaves.
Your first step is to identify them. No need for any big moves. Remember that a leaf dies slowly, turning from green to gold or red. The tree has time to prepare to let go of the leaf. It stores its energy for the winter, hibernating and resting in readiness for spring’s growth.
Here’s where mindful meditation comes in. According to Mindful.org, “the goal of mindfulness is to wake up to the inner workings of our mental, emotional and physical processes.” Meditation is a way to explore, venturing into the inner workings of your being as expressed through physical sensations, emotional reactions and random thoughts. “…Your head doesn’t become vacuumed free of thought…it’s a special place where each and every moment becomes momentous” Mindful meditation, then is a practice of being present within yourself, and observing each of those moments, without judgment and with curiosity, warmth and kindness.
The steps are easy and gentle, as described on Mindful's website.
Mindful meditation allows you to become like the tree. A tree does not judge itself for letting go of its leaves. Nor does it beat itself to a pulp with guilt and shame for shedding. It just does what it must do to take care of itself so that it can continue to grow and do its part in its ecosystem.
Mindful meditation, when practiced with consistency, has the potential to rewire your thought, feeling, behavioural patterns--and your brain. It allows you to be present in any situation, observing your own inner reactions and discerning what is working for you and what is not. It gives you space to observe your belief systems so that you can review and revise as needed. And it helps you connect with the sacred in yourself, so that you can plant the seeds of your hopes and dreams, and then nourish them lovingly into being.
Journaling it Out, One Dead Leaf at a Time
Once you have come out of your mindful meditation, give yourself an extra 10 minutes. Set an intention to identify that which no longer serves in your life--the dying leaves. Pull out your journal and write the first things that come to your mind. Don’t judge them. Notice what emotions you are feeling about each list item. Write these emotions down. What sparks joy? What doesn't? Notice any body sensations that come up in response to your intention. Write these down. If anything more comes up—random thoughts, feelings, ideas, write them down. Don't judge them or analyze yet. Now get on with your day.
Keep adding to your list of observations. Over time, you'll begin to notice connections and patterns. You'll begin to understand what your being is saying to you through thought, emotion and body sensations. You'll be able to determine what relationships, beliefs, situations or stuff is sparking joy, working for you, supporting you to be the best you can be. And you'll be able to see which ones don't. That's your official Dead Leaf List.
Again, like the tree, don't rush into anything. give yourself time to determine the best course of action. Use your tools--mindful meditation and journaling--to break it down for yourself, in terms of thought, emotion and sensation. When you think about how to end a friendship, say, or draw boundaries around it, observe your thoughts, emotions and body sensations. Use the same techniques as you did to identify the Dead Leaves to find a way through for yourself that feels calm and even. Remember to be kind, loving and as non-judgemental with yourself as possible. Guilt and shame have no place in your healthy ecosystem.
These tools really helped me through some of my darkest times. Mindful Meditation allowed me to explore my inner world, one thought, feeling and body sensation at a time, without judging or drowning in shame and guilt. It allowed me to discern which thoughts were coming from the voices or experiences in my past and which ones were truly my own voice; which ones made me feel light and buoyant and which ones sunk me like a stone; and which ones led to feelings of joy and happiness.
Journaling allowed me to figure out the thought, emotion and action patterns I had developed as coping mechanisms in joyless situations. It also allowed me to discover and honour my inner treasures, parts of my being that I felt good and sparkly about. And it gave me, literally, a blank page on which to visualize the reality I wanted to experience. This is still a work in progress. Not because these tools don't work but because Life doesn't stop until you do. It is is simply an unfolding process that does not stop delivering learning moments and opportunities to refine your experience until you are driving mostly in the JOY lane.
So This fall, take some time out for yourself to go on a profound inner journey. Uncover what is ready to die away in your life, and let it go. Fully embrace your uniqueness and be the fullest, most authentic best you can be.
Lavender tea's delicate, aromatic flavour drifts you to a good night's sleep. Here's why + a sleepy time tea recipe
We love our lavender, don't we? It's one of the most loved fragrances in the world, known for its restful calming effects, making it an essential in a sleepy time tea. Move over chamomile, make room for lavender!
Lavender tea is made from the fresh or dried buds of the Lavender flower, Lavendula angustifolia. Originating in the Mediterranean, it is now cultivated all over the world, including in my garden! Lavender brings a distinctive flavour and aromatic fragrance to foods. My son, Javid, flavours the most delicious ice creams with it; his gal Bri likes to flavour cakes and icing with it; and we make a simple syrup to add to drinks. Gin and lavender tonics anyone? I also use Lavender in my body care products for its calming scent and capacity to maintain clear skin complexioned boost cellular health. And I use it in a tea blend I make for a relaxed night's sleep. Between care taking of Thom and the garden, running all things Free Lion and being there for my boyz-to-men as required, I find getting a solid sleep can make all the difference to my day ahead.
But let's get back to talking tea. Lavender is a herb and a member of the mint, oregano and rosemary family. So it comes by its health benefits honestly. But what can a lavender tea do for you?
1. Improve Sleep
Lavender induces calm. Its relaxing effects can help improve sleep and be used to help you get there. According to Health Canada, Canadians are not getting enough sleep. 1 in 2 adults have trouble going to sleep or staying asleep; 1 in 5 adults do not find their sleep refreshing; and 1 in 3 adults are having trouble staying awake during the day. Health Canada puts this trend down to sedentary lifestyles and chronic stress. Not a surprise, given everything we're having to deal with these days. Enter Lavender Tea!
Drinking Lavender tea before bed can help you achieve a more restful sleep. According to a sleep study in Taiwan conducted with women post partum, Lavender tea helped participants' sleep quality improve. They also reported decreased depression symptoms and were able to be more present with their infants for better bonding. In another study of lavender and the nervous system, lavender taken orally, inhaled or massaged into the skin was found to decrease anxiety and improve mood levels. Yet another study conducted by psychologists at Wesleyan University with 31 men and women found that lavender increased slow-wave sleep, instrumental for slowing heartbeat and relaxing muscles. Participants slept more soundly with lavender than without. They also reported feeling more energetic in the morning.
2. Preventative Holistic Health
Western medicine is an allopathic system. That means it treats symptoms and not the whole person. Its goal is to eradicate, mend and repair, which is brilliant when you have a condition that will benefit from such treatment. The holistic approach is more about prevention, a philosophy that underpins many "Alternative" medical approaches.
Lavender tea fits in here perfectly. It can be taken as a preventative measure, to maintain balance in your body, delivering many desired health effects. Lavender tea is full of antioxidants to help you eliminate those pesky toxins from your system, working to prevent them from wreaking havoc on human cells through mutation, degradation or oxidative stress.
Lavender tea contains high amounts of antioxidants and antibacterial compounds (like Vitamin C, calcium and magnesium) that can help boost your immune system against colds, bacterial, fungal and viral infections. It has properties that can reduce inflammation which, in turn can help prevent a host of eventually serious ailments like heart issues or arthritis. Its antispasmodic properties can also help with joint pain while helping to minimize muscle spasms. The same can be really helpful with menstrual cramps.
Lavender tea can also help soothe digestive issues like nausea or diarrhea or indigestion. More importantly, it can help stimulate production of bile while will help your body break down foods more effectively. It can also help open up chest airways, making it easier to breathe. That's the added bonus of smelling your lavender tea between sips.
Lavender Borage Sleepy Tea
This calming warm tea is just the thing to help you unwind. The best time to drink a sleep tea is 30 minutes before crash time.
You can infuse the flowers into water. Or for an extra pre-bedtime sleep kick, infuse the flowers into the milk of your choice. Dairy milk and almond milk both contain tryptophan which increases serotonin, the precursor to the sleep regulating hormone, melatonin. I've honey as a sweetener but also because it helps release melatonin in your brain. You can replace honey with another sweetener for a vegan option.
You can have your lavender tea straight up, no chaser. Or you can blend it with other plants that promote relaxation and calm. For this recipe, I have included Borage flowers, a calming, cleansing staple in the Persian diet, for its relaxation and stress relieving properties.
1 cup of water, milk or almond milk
1 tsp dried borage flowers
1 tsp dried lavender flowers
1 tsp honey or stevia
1. Place the water, milk or almond milk into a small saucepan on medium heat. Heat to very hot, not a roaring boil.
2. Add the dried lavender buds and dried borage flowers to the saucepan
3. Allow to steep for 5 or 6 minutes.
4. Pour into a mug through a strainer
5. Add honey or sweetener of your choice.
6. Drink. Rest. Reset. Relax. Nite Nite!
Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor. The information I have provided about herbs and sleep are from my own research experience. I encourage you to find your own answers for what works best for you and your body.
Imbolc: the pregnant Pause
Just like nature is beginning to awaken after its dormant period, we too are re-awakening with new dreams and plans for our lives. Here are 3 important tools to help you nourish your soul/soil
February 1st and 2nd mark Imbolc, the mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It is a celebration of the first first stirrings of new life, the earliest signs of Spring, in the northern hemisphere, even though there might still be snow on the ground or freezing cold outside. It’s significance to the human experience is the very earliest hints of spring rising in our spirits. After months of turning inward, of hibernation and rest, life is beginning to stir again.
From what I understand, Imbolc is a celebration not only of this moment in the earth’s annual cycle, it is a celebration of the same in ourselves. It is a moment when we honour and nurture our own capacity to bring something to life in ourselves and our own experience. Just like nature is beginning to awaken after its dormant period, we too are re-awakening with new dreams and plans for our lives.
Sounds fantastical? Perhaps. Or perhaps it is just the way things are supposed to be, a way of being that is in alignment with the Earth herself, a way made superfluous by a 9-5 way of thinking and being. But let's set aside that and go with the lessons of Mother Earth here for a minute. Let your spirit begin to stretch and shake off the restful sleep of winter. For with this awakening comes a much needed clearing.
When those lovely spring flowers start poking their heads up through the dirt, it’s time to clear the ground and cut back dead growth in the garden before new growth starts sprouting. The same kind of care is needed in our internal gardens, to clear out internal clutter and the things that died within us during the winter, in preparation for exciting new growth to come. Winter is a time of turning inward and descending into ourselves, identifying the things within that we were ready to let go of, be they thought patterns, behaviour habits or limiting beliefs. It is also the time of dreaming what we see for ourselves, what we would like to experience.
Imbolc marks the time to really let go of all those things, for once and for all, and embrace transition and change in real, lived ways. It’s a time to leave your comfort zone in order to grow more fully into yourself by creating the kind of experiences that will take you there. Sounds kind of exciting and pregnant with possibilities, right?
Yet it is also really, really hard. Because while we love the idea of change, humans are also creatures of habit who like the safe and comfortable. Real change, letting go of things that no longer serve us and stepping into new ways of being and doing can be a long and daunting process. And that can feel super uncomfortable.
Nature shows us that everything has a time and a reason. Think of Imbolc as a time of facing challenges, of taking your own measure. Do you have the strength required to make lasting changes? Can you leave what is safe to grow more fully into yourself? Can you breathe life into your winter dreaming? And how can you set yourself up for success?
This is where tools come in to help you clear out what no longer serves, nourish your soul and lay the initial seeds of what you want to bring into your life this year. I’m sharing with you the ones that I am using at this time. Hopefully, they will be of use to you in some way.
1. Ho'oponopono - Getting Things Back into Balance
I use this meditation frequently. Ho'oponopono has its roots in Hawaiian culture; it’s intention is to maintain and sustain equilibrium in chaotic circumstances. Roughly translated, the word ho’oponopono means, “cause things to move back in balance” or to “make things right.” It is an ancient spiritual practice that involves learning to heal all things by accepting that we are all connected and so hold responsibility for everything that surrounds us. Responsibility. Not fault. It's a subtle but important difference. While we may create or invoke a certain kind of experience, it is usually for the purposes of learning. We are not victims in some kind of cause and effect blame game.
Within this framework, none of us are powerless or helpless, something I really appreciate. It acknowledges that we are each a contributing part of a whole. When there is disturbance in the force of the Whole, the ho'oponopono meditation is a graceful, loving way of restoring the balance for everyone involved. In short, you are calling the spirit of universal love to heal in you that which is creating the discordant outer circumstance you may be experiencing.
The meditation itself is a repeated mantra or set of words potent with intention. These are: I am sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you. Spoken in succession, the meditation becomes is a way of declaring a willingness to take responsibility for our thoughts and actions and express regret for any harm caused; to forgive oneself and others, asking the same in return; to live and walk in gratitude and appreciation; and to acknowledge the juice that makes the universe run–LOVE-- flows through each of us, holding us in Oneness.
I do the meditation whenever I feel out of balance, when I'm feeling fear or anxiety or anger. It helps level out those feelings of fear, doubt, anxiety. It brings me back to what really matters to me–personal responsibility, heart-mind coherence and choosing from Love. I also do it when I'm feeling relaxed and calm, like when I am falling asleep. There's never a bad time for some balance healing.
2. The Gratitude List - What nourishes your Soul/soil
If the Ho'oponopono meditation sets the overall energy framework for sustaining and maintaining equilibrium, the gratitude list lets you know what awesome foundational things are in your life inventory that are currently nourishing your soul. The very fact that you are grateful for these things tells you are being nourished by them. And your soul nourished is the soil in which you plant the seeds for what you’d like to create in your life this year.
Your gratitude list doesn’t have to be stellar or metaphysical. It just has to simply be populated by things that make you feel good, happy, joyful, peaceful, loved; that give a sense of meaning and belonging, that make your heart glow or skip a beat or two in sheer excitement. In reflecting back on my own list, I see that I have in my life an abundance of love, meaningful relationships and work, and a sense of purpose. This is my soul nourished and feeling truly blessed.
3. The Experiences List - Sowing the Seeds
This is a list of what you want to call in for the year to grow and evolve. It's not really a list of stuff (not just yet anyway--that will come later in the year) Rather, it is a list of the experiences you want to have that will support, encourage and facilitate that growth. For this list, give yourself some time to feel into a number of things in your life. Feel it from a place of love, not fear. You might, say, be really grateful for the family and friends in your life. And you would like to grow your relationship with them. So on this list, you might add, "Fun" as an experience you want more of with them. List item complete. It's an experience that is heart-centred rather than fear-centred.
But what do you do for things that bring up a lot of fear? Even though it can scare the crap out of us, Fear is not an enemy, really. It's a natural part of us that raises a red flag around an experience we no longer wish to have. So, for example, you might be feeling a little financially pinched right now, an experience that commonly holds fear and worry. It might be tempting to just add, "money" to the list, as the overall solution. "I want to experience having money or not worrying about money," takes the issue of finances into the experience realm. It's almost ready for your list. You know what do you don't want to experience, but what DO you want to experience? How can you shift perspective on that you can transform " worry" into a more love-centred experience?
Before you write anything down, feel into your financial fears. Notice any body sensations that come up. Is your heart clenching? Your stomach churning? These sensations are your body letting you know it is NOT enjoying this experience. It's in survival mode, as we all are in the face of a fear. We've been trained to swallow it down and white knuckle it through these fear experiences. Or to avoid them altogether. What if there was a kinder, gentler way? There is, and we all knew how to do it when we were children, before the world broke our spirits so that we'd fit, belong and obey.
So let's go back to finances. We know what it feels like when we are scared about money, worried about lack. Now, let's try to feel finances from a more abundant, loving place. What would it feel like to have no worries about money, that you had everything you needed (need, not want)? Imagine what that would experience be like? Bring your mind (thoughts) and heart (feelings) into coherence, working together to create that experience in this moment now. Think about all the aspects of the experience that would feel so wonderful, all the things you might do, the relief you might feel, the joy you might feel. Feel the experience as though you’re having it right now, in this moment. Notice any sensations your body might be having in response. Don't judge what you're imagining or yourself for imagining it. It's your dream. Enjoy it.
And that experience you just generated? That's the intention seed you just planted. In it was not "money". It was the experience of relief, joy, fun, pleasure and anything else that came up for you while you were dreaming. Add these experiences to the list.
While it may not solve immediate financial problems, it is a way to shift your perspective on finances from fear to love. You can use the same process for anything else you would like to experience in your life this year. The fears will come up, they never really go away. But they can become more diminished in your personal operating system. And anytime you feel out of balance, go back to the Ho'oponopono meditation.
I hope we are all able to embrace this time of new beginnings and change, as this is how our spirits grow and evolve, especially when we push out from our comfort zones. Here’s wishing you the brightest of Imbolc blessings. I hope all our winter dreams come to life this year, taking us to the most exciting, empowered and balanced places.
Flower Power, part one
The psychology of flowers and why they make us so happy
These days, as our lives go through ups and downs due to the changes we are living through, more self care is called for. We may need more exercise, a healthier diet or more sleep. We might find peace in moments wandering through nature or in meditative quiet time. And we might receive a much needed emotional lift from Flower Power.
In 2005, the Department of Psychology at Rutgers University conducted a 10 month behavioural study, looking for links between flowers and life-satisfaction. They found that “Flowers have immediate and long-term effects on emotional reactions, mood, social behaviors and even memory for both males and females.”
“What’s most exciting about this study is that it challenges established scientific beliefs about how people can manage their day-to-day moods in a healthy and natural way,” said Jeannette Haviland-Jones, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and lead researcher on the study.
In the study, subjects received deliveries of flowers and other gifts such as fruit, candles and pens. While most deliveries of gifts received a positive response, the highest response rates came from receiving flowers. The studies showed that these positive responses lasted two to three days.
But honestly, we didn’t need a scientific study to tell us what our bodies intuitively know (though confirmation is sometimes nice). According to the Rutger’s study, the presence of flowers:
Why do Flowers Make Us Happy?
Flowers are connected to the release of some seriously happy-forming hormones in our systems.
Dopamine, the feel-good neurochemical, helps regulate movement, learning, motivation, attention and emotional responses. It is released by the expectation of a reward. Flowers, back in the day, were a huge reward signal in our brains because they promised abundance after a hungry winter. While we may not link flowers so directly with food anymore, flowers can still trigger that sense of anticipated excitement.
Oxytocin is a neuro-chemical often called the “love hormone”. It creates feelings of social trust from mother-infant bonding, to romantic connection to group cohesion and belonging. These bonds are crucial not only to our survival as a species but also to our capacity to thrive and grow. When we give each other flowers, oxytocin is released. Flowers then serve as talismans, communicating the strength of our bonds, and our intention to invest in caring for the relationships that form them. Because of the evolutionary connection of flowers to physical survival, we are also underlining the importance of social connection to our well-being.
And then there’s serotonin, the neuro-chemical crucial to mood, well-being, happiness and our spiritual lives. Scientists have found that serotonin receptor activity in the brain correlates with a capacity for transcendence or bliss. From the lotus to the rose, lowers have long been associated with spiritual paths since ancient times. It is both the colour of the flowers AND their scent that trigger serotonin and lift the Spirit.
That brings us to the Chromotherapy and Aromatherapy. That’s part 2 of this blog post. Stay tuned. But in the meantime, here's a lovely bouquet to help your happy.
Three Fabulous Zucchini ways
So you grew a ton of zucchini. Here are three yummy ways to perserve and enjoy them.
End of Summer is Squash time in the garden. There is a proliferation of Zucchini coming off the vines. Rather than eating zukes until we can't look at them anymore, I've been casting about to find different ways to preserve them so that we can enjoy them into the fall, and possibly the winter.
Here are the three things we’ve made this month using zucchinis that turned out fabulously.
I wasn’t sure how this was going to go. Frankly, I was a Dill pickle-making nube. But I had made mango and carrot pickle, Indian style from scratch before . So I went in using that knowledge to mix it up in the recipes I found. Here is what happened:
So, all in all, Zuke Pickle was a big hit!
2 pounds small zucchini (preferably about 4" or 8" long), trimmed and cut into spears
4 tablespoons coarse sea salt or pickling salt, divided
2 teaspoons yellow or brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon dill seeds
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
4 star anise clove
12 garlic cloves, halved
4 red jalapeños or Fresno chilies, split lengthwise
2 1/2 cups white wine vinegar
1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
We love a good veggie spread at our house. There is nothing more satisfying than a Baba Ganoush or a humus and pita with a Greek salad on the side on a hot summer day. So when we stumbled across Zucchini Butter, we knew this would be a winner. It's basically Zucchini with a bit of butter, garlic and herbs, cooked down to a spreadable consistency. We have been eating it on baguette slices as an appy; in a veggie panini with Havarti cheese; and as a BBQ meat topper. It rocks in a burger or a-top a steak as an alternative to sauteed mushrooms. Added bonus: It keeps up to 2 weeks in the fridge and up to a year in the freezer.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
5 garlic cloves, gently smashed
2 large zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (about 2 pounds)
5-6 springs of rosemary (thyme and/or oregano is also good here)
1/2 teaspoon finely milled sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
CHOCOLATE ZUCCHINI BREAD
This recipe uses grated zucchini, picked fresh from the garden, semi-sweet chocolate chips and cocoa powder. The moisture from the zucchini gives the bread a decidedly brownie-like texture. Not complaining. Not now. Not ever! I’m loving this bread with a scoop of ice cream or a bit of custard and whipped cream. Okay, I’m now officially drooling!
I didn’t use all the zuke I grated so I measured out two cups, the amount needed for a loaf of Zuke bread, bagged and froze it for later use. This way we can keep enjoying Chocolate Zucchini Bread right through the fall, possibly winter.
2 cups grated zucchini (fresh or frozen then thawed)
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa (use natural unsweetened cocoa, NOT Dutch processed)
1 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon instant coffee granules (optional)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup nuts or seeds (optional)
6T tbsp unsalted butter, melted OR sunflower oil
1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
Zucchini has not been a favourite with my kids over the years. They've always found it bland or too mushy, though I was always able to sneak it in with chocolate. And now, we have definitely upped our zucchini game. Plus, cooking with food harvested fresh from my garden is bringing me a lot of joy and satisfaction.
What have you been making out of zucchini lately?
A chance for change: Three Thought-Provoking Podcasts on understanding and unlearning Racism
Resmaa Menakem on healing black and white trauma; Austin Channing Brown and Brené Brown on the humanist work of anti-racism; Brené Brown on shame and accountability
This week has been a bit of a roller coaster ride--again--as our human story unfolds. Things are opening up a little as we venture into Phase 2 of the COVID response plan. As expected, new case numbers have spiked in various locations, causing adjustments in the plan. I am grateful to be living in BC where Dr. Bonnie Henry has been so pro-active about maintaining our health protocols.
Truthfully, I have enjoyed the "sheltering at home" period, the quietness in the world, the songs of the birds being so audible in the city, the decrease in traffic and road rage, the care people have shown for one another. This pace feels "normal" to me, what life should be like so that we can stay grounded, connected and not lose our minds in stress frenzies. My neighbours have been echoing much the same and are not eager to return to how things were. They've enjoyed the experience of being at home with their families; homeschooling; taking classes online; working from home; having the Canadian governments use taxpayer money to bail Us, the citizens, out (for a change). They, like me, are wanting a revisioned new normal.
Ignited by the anti-racism protests currently occurring all over the world, my desire also extends to wanting to write racism (and every other divisive "ism") out of our new normal. As a person of colour, anti-racism work, in all its complex nuances, has been a part of my life since childhood. It hasn’t been easy or fun. It’s actually been exhausting--but necessary. Without standing up for myself as often as I have, I'm not sure I would still be here, self-value more or less in tact. Along the way, I have met amazing people of colour who have been willing to do the hard work of standing up against relentless systemic behemoths, only to be beaten down time and time again, but relentlessly rise up and do it again; and white people, who have been willing to do the hard work to unlearn racism and become an ally, standing in that interstitial space between the oppressor and the oppressed.
In my walk so far, I have found that we are more alike than different. We are a human family, as Dr. Maya Angelou has said, albeit a dysfunctional one. But as in all dysfunctional families, repair is possible with a lot of hard work. It seems to me that in order to revision a new normal, we’re going to have to dismantle the old one, its inequities and systemic abuses. Its going to take a lot of honest introspection and perspective shifting grounded in a vision of unity, equity and love. For in the end, fear isolates; Love liberates.
1. Resmaa Menakem: Notice the Rage; Notice the Silence
First, a perspective-shifting interview with Resmaa Menakem, trauma specialist and author of My Grand Mother’s Hands. In his examination of why anti-racism work hasn’t taken root, so to speak in the last 20 years of equity movements, he speaks about the trauma of Racism as it lives in both the oppressor and the oppressed. I’d never thought about it this way before but as soon as he said it, I thought, “Of course, it makes sense.”
Trauma, he tells us, is stored in the DNA for generations, it’s role being to inform our survival reactions in the here and now. So a trauma that might have terrified an ancestor becomes recorded in our DNA which, in turn, triggers our own survival mechanisms. In order for us to heal division in our human family, we have to heal that trauma that signals danger, causing us to fight or flight. Resmaa Menakem is working with old wisdom and very new science about our bodies, our nervous systems, and all that we condense into the word “race" to offer us the possibility of change, beginning at a cellular level.
Using a gradual process, we can learn to take our survival reactions off autopilot by observing and noticing the trauma reaction, moving the body itself to unlock stored trauma, and then choosing to replace the trauma reaction with mindful, loving responses (not reactions) that fall in the realm of what Angel Davis calls Radical Self Care. Menakem shows us the possibility of being able to change and let go of our collective traumas.
Having been through trauma recovery counselling myself, I can tell you that this method--slowing down, noticing and then making a choice to respond rather than react on the survival fight or flight autopilot--is crucial to transforming traumatic experience into lived wisdom. It takes time, but once it's done, the effects are far reaching and profound. And without diffusing trauma reactions, we will have trouble hearing each other rationally.
2. Brené Brown with Austin Channing Brown on I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness
Brené Brown’s podcast interview with Austin Channing Brown, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, is an exercise of witnessing one way in which hearing each other across the race divide gets done. Austin Channing Brown is a writer, speaker, media producer, thought leader on racial justice in America is invited to share the Brené Brown mike. They have worked together on the issue of race before and have a lovely back-and-forth banter.
Their conversation raised a crucial point for my exhausted Social Justice worker self: The work of un-learning Racism is about being a better human. That’s it, plain and simple, period. It’s not about shaming or blaming or maiming. It is simply about the will and desire to be a better human being and to make sure that everybody, regardless of colour, has the space to experience and just be without fear, dignity and self-worth in tact.
3. Brené Brown on Shame and Accountability
In another podcast about unlearning racism directed mainly at her white audience, Brené Brown continues on, examining the role that Shame plays in accountability, through examples from her own life. One of the main nuggets is that being held accountable or called out on Racism is not the same as being shamed, even though one’s ego’s survival self-defense mechanism might get triggered. As a shame expert, she unpacks this part of the human psyche in a way that is succinct and easy to follow; and she shares her strategies for bringing her thinking brain back on line after a survival trigger has gone off. She's also echoing much of what Resmaa Menakem is saying about defusing trauma reactions.
I share these resources because they put into words some important tools that can help us navigate times of flux and change. For it’s not just racism that is falling apart as a system of control right now. All other "isms" are up for review too: sexism, homophobia, trans-phobia, casteism, cultural phobias, and the list goes on. In short, any difference that has been exploited by power hegemonies to ostracize, divide, conquer and control segments of the human family. My hope is that if we can actually transform some of this division trauma in ourselves, we might actually be in a place to collaboratively revision and reinvent our world from a place of love and not fear, a place where there is enough for everyone, where the dogs no longer have to eat dogs. The new normal.
How’s your week been?
Sherazad Jamal, Free Lion Team
May 22nd, 2020
THE BEST PARENTING STYLE FOR HOMESCHOOLING SUCCESS
I was gifted two precocious and intelligent children. When they were younger, school was important to them primarily for social reasons. In the learning department, they were both bored out of their heads. My eldest was on the gifted learning spectrum. My youngest tested as “bright”. In order to help facilitate their learning needs, I part-time home schooled them through the lower grades of elementary school. They are now 27 and 23. I can honestly say that homeschooling has made a difference to their lateral and critical thinking abilities, depth of empathy, and desire to collaborate with others in meaningful ways.
I know many of you are facing the homeschooling challenge right now. I encourage you to not be daunted. It’s not as difficult as it might seem, because you are actually your child’s first teacher. Your child learned how to eat, walk, talk and navigate the world from you. So you’ve actually been homeschooling from the moment your child was born. In short, you’ve got this.
Don’t think that you have to replicate the classroom in your home. See it more as an opportunity to bond with your kids and teach them not just classroom curriculum but a model a set of values, ethics and tools that they can carry with them all life long. See it also as a opportunity to re-evaluate and hone your own way of being, life tools and parenting style. This is actually a great time to decide what is most important to you and your family, how you want to be in the world.
AUTHORITATIVE PARENTING FOR THE HOMESCHOOLING WIN-WIN
Homeschooling is a little different than conventional schooling. While schools set curricula and have expectations about children completing learning modules, these can be incorporated into a homeschooling method. But is not at the heart of it. At the heart is your child growing and learning how to be in the world. Homeschooling becomes a testing ground for his or her capacities, skills and talents, explorations guided and facilitated by you in a loving, safe environment.
Homeschooling as a methodology is based on a concept called “child-led learning”. What that means, practically, is that the course of learning is set by your child’s interests. The method of delivery is set by your child’s learning style. And you work with your child to determine areas of interest and corresponding projects. There are a lot of differing educational theories out there, to be sure. But I will say from experience that if your child is interested in the subject, and has a feeling of ownership of it, he or she is going to be more invested and inclined to stay with it. It is a really effective way to cut the boredom factor off at the knees.
So what does that have to do with your parenting style? Well, in order to really understand your child’s needs and interests, you have to be able to hear them, observe, and then problem solve with them. The way you parent will affect your ability to do this effectively. I’ve learned that one from experience.
According to Bright Horizons, there are 4 main parenting styles. As a side note, their website mentions that their research is based on North American culture. Having been raised in North America by Muslim parents, I can say that these styles are cross-cultural with differences in expression. While authoritarian parenting, for example, may look one way in North America and another way in Africa, the essence of the attitude and goal behind the parenting style remain the same.
If you’re not sure what your parenting style is, click the link to get to know parenting styles. Most of us parent in combinations of these styles. There’s an ebb and flow to it that depends on so many things. The challenge is to maintain balance between allowing your children to explore, learn and grow while providing a safe, non-judgemental space in which to do so.
From my experience, I would say the Authoritative parenting style is the Gold Standard in homeschooling. Authoritative parents are reasonable and nurturing, and set clear expectations for their children. The parenting goal is for children to be the best they can be, to thrive, grow and expand with all the support they need to do so. It’s parenting that comes from love and trust, rather than fear, guilt or punishment. In this style, children are seen as people who need care and guidance to grow into their fullest and best selves. Children with parents who demonstrate this style tend to be self-disciplined and think for themselves. And it’s thought to be most beneficial to children.
The Authoritative parent:
You don’t have to know everything there is to know in order to facilitate your child’s learning. You’re not expected to be a genius or an expert in every subject your child studies. But being a parent who observes, nurtures and responds to your child, who can communicate with them eye to eye, at a level they can understand, who sets boundaries consistently, who sets realistic goals and problem-solves with your child, and who engages in self care so that you can be calm and present for your child is a definite set up for success in both parenting and homeschooling.
Remember, You’ve Got This!
These Homeschooling blogs contain my experience and opinions. They are not meant as professional advice.
May 09th, 2020
DIY DISWASHER TABS
The other day, I masked and gloved up, then hit the socially distanced grocery line up. The shopping list was long but wouldn't you know, I forgot to buy dishwasher tabs, a fact discovered after arriving home and unpacking our haul. The frustration didn't last long. I did a little research and hit the kitchen to whip some up. I'm so amazed at how well these dishwasher tabs work, I wanted to share the recipe.
You may have the ingredients lying about the house. Each has its own benefits. Baking soda (or washing soda, you pick) helps cut through the grease and is a great all-purpose cleaner. Borax is also another great cleaner that (bonus) helps disinfect. Salt helps mitigate the effects of hard water. Vinegar adds more cleaning power and helps to bind the ingredients together. Finally a bit of essential oil, for its anti-bacterial properties and lovely scent.
You will need:
1 cup of baking soda or washing soda. Both work equally well.
1 cup of Borax
1/2 cup of coarse salt
3/4 cup vinegar
15-20 drops of essential oil. I used Sweet Orange. You could also use Lemon, Tea Tree, Lavender, Rosemary, or Eucalyptus, as all these oils have antibacterial properties.
In a bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Measure out the of vinegar. Add it slowly to the dry ingredients, mixing as you go. There might be a little fizz from the chemical reaction between the vinegar and baking soda. Mix until the vinegar is evenly distributed through the powders. Now add your essential oil and mix it through again until evenly distributed.
Spoon the powder into a silicone ice cube tray mold. Then pack it down with your fingers. Gloves are optional. Let the tabs set overnight.
Next day, turn the mold over and pop out the tabs. They should hold their shape. If they don't, save the powder. You can still use it, just spoon it into the soap dispenser in your dishwasher.
Come dishwashing time, put a tab in the soap dispenser and set your dish robot to its usual settings. If you have a super crusty set of dishes, you can add a few drops of dishwashing liquid. Ya, I know they don't advise it, but found that a little, tiny bit boosts the cleaning power of these tabs.
Et Voila! Clean dishes! Everything came out shiny and clean, even the glasses; no spots. I hope this recipe is of use to your family.
What are your favourite DIY house cleaning recipes?
Stay well, stay kind.
March 18th, 2020
CHOOSE CALM AND CONNECTED THROUGH COVID19
As the COVID19 story unfolds, many of us are feeling a little stressed out and scared. The words "lock down" have a decidedly negative, trapped feel to them. I came across a wonderful, positive alternative today in my internet travels: Safe Harbour. We are currently anchored in the safe harbour of our homes until the storm passes.
Humanity has an amazing ability to rise above adversity and be our best selves. I see so many examples out there of people pulling together and reaching out in different ways to help and support each other, often without even being in the same room. I’m feeling hopeful.
Here are a few some resources to help you and your loved ones keep stress levels down and some feel good articles to keep your spirits up.
TURN OFF THE NEWS FOR A WHILE
Words illicit feelings which in turn affect our bodies and frame of mind. So in a time such as this one, it can be a good idea to download less negative information and open yourself up to more positive messages. Happiness hormones really help us on the health front. So turn off the news for a while. That doesn’t mean you have to completely ignore what’s going on in the world. It just means give yourself a break from stressful mass media messages. Check in once a day for a short period of time just to be updated and then get on with the rest of your day.
SING, SING OUT LOUD
According to Uplift Connect, “The neuroscience of singing shows that when we sing our neurotransmitters connect in new and different ways. It fires up the right temporal lobe of our brain, releasing endorphins that make us smarter, healthier, happier and more creative. When we sing with other people this effect is amplified”.
People in Europe know the score on this one. Here are some feel-good stories from Europe of people joining in song together. In Italy, people have been singing or jamming together across balconies. In Milan, a DJ played music for the neighbourhood, while in Florence, a tenor gave a beautifully moving concert of Nessim Dorma.
Inspired by the singing in Italy, Bono has written a new song called Let Your Love Be Known. The song was released on St. Patrick’s Day so that people could continue celebrating despite not being able to gather in the same room. It was posted on U2’s Instagram page.
SHAKE YOUR GROOVE THING
Get yourself and the kids moving. Random acts of dancing (my go-to) can be really helpful in times of stress. From Arthur Murray Dance Centers, “...dance has the ability to act as a stress reliever stems from the idea that when the body feels good, the mind does, too. Any type of physical activity releases neurotransmitters and endorphins which serve to alleviate stress. Neurotransmitters are chemicals within the brain that help communicate messages throughout the body. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkiller to reduce stress and improve the mind’s perception of the world. Thus, after a good workout the endorphins cause the body to feel calm and optimistic. The endorphins also aid in improving the quality of sleep, so that a few sleepless nights due to stress can be avoided after dancing!” So put your favourite tunes on and let ‘er rip!
In Seville, Spain, a fitness instructor led a workout for quarantined citizens. Closer to home in Vancouver, Canada, VYVE is hosting a virtual dance party on March 20. Turn up the tunes and have a romp around the living room.
PRACTICE PEACE, GET GRATEFUL AND HELP WHERE YOU CAN
Meditation and deep breathing techniques are really useful right now. These are practices that allow us to connect with our intuition and inner knowledge. It also helps keep us calm. This would be a great time to teach these tools to your kids. According to the Chopra Center, meditation gives “…kids the tools to help them fend off negative thoughts and behaviors, build self-confidence, focus, and treat others and themselves with respect and appreciation is a gift they will have for the rest of their lives.” They offer three kid-friendly meditations to try.
Practicing gratitude in times of uncertainty is a really great way to stay focused on the positive. Try journaling, writing down all the people and things in your life you are grateful for. Take the time to expand your list with why you are grateful for them. When you feel anxiety, return to your list to remind yourself of what’s most important to you. And when its possible, share your gratitude. Let people know what you appreciate most about them.
In Spain, people felt it important to express their gratitude for their hardworking, dedicated health professionals. They came out collectively onto their balconies at 10pm to applaud and thank them.
There are many of us coming together in the community to help each other out. In Vancouver, Canada, a FaceBook group, Caremongering YVR - Vancouver Community Response to COVID19, offers a place for people to connect and help each other. A similar one has been set up in North Vancouver, COVID19 Coming Together. Look for similar groups in your neighbourhood. I’m sure they are out there. Because kind and giving is just who most of us really are!
Don't feel like you have to help in a big way right now, unless you feel called to do so. Every little thing helps, like calling your friends and family and checking in with them; and observing self-isolation protocols and your self-care rituals. Don't let fear over take you, even in the grocery aisle. Take only what you need and leave some things for others, even the toilet paper! Be as considerate and loving as you can.
As for me, I’m at home looking after my loved ones, checking in with family, friends and neighbours and helping where and how I can. At home, we’ve divided up chores and responsibilities and we’re doing a lot more cooking (also a time for Kitchen Dance Party and Sing A Long). Davida and Zak just made a most beautiful, tasty braided cheesy garlic and herb bread. Thom and I are spending time in the garden. He needs those Vitamin D rays; I’m getting ready for planting season. I find it reassuring that despite all this, Mother Earth just keeps going. If you pull the camera out a bit, you might see a silver lining: all of us staying at home is giving the Earth some space to clear up some of our mess. Let's not get in her way.
I wrote a poem that I want to share with you, if you don’t mind.
Birds have come to life in Wuhan
Singing the earth back into health
Swans and the dolphins frolic in the canals
loving the earth with their joy
Smog rolls away in Shanghai
Letting the light back in
Neighbours sing to each other from balconies
Reminding us that we are in this together
Families dance around the living room
Snatching fears back from the unknown
This love that powers our planet
This is who we truly are.
Stay healthy, stay calm and keep singing! We are in this together.
Sherazad Jamal, Free Lion Team