Over its more than 1,100-year history, the Alhambra in Granada Spain was nearly destroyed four times. A reverence for the cultural significance and awe for the physical magnificence of the palace/fortress stopped its destruction. Today more than three million people a year have the chance to experience this unique World Heritage Site.
We Almost Lost the Alhambra
We have been fortunate to be able to visit the Alhambra, the magnificent royal fortress city in Granada, Spain. It is a complete original, a timeless specimen of Islamic architecture, art, and culture. A pearl set in emeralds, as Moorish poets described it. Eighty-five hundred people a day normally tour in awe the palaces, courtyards, and gardens of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Few people realize that we came dangerously close to losing this inimitable treasure four times in its seven-hundred-year history.
In 1492, when Christopher Columbus sailed out of Palos de la Frontera, 220 miles west of Granada, his royal backers, the very same Ferdinand and Isabella made a move toward Granada to transition Spanish lands from Muslim to Catholic. The Alhambra had occupied its twenty-five acres of red mountain top in Andalusia for two hundred and fifty years (nearly eight generations). The dynastic city, home to over 2,000 residents, fell to the royal Spanish invaders within months, without a drop of blood shed or a single brick nicked. The system that brought water to the fortress city from a river four miles away entered through a single-entry point. An old Roman aqueduct at the outer fortification ring fed the city’s conduits, cisterns, pipes, pools, wells, water wheels, fixtures, and fountains. The Spanish royal forces in siege of the Alhambra merely cut off the water supply at that one point. The Moors surrendered, and an epoch ended.
After defeat and banishment of the Moors in 1492, Charles V, King of the Spanish Empire and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, moved into the Alhambra. Unlike other conquerors, such as Cortez at Tenochtitlan and Islamists at Palmyra, Charles did not lay to waste the vanquished palace city. Instead, he put his stamp on it. Charles built a new royal palace, convent and church linked to the Alhambra. Designed by a student of Michelangelo, the palace established Charles’s summer residence in full renaissance splendor.
Surviving the takeover of Charles V, the Alhambra faced annihilation at the hands of Napoleon’s army. After occupying the fortress city in 1812, French forces fled from advancing Spanish troops. They laid explosives at their departure, with plans to destroy the Alhambra. Blasts damaged a few buildings in the complex. As fuses were ignited to blow up the palaces, a disabled soldier in the rearguard Corps of Invalids, Jose Garcia, disconnected the fuses. A plaque on the exterior wall near the entrance to the fortress reads, “In memory of Cape Invalids Jose Garcia at risk of losing his life saved from ruin the palaces and towers of the Alhambra.”
The Alhambra stood in disrepair for several hundred years, used as stables, taverns, and artist studios, among other things. In 1828, American writer, Washington Irving, traveled to Spain to do research on Granada. He visited the abandoned city, and set up a work space in one of the empty palace rooms. He wrote a collection of essays and short fiction, and published the book, Tales of the Alhambra, in 1832. The book captured the public imagination. (In fact, the city of Alhambra, California was named after the book.) Tourists flocked to the Alhambra. Spain made the site a national monument and financed restoration. Visiting the Alhambra became trendy and the former dynastic city emerged as a precursor to cultural tourism. A statue of Washington Irving stands on a path in the Alhambra with the inscription: “Hijo de la Alhambra.”
Today, the Alhambra flourishes on its hill overlooking Granada, renovated and restored to its original magnificence. As one of the world's most beautiful building complexes and cultural icons, the Alhambra fits securely on the eternal bucket list. It is a must-see.
Kindness Toward My Father
When his aging father asked for help, the author faced a dilemma. Given their troubled history, he had every right to say no. But was that the person he wanted to be? The choice he made led him to his true self.
Published in The Kindness Blog
Kindness Toward My Father
When my father was in his mid-eighties,he and his fourth wife both got sick.
They did not have the means to support themselves at home after their hospital stay and moved into a residential care facility in Los Angeles. My stepmother died soon after, and my father spent the last five years of his life at Kingsley Manor. He had to sign over his pension to the facility, and all his basic needs were covered.
My Dad and I had a complicated relationship. He and my mother divorced when I was seventeen. Their marriage was rocky for as long as I could remember. Our family had stretches of “life as usual” in the suburbs, with dinner at six, barbecues on Sundays, and my Dad around most of the time. Then he wasn’t.
I endured their fighting and separations, blaming my father for the hurt he caused my mother and for the horrible places we had to live, what we had to put up with, and for all that we had to go without.
Each time I went into therapy, I confronted my father with my anger, grief and sense of loss. He responded to my recriminations much as a lawyer might, with defensive arguments and the hard cold facts.
The final time I blamed him, for reasons I never understood, my father took responsibility for his actions. He apologized and asked me to forgive him. I forgave but I found it impossible to forget what he put me through.
While he lived in Southern California, I was up in Seattle and then the Bay Area. I got down to visit him two or three times a year. My father sat in a wheelchair, sixteen hours a day. When he first arrived at the facility, he planned to live independently, taking the shuttle van and buses around town. Because he wore a catheter, he couldn’t travel on his own. He was placed in a shared room in the assisted living wing.
When I sat in his room during our time together, usually in spring or summer, my Dad kept the Dodgers on television. We talked about sports and whatever might be happening in my life. My Dad also read a lot. He shared with me what he came across in the L.A. Times or a particular book he was reading.
He never complained. He once told me that he waited for hours to get out of bed in the mornings, because he needed help and he was at the end of the building. The staff members worked their way toward him. He said it as a matter of fact. When I said goodbye after an hour or two, my Dad said goodbye, and offered me his hand to shake.
One day, right after I walked into his room, my father smiled and said; "Hey, Bud, would you be willing to wheel me down to the cafeteria for lunch? No one on the floor has the time to help, so I haven’t been outside in months."
I agreed. I pushed him through the corridors, as he dragged his slippered feet, shishing along the linoleum. I looked down at his pink scalp under thin strands of white hair. He was my aged, ailing father, but he was never an affectionate man. I felt sad that he lived out his last years in dinghy surroundings, in circumstances beyond his control, but I could not work up much emotion.
In the cafeteria, my father looked as if he enjoyed himself. He ate his lunch with gusto and finished with three cups of black coffee with sugar.
"This is delicious,” he said. “I can tell you, I do not get this kind of food in my room."
After lunch, my father directed me outside, along a pathway to a grotto, with a small fountain, next to a side door to his building. He sat in his wheelchair in the sunlight. I stood facing him.
"There is something I wanted to ask you?" my father said.
He told me that he got a small allowance out of his funds, but it was not enough to cover extras, like shampoo and candy bars and his newspaper from the commissary. He wondered if I might be able to send him a little something extra every month so he could buy those little extras that he wanted. “Not much,” he added. “Maybe ten or twenty bucks.”
I found my feelings. They came to me in a rush of anger. I felt the adrenaline rise and my head pound. Screw you, I thought, as I looked at him through blurred eyes. You were not there for me for most of my life. You did some cold and mean things. And now you need something, and I am supposed to bail you out.
We looked at each other for a few moments.
Then I saw it clearly, as if in a vision, a revelation: the realization that I had a choice.
I could easily refuse him. Out of spite and sheer vengeance, I could find some excuse and decline. I just can’t afford it right now. I have some big bills coming up. The man would get by without his little extras.
Or I could be kind and generous and help him out with a few bucks a month, which I could afford.
I needed to decide in that moment who I was, who I wanted to be, what kind of life I wanted to lead from that moment forward.
I decided then and there to open my heart. It was the only thing that really mattered to me in this human life.
"Of course, Dad," I said. "I would be happy to help you. Please let me know any time you need anything. I’m here for you."
My father’s eyes welled up and his face brightened.
"Thank you, Son." He took my hand.
I felt a weight lift off me. For the first time, in that moment, I felt I had some idea of who I was.
"Be Sure to Take Folic Acid," the Good Doctor Said
The neurologist said if you take nothing else, be sure to take folic acid. Why folic acid? Is it good for the brain, or just good for you in general? Folic acid helps cells with their chemical processes. It forms and grows red blood cells. Lack of folic acid can cause serious and lethal health problems. But the question remains: what does folic acid have to do with the brain?
"Be Sure to Take Folic Acid," the Good Doctor Said
A prominent Seattle-area neurologistasked my friend what vitamin supplements he took. Then, the doctor said, "If you take nothing else, be sure to take folic acid." My friend did not ask, and the doctor did not explain. I have tried unsuccessfully to contact the neurologist to find out why he said that. I decided to investigate on my own the benefits of folic acid to understand the neurologist's assertion.
As with many things in life, we can best understand why we need to get something or do something by looking at what happens when we don't. First, though, the basics.
The word, folic, comes from the Latin word, folium, which means "leaf" (foliage). Folates come from dark green leafy vegetables, among other foods. A folate is water soluble, which simply means it dissolves in water. A water-soluble vitamin is carried to the body's tissues and then excreted. It is not stored in the body. It must be taken daily.
Folates are a B vitamin. B vitamins are specifically water-soluble and generally help with cell metabolism, the chemical processes or transformations that happen within our cells. Folate is designated B9, and the synthetic form, such as that found in supplements and fortified foods, is folic acid. Since the human body does not produce folic acid, it must come from diet and supplements, which makes it an essential vitamin.
While folic acid is involved in very complex biochemical processes in the body, in more lay terms, it is essential in making DNA, the molecules in our bodies that carry genetic instructions for growth, development, functioning and reproduction, and RNA, the molecules essential to genetic coding, decoding, regulation and expression. As well, folic acid metabolizes amino acids required for cell division, and produces energy in cells.
It is needed by the body to form and grow red blood cells.
The sources and daily allowances of folic acid are well established. Just google: "folic acid sources" and "folic acid daily intake." As it is, a small fraction of Americans gets even the recommended minimum daily dosage.
So, here it comes. What happens if we do not get enough folic acid?
Low folate levels in the blood lead to anemia. Anemia is the lack of red blood cells, or hemoglobin, which binds oxygen. (Anemia is the most common blood condition in the United States.) Folate deficiency prevents bowels from absorbing nutrients. Ulcerative colitis, liver disease and kidney failure result from the lack of folate in the blood. Folate deficiency can lead to glossitis (inflamed or swollen tongue) diarrhea, depression, confusion, and other symptoms, such as fatigue, gray hair, mouth sores, and poor growth.
Pregnant women especially need folic acid. Folate helps the early development of tissues that become the spinal cord and the tissues that surround it, as well as the brain. Folic acid prevents miscarriage and neural tube defects, such as spina bifida and anencephaly. Since folic acid is so vital to fetal development, at the time of conception and before a woman even knows she is pregnant, the FDA requires that foods, such as breads, flour, cornmeal, pastas, rice, and other grain products be fortified with folic acid. Since folic acid food fortification began in 1998, neural tube defects have dropped by nearly a third, and fewer Americans suffer from folate deficiency.
People take folic acid to prevent colon and cervical cancers, as well as heart disease and stroke. Folate reduces blood levels of the amino acid, homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine in the blood are associated with heart disease. Folic acid is used for memory loss, Alzheimer's disease, age-related hearing loss, prevention of macular degeneration, osteoporosis. restless legs, sleep problems, depression, nerve and muscle pain, AIDS, vitiligo (pigmentation loss in the skin), and Fragile-X syndrome (the genetic disorder that leads to intellectual and physical disabilities). Folic acid is applied to the gums to treat infection.
Folate fortifies fertility in women and men, by contributing to spermatogenesis, the production and development of mature spermatozoa.
Folic acid is important to people who consume alcohol.
Alcohol consumption promotes folate deficiency. It reduces the intestines' ability to absorb nutrients, blocks the mechanism of reducing homocysteine, and at the same time, increases the excretion of folic acid in the urine. Alcohol consumption reduces folate effectiveness in the small intestines, liver, and kidneys.
The Mayo Clinic lists seventy-five separate physical benefits of folic acid and debilitating effects of folate deficiency. Look up "Mayo Clinic folate evidence."
Ploughing through all this evidence of the benefits of keeping up folate levels in the body still left me wondering why a neurologist would so strongly single out folic acid to a patient. Is the man merely acting as a conscientious physician, or is there evidence of benefits of folic acid specifically on the brain?
We have talked about how serum (the watery portion of blood) and red blood cell functions are enhanced with folic acid. With regard to the brain, there is evidence that folic acid can counteract the effects of depression, dementia, and Alzheimer's Disease in older adults.
AND indeed, true to the good neurologist's admonition, research shows that high folate and low homocysteine levels promote healthy brain function. Folic acid helps lower the risk of cerebral ischemia (insufficient blood flow to the brain), stroke, and brain atrophy. Look up "folate and the brain" to learn more.
I will admit that when my brother told me about his conversation with his neurologist about ten years ago, I started taking a folic acid supplement, in addition to the folic acid I get in my daily multivitamin. Anybody who knows me can tell you that there ain't nothing wrong with my brain, or what there is left of it.
How to Be a Happy Husband
What is the secret of being a happy husband? The author offers suggestions from his own considerable experience. Research shows that husbands are happiest when they let their wives influence them.
How to Be a Happy Husband
Vocabulary.com asserts that “husbandry has nothing to do with being a husband,and a lot to do with being a farmer.” That is not a ledge off which I would leap. The word, husband, emerged from ninth century Scandinavia: hus, house and –bondi, to dwell. It came up through Old and Middle English meaning one (conventionally a man) who controlled and managed the resources of a household.
One of the modern definitions of husbandry is the control and judicious use of resources. Over time, in a mainly agrarian world, the meaning migrated from domestic toward agricultural and economic. Yet Merriam-Webster defines husbandry archaically as care of a household. Archaic signifies that the definition is no longer in everyday use. I suggest that we bring it back and make it modern. I argue that it is reasonable to use the word husbandry to again describe the art, science, and craft of being a husband.
I know something about being a husband. I have been one three times. Two failures and a success (nearly thirteen years and thriving). Who better to speak to modern husbandry than one who has witnessed the dark and light?
I have two suggestions for successful modern husbandry. One, marry the right person. Two, keep her happy.
Simple, yet evidently not easy to do.
Marrying the right person might seem obvious and natural, but how many of us husbands get it right the first time? Half? A third? It took me three times. The point is that finally I would stay single before again marrying the person standing in front of me, for the wrong reasons.
As a successful husband, I do all I can to keep my spouse happy. I make myself available to her. I stay present and I listen. I am mindful every day of ways to make things better, for her and for me. I often take my wife’s needs more seriously than I do my own. I open myself to my wife’s influence. One example might be my attitude toward Valentine’s Day. Through my first two marriages, certainly, I eschewed any celebration, calling the observance trivial and commercial. All three of my wives told me that the sentiment meant something to them. I finally allowed my third wife to influence me. I make a deal of it now. It makes her happy. When she’s happy, I promise you, I am happy. And when she’s not, I am not.
In a six- year study with one hundred thirty couples, Dr. John Gottman, author of The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work, discovered that men who allow their wives to influence them have happier marriages and are less likely to divorce. According to Gottman’s research, when faced with marital conflict, husbands tend to criticize, go on the defensive, show contempt, or stonewall their spouses. In other words, they refuse to allow their wives’ needs to influence their actions. Also, husbands increase negativity far more than do wives during arguments. My wife and I do not get personal in a fight: no name-calling, belittling, demeaning, or mean behavior. It’s agreed.
Dr. Gottman’s results indicate that because husbands tend to not talk about their relationships or translate their marital unhappiness on to their wives, the meme, “Happy Wife, Happy Life,” is true. When wives are happy in marriage, they tend to do more for their husbands, making their husbands happy.
A study from Rutgers University, published in the Journal of Family and Marriage, showed that when it comes to a happy marriage, the more content a wife is with the long-term union, the happier the husband is with his life, no matter how he feels about the nuptials.
Successful modern husbandry boils down to one question: does a husband need to be whipped to be happy? No. If the husband marries the right person, the friendship, acceptance, and willingness from both partners are there to create a gentle, viable connection to make husbands and their spouses happy.
Senescence: Killing Zombie Cells May Slow Aging
Some cells in the body stop dividing and remain active. They damage tissue and lead to aging-related diseases. Researchers have found that killing these "zombie" cells can restore tissue, help the body resist disease, and increase health span and life longevity.
Senescence : Killing Zombie Cells May Slow Aging
Senescence sounds like the essence or pinnacle of sensuous experience. The senescence of smell, of taste, of touch. The 2010 Chateau Latour reached the senescence of bouquet and flavor. Yet, senescence has nothing to do with the senses.
The word senescence relates to words such as senior, senile, even senate. Senescence derives from the Latin noun, senex, “old man,” and verb, senescere, “to grow old.”
Senescence means the state of being old. It is a term used in cell biology. It describes the process by which some cells stop dividing. Senescence, the end of the replication, happens because of changes within the cell and to its counting mechanism that keeps track of cell divisions. Senescence can also be caused by certain genes and by DNA damage due to stress from exposure to agents such as ultraviolet radiation, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals.
Although they are called senescent, the state of these cells is not caused by aging. It is caused by changes and losses within the cells themselves. However, as humans get older, the number of senescent cells in their tissues does rise substantially.
While no longer dividing, senescent cells remain active. They challenge the immune system. They cause damage, including remodeling and inflammation in tissue. The DNA damage response in cells stops the progression while damages are fixed. Senescent cells, however, resist DNA repair activities and drive the aging process.
Because of their malignant unwillingness to die, senescent cells are called zombie cells. These zombie cells contribute to age-related diseases, including Type-2 diabetes and atherosclerosis.
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that killing senescent cells in healthy mice led to higher resistance to disease and increased health span and life longevity. Research proved that killing senescent cells with drugs restores fitness, improves disease states, stimulates tissue growth, and may interfere with aging.
Researchers identified how senescent cells avoid cell death, which allowed for the design of anti-senescence compounds to address whether a healthy balance can be restored. They identified the specific protein that serves as a pivot in senescent cell viability. They designed a peptide of that protein that impairs the protein’s interaction with a specific tumor protein. This interaction normally inhibits the “self-destruct” signal in a senescent cell. The intervention selectively causes the senescent cell’s death.
This peptide neutralizes toxicity. It reverses decline in kidney function in aged mice and eliminates weight loss and liver damage caused in mice by chemotherapy drugs. In mice with a premature-aging condition, treatment with the peptide causes regrowth of fur that has been lost and doubles how far the animals can run.
This peptide seems to have little effect on normal cells, probably because the pivot protein is scarce in non-senescent cells.
Therapeutic targeting of senescent cells is feasible under conditions where loss of health has already occurred. The therapy effectively restores tissue homeostasis.
Researchers are now preparing to test the safety of their molecule in humans.
The Chance to Be Free
After being booted out of his second marriage, the author faced a choice. He could move in the same direction, creating a swath of suffering, or he could take his life into his hands and learn to care for himself. He had the chance to be free.
The Chance to Be Free
The night before she left on a business trip,my wife told me (she stood; I sat), “I will be home in six days. Be out when I get back.”
We had been fighting that day. But her ultimatum didn't come from one bad day. Neither of us was happy. In fact, we were miserable. We had not been close, in any sense, for a couple of years. If I’m honest, I would say that I never loved the woman in a romantic way. We had been married for five years and lived together for nearly thirteen. I could not leave her, but I could help bring an end to our relationship.
She went to bed and I stretched out on the sofa. I felt the weight of sadness at losing a person I had been close to for a long time. We had the semblance of a contented home life, the security of our routine. We had interests, friends, and a history that we shared. At the same time, I felt the buoyancy of escape, release. I had been so emotionally wrought that I suffered debilitating asthma attacks. I had not been true to myself for as long as I could remember. Then the thought of actually being on my own, alone twenty-four hours a day in a strange, bare place caused my gut to clench. I had never lived by myself. I wasn’t sure I could do it.
As the week went on, staying in our house alone, I accepted that the marriage was over. I had to move out before my soon-to-be ex-wife got back. It was inconceivable that I would still be there when she walked in the door. I had to find a place to live. I could move in with a friend temporarily and try to find a roommate. I didn’t know if I wanted to live with someone else, someone I didn’t know--all the adjustment and exchanging one set of problems for another. And even though I would be living with someone, I would know that I was dodging the fact that I was alone. I didn't know what to do.
My parents divorced during the summer following my high school graduation. Their marriage had never been stable. When I was eight, they separated and put my five-year-old brother and me in a residential care center. We lived in the abusive environment for eight months, never knowing if and when we would go home. My parents reconciled; we got the family back together; and their marriage survived another ten years. But, I had the false bottom of the emotional box pulled out from under me. How could I trust that I would never be left again?
Through two relationships in my late-teens, early twenties, I was so clingy and needy, both girls found new boyfriends to force me out of the picture. I married a woman I felt ambivalent about. She had an affair and left. Within months, I got involved with another woman about whom I felt ambivalent, and who, thirteen years later, went on a business trip and gave me an ultimatum to get me out. It was a devastating cycle with me at the eye.
With the end of my marriage, I had an opening. I had a choice of what to do with the rest of my life. I could live the way I was and keep creating a swath of suffering. Or I could take responsibility for myself, face my darkest, deepest fears, and learn to be self-fulfilling and hopefully happy. I had the chance to change.
I decided to risk everything and find my own life. Within days, I found a large, affordable apartment on the exact street where I wanted to live. I moved in with a folding floor cushion and an old box television as my furniture. My first night, completely alone in my dark, barren new place, I lay on the floor, watching music videos and eating potato chips, washed down with sports drink. The telephone rang and a voice told me that a dear friend had died. When I hung up, I lay back down, stared at the ceiling, and realized that I was at bottom. It was time to push off and head for the surface.
A week after I moved into my apartment, I bought a queen bed, convertible sofa, dinette table, end table, and lamp. I walked across the street to the thrift store and equipped my kitchen. I framed and hung a print of Georgia O’Keefe’s Poppies, and coordinated my oriental carpets, pillows, and sofa cover to match. I set up an aquarium and bought tropical fish. For the first time in my life, I created a home, my home.
In my new home, I was alone for the first time. The silence was deafening. I could hear the clock tick. Some moments, it felt as if the walls closed in. I faced my own thoughts in endless emptiness. At last, I had the space and freedom to face my fear and find out who I was.
I made two further decisions that set me on the path to emancipation. I found a male psychotherapist who had an office a block from my new apartment. And I decided that I would not date for at least a year.
I learned strategies in therapy and through my own spiritual practice for facing the feelings that arose. I realized that throughout my relationships, I had an equal role. It was a two-way dynamic. I had to take responsibility for my part and not the blame for all of it. I learned that I really was capable of taking care of myself. I was committed to that. When I confronted feelings of fear, loneliness, despair, guilt, abandonment, I turned toward the feelings, rather than distracting myself and turning away. I let the feelings in. I paid attention to my thoughts and the physical sensations. When I felt the despair of loneliness, and the wall began to close in, I allowed it to happen. My fear subsided.
The hardest to handle was the abandonment issue. Facing the panic of that fear made my heart pound and my breath shorten. I felt so anxious, it was hard to stay still. It produced crazy thoughts. But, I stayed with it. I finally made friends with the scary monster. I am never comfortable when he comes to visit, but I let him in, serve him tea, and stay as still and calm as I can. I never look to leave the room.
I learned to fill my life with friends, interests and activities that led to my self-esteem and well-being. I taught elementary school—fourth grade, fifth grade, and Kindergarten--so my days were social. It was nice to come back to my cozy home where I faced no commitments or demands, except those I made on myself. And my asthma, which came on during my second marriage, went away, within weeks of moving into my own place. I went from needing steroids and injections to breathe to having no symptoms at all-- ever again.
As it turned out, I did not date for over three years. I had friends who wanted to set me up, but I was not in the frame of mind. Finally, a friend asked me if I wanted to meet her sister. I felt ready and said yes. I spent three years on a dating website. I met women, for coffee, a meal, a movie. I went out once, a couple times, and often, with many different people. I had two serious longer relationships. When they did not work out and I got my heart broken, I considered going back to my hermit-like existence. But I decided that I had to open my heart to love. I had to love to live. If I was love, I would arrive where I needed to be.
I tried the dating website one more time and met the woman who became my wife. We have been married for nearly two decades.
I know now that my wife does not complete me as a person. She adds immense joy to my life. I complete myself. I can care for myself. I am a whole, decent, loving man. I feel good about who I am. It took me a while to find that out. It took someone almost literally kicking me in the rear end to get me going.
How to Be in the Moment As Much as Possible
Staying in the moment is almost cliche. But it is the key to being happy. What are some simple, natural cues we can use in our bodies and minds to bring us back, over and over, to the truth of the moment?
How to Be in the Moment As Much As Possible
We hear so much about “living in the moment”that it becomes almost cliché. Even when we wake up to the fact that being present is the veritable path to happiness and well-being, we struggle to stay Here. Now.
How do we do it? How do we spend as much time as we can in the moment? Our minds are by nature distractible. The essence is to be mindful. When we stray into the past or future, we remember. “Oh, yeah.” We gently remind ourselves to return to the present moment-- over and over and over.
We have cues all around us that help bring us back. These cues are in and of our body, our feelings, our mind, and the world around us.
We stay mindful by paying attention to our body. We cue into our breathing. Breathing is something we all do, all the time. Breathing can only be done in the present moment. We don’t have to remember to breath, but when we remember to pay attention to our breath coming in and going out, we come back to the moment. Here we are.
We tune into the movement of our body. Every movement of hand and foot is new. When we walk, bend, twist, sit, lie, stand, every movement with mindfulness is a cue to bring us back.
We are aware of our feelings. We cue on our bodily sensations. When we experience something through our senses, we quite naturally ask ourselves, “Is it pleasant? Is it unpleasant? Is it neutral?” It is not so much a judgment as a checking in. We can only see, hear, smell, taste, and touch in the present moment. When we cue into those bodily sensations and our immediate experience, we are back once again.
We watch our mental states. When we experience an event, from the largest to the smallest, we cue into our thoughts and emotions as they are happening. Things can only happen one moment to the next. In each moment, we see a thought arise and pass through, frame by frame. We recognize our state of mind: Am I calm? Am I angry? Am I clinging? Am I detached? Am I resisting? Am I accepting?” We notice what is passing through, moment by moment.
We recognize the mental obstacles that arise to pull us away from the moment. We see ourselves wanting and holding on to. We find every way to escape from discomfort. We get mad and spiteful. We get lazy and lethargic. All these phenomena of perception rise and fade, over and over. We watch them. We investigate. We inquire. We learn all we can about these hindrances to stop them from getting in our way of being present.
When we realize (make real in our lives) that what is genuine and authentic only occurs in the present, we find ways to reside here. We use our bodies, our feelings, our mental states, and our senses and perceptions to return over and over to the truth of this very moment.
What to Know About Hearing Loss
Loud noise is part of everyday life. Loud noise is also a serious health risk. Once hearing is damaged or lost, it cannot be restored. What are the signs of hearing loss? What can you do to prevent it?
What to Know About Hearing Loss
It has gotten to the pointthat I stick my fingers in my ears when a crazy loud motorcycle drives past. My ears seem too sensitive for the ruckus. In fact, a motorcycle can emit as many as 110 decibels of noise. Above 120 decibels, I could suffer permanent hearing loss. Once my hearing is gone, I cannot get it back.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) considers hearing loss and prevention a critical health concern. Noise pollution can be devastating. In some people, it causes anxiety, hypertension and heart disease, damage to the hearing of the fetus during pregnancy, slowed learning and language development in children, and isolation and depression. Treatment for hearing loss costs tens of billions of dollars yearly.
The CDC explains how loud noise causes damage. When I walk along the road and the motorcycle’s loud noise enters my ear, the hair cells in my inner ear bend like blades of grass. These cells relay electric signals along the auditory nerve to the brain. The damage done to my hair cells would normally stop after the motorcycle moves on. The hair cells stand up again. If I have repeated exposure to the motorcycle’s roar, or other loud noises, or the noise is excessive, the hair cells do not reinvigorate. They die. Once the cells, membranes, or nerves are permanently damaged, they cannot be brought back. At this point in time, there is no natural or medical cure for hearing loss-- merely aids.
If my hearing is permanently damaged by excessive noise, I might not be able to hear my wife talk to me in a crowded restaurant. If the hearing loss continues, due to repeated exposure, I would eventually not to be able to hear her talk to me in the quiet of our living room.
If I was genetically or individually sensitive to noise, had a chronic condition such as diabetes or hypertension, had suffered an ear injury, or taken certain medications, I could be at-risk for noise-induced hearing loss.
*Difficulty understanding conversations when you are in a place with background noise, such as a restaurant
*Difficulty understanding speech over the phone
*Trouble distinguishing speech consonants, such as s and f, p and t, or sh and th)
*Asking others to speak slowly and clearly
*Asking others to speak loudly or repeat what they said
*Turning up the volume of the television or radio
*Ringing in the ears
*Hypersensitivity to certain sounds
The best way to avoid hearing loss is to prevent it. The CDC estimates that about 70 percent of people exposed to loud noise seldom or never wear hearing protection. Use earplugs, protective earmuffs, or noise-cancelling headphones. Avoid noisy places (or noisy machines) if possible. Keep the volume moderate on earbuds or headphones when listening to devices and watching screens.
Regular exams are important for early detection of hearing loss. A doctor can refer to an audiologist, a hearing specialist, when there is a history of exposure to loud noise, a change in hearing, or reports of diminished hearing from family members or friends. Children can be tested before they enter school or when there is concern about hearing loss.
As I walk along the street, appreciating the vibrancy in the air, enjoying the sights and the sounds, I don’t wear earplugs or protective earmuffs. I do have to pay attention to the commotion around me. When that Yamaha FZR blasts by, I stick my fingers in my ears. I do what I can to protect the hearing I have because I can’t get it back.
Stupid Traffic Laws in the United States
Did you know it is against the law to drive blindfolded in Alabama? In Florida, if you have an elephant, goat, or alligator attached to your car, you must feed the parking meter. Every state in the Union has on its books silly and outdated traffic laws. Here is a conpendium of 60 ridiculous traffic laws in the U.S. of A.
Stupid Traffic Laws in the United States
In Texas,you are required to have windshield wipers to register a car, but a windshield is optional.
Also in Texas, it is illegal to drive within an arm’s length of alcohol, even if it is in the bloodstream of someone sitting next to you.
You can receive a DUI in Virginia if you are drunk and not driving, if the driver of the car you are in is drunk.
In Alabama, it is against the law to drive while blindfolded.
You can be cited for operating a vehicle in Massachusetts if you have a gorilla in the backseat.
In Connecticut, it’s illegal to shoot a whale from your car, while in California, it’s illegal to shoot any animal from your car, except a whale.
In Florida, you must feed a parking meter if you have an elephant, goat, or alligator attached to your car.
In California, it is illegal to jump from a car that is traveling over than 65 miles an hour. And California also prohibits driverless vehicles traveling over 60 miles an hour.
In Pennsylvania, it is illegal to drive on a country road at night without stopping every mile to shoot up a flare and wait 10 minutes for the road to be cleared of livestock.
In South Carolina (Hilton Head), you cannot store trash in your car.
It is illegal to ride an ugly horse in Washington.
It is illegal to ride a camel on the highway in Nevada.
In Tennessee, it is illegal to drive while asleep.
In Virginia (Waynesboro), it is illegal for a woman to drive a car up Main Street without her husband walking in front, waving a flag.
A motorist with criminal intentions in Washington must stop at the city limits and phone the police chief as he enters the town.
In Hawaii, you will be cited for anyone riding in the back of a passenger car without a seatbelt, however anyone can ride in the bed of a pickup truck with no safety equipment.
It is illegal to strap your dog to the roof of your car in Alaska.
In Arkansas, it is illegal to honk your horn at 9:00 p.m. in any area where ice-cold beverages or sandwiches are served.
It is against the law to drive in a cemetery in North Carolina, unless you are digging a grave or putting someone in one.
In Colorado (Denver), it’s illegal to drive a black car on Sundays. On Lake Street in Minnesota (Minneapolis), it’s illegal to drive a red car any day.
In California, it’s against the law for a woman to drive in a bathrobe.
In Connecticut, (New Britain), a firetruck cannot exceed 25 miles per hour, even if it’s going to a fire.
It’s illegal in New Jersey to frown at a police officer giving you a ticket.
In California (Paramount), when you pull into a drive-in restaurant, you must park your car before you pull back out, unless there are no parking places available.
You can drive against traffic in Alabama if you have a lantern.
In California (Eureka), you can’t use the road as a bed.
In Minnesota, it is illegal to cross state lines (North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin) with a duck on your head.
You can spit from your truck in Georgia, but not from your car or a bus.
In Illinois (Evanston), it’s illegal to change your clothes with the windows covered, unless a fire is involved. Then you can close your curtains.
In Iowa (Indianola), ice cream trucks are not allowed on the road.
In Arizona, you can’t drive your car in reverse on a public road.
You can’t drive a car in Illinois without a steering wheel.
It’s illegal in Michigan to sit and read a newspaper in the middle of the road.
In Mississippi (Oxford), it’s illegal to honk your horn. In Missouri (University City), it’s illegal to honk someone else’s horn.
In Nebraska, (no mountains), you must drive on the right edge of the road on mountains.
It’s against the law in New Hampshire to inhale bus fumes with the intention of getting high.
In North Dakota, there’s no law against driving while drug-impaired; there’s no motorcycle helmet law; and it’s alright to ride in the back seat without a belt. And it’s fine to use your cellphone while driving.
In South Dakota, you only need to be 14 to get your driver’s license.
Birds have the right of way on highways in Utah.
In Illinois, you can claim road kill if you’re not behind in child support payments and your wildlife privileges are intact.
If you’re driving in Pennsylvania and see a team of horses coming toward you, you must pull far off the road, cover your car with a camouflage canvas, and let the horses pass. If the horses appear skittish, you must take your car apart, piece by piece, and hide it all under bushes.
In Kentucky, if you stop for ice cream while driving, remember that it’s against the law to transport an ice cream cone in your back pocket.
In California (San Francisco), it’s illegal to wipe your car with used underwear.
Oregon makes it mandatory to yield to pedestrians while you drive on the sidewalk.
In Georgia (Dublin), you can be arrested for driving through a playground.
You can’t drive around impersonating a member of the clergy in Alabama.
In Arizona, it’s illegal for a pedestrian to push the walk button just to stop traffic.
You can’t ride your bike on to a tennis court in Idaho.
Taxi drivers can’t make love in the front seat of their cabs in Louisiana.
In Maine, it’s illegal to park in front of a Dunkin Donuts.
You can’t drive an animal on to train tracks in Montana with the intention of damaging the train.
It is against the law in New Hampshire to stop on the median to let ducklings pass.
In New Jersey, you must honk before passing a skateboarder.
A woman is not permitted by law to pump her own gas in New Mexico.
If your car is in a parade in North Dakota, you cannot by law throw candy from it.
In Oklahoma, it is against the law to read a comic book while you drive.
By law, you cannot get into a footrace with a car in Oregon.
You cannot leave a sheep unescorted in your truck in Montana.
In Minnesota (Minnetonka), it is illegal to drive on the street or highway with muddy, dirty, or sticky tires.
It is illegal in Oregon to transport babies on the floor of your car.
The City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia, Spain
The author toured The City of Arts and Sciences, an entertainment-based, cultural and architectural complex in Valencia, Spain. The City of Arts and Sciences is the most modern tourist destination in Valencia, and one of the 12 treasures of Spain. The complex is comprised of six stunning, state of the art buildings, the designs of which are abstract, yet based on natural forms.
The City of Arts and Sciences - Valencia, Spain
My wife and I arrived in Valenciaas the next-to-last stop, before Barcelona, on our 11-day Crown of Spain tour. We boarded the bus in Madrid, a busy, thoroughly modern city that has been the royal capital of the country for over 450 years. We visited ancient sites in today’s cities of Toledo, Cordoba, Seville, and Granada, before arriving in Valencia. A graceful and cosmopolitan European city, with a stunning Mediterranean coastline and exquisite old town, Valencia presented us with one wholly unique and aesthetically stunning attraction.
On the short bus ride from our hotel to The City of Arts and Sciences in east Valencia near the port, our guide, Paz, explained that the 350,000-square-meter complex occupies the dry bed of the Turia River. The river was drained and diverted after a deadly flood devastated the city nearly 60 years ago. The flood was the 76th recorded on the river going back seven centuries. A professor at the University of Valencia had the idea of building a science museum on the newly created land. The City of Arts and Sciences was designed and built by renown Valencian architect and civil engineer, Santiago Calatrava. The project broke ground in 1991. The first building opened eight years later and the final one in 2009.
When we stepped off the bus, we stood before two large and shallow pools. In the midst of the left pool stood a building that looks like the top half of a human eye. This is the Hemesferic, the centerpiece of the complex, Paz said. It is an IMAX theater, planetarium, and laserium. In fact, it is Spain’s largest cinema and planetarium. The 43,000-square-foot building, with its 330-foot-long ovoid roof, is indeed called “the eye of knowledge.” An “eyelid” of aluminum awning folds upward to form a brise-soleil roof, that opens along the curved axis of the eye. The iris of the eye is the concave, 3,000-square-foot screen of the IMAX theater. The reflection of the building’s façade in its surrounding 80-square-foot pool provides the full open-eye effect.
The building to our right looked like a long skeleton laid across the water. Paz said it is The Principe Felipe Science Museum. It was built to resemble a giant whale skeleton--726 feet long, 182-feet high, and 264 feet wide. The “skin” of the building is made of 66,000 square feet of glass, with 4,000 glass panes. The interactive museum occupies three floors and 132,000 square feet, with over half of the space available for exhibitions. It has a Kiddies Corner, an Exploratorium, and one of the world’s largest Foucault pendulums. Paz described how the Science Museum’s building is a modern marvel of architecture, engineering, and art, beautifully blending geometry, structure, shape, proportion, materials, and design in nature. It stands reflected in its own 45,000-square-foot pool. Behind it, and the entire complex, the public has access to fourteen miles of walkways and landscaped greenspace in the Turia River Park.
Our group turned from the pools of the Hemesferic and the Science Museum and strolled the 1,000-foot length of an elevated structure that ran above us. We went up and entered The Umbracle. It is a walkway with a vaulted, open-air roof that encloses a garden and sculpture gallery. We could see the entire City of Arts and Sciences complex from inside the Umbracle. Two hundred feet wide and 60 feet high, the building sits on 109 fixed and floating arches. The garden hosts indigenous plant species that change colors with the seasons. There are over 6,000 plants inside, with full-size palms, orange trees, shrubs, and hanging, climbing, and aromatic plants.
When we exited the Umbracle, we turned left and walked to the north end of the complex. Sitting in a pool was a building that some said looked like a helmet, or a boat. I thought it resembled some great abstract white whale, leaping out of the water. Paz described the Queen Sofia Palace of the Arts as a state-of-art opera house and performing arts center. Like the other buildings, the opera house is a marvel of architecture and engineering. It is 800 feet long and 230 feet high (the tallest opera house in the world) and took 14 years to complete. It has four major performance halls that combined can seat 4,000 spectators, and other facilities designed for conferences, lectures, and children's theatre. The building has curved white concrete sides. The bottom of the outside walls and the inner concrete foundation jut into the water and allow the building to hang over the surface of its pool. The roof of laminated steel comes over the top to a point and looks like some kind of projecting plume.
Back on the bus, Paz said that since we did not have time to explore the entire complex, she would point out some other sites of interest within the City of Arts and Sciences. She called our attention to a beautiful white bridge, the Pont de l’Assut de l’Or. The bridge’s tower rises over 400 feet in the air in a long, graceful curve. The top of the tower is in fact the highest point in Valencia. The cables of the bridge make it look like a harp. The Pont de l’Assut de l”Or brings thousands of cars daily from all directions of the city through the center of the City of Arts and Sciences.
Next to the bridge sits a building of blue glass that looked to me like a giant clam sitting on end. Paz said The Agora is a plaza for gathering. The building is said to resemble a pointed ellipsis, but I still say blue clam. It is 290 feet long, 218 feet wide, and 230 feet high. The interior of the oddly shaped building, with a roof that opens and closes, offers a space of nearly 16,000 square feet for concerts, performances, exhibitions, conventions, sporting events, and meetings.
As we drove along the southern end of the complex, I saw the façade to a building that said Oceanografic. Paz told us that the aquatic park in the City of Arts and Sciences is Europe’s largest oceanographic aquarium. It covers 360,000 square feet and holds 11 million gallons of water. The Oceanografic is divided into 10 separate areas, hosting eight different aquatic environments: Mediterranean, Wetlands, Temperate and Tropical, Oceans, Arctic, Antarctic, Islands, and the Red Sea. The facility has nine underwater towers and is home to over 45,000 examples of 500 mammal, fish, and bird species. In its huge expanse, it has a mangrove swamp, marshlands, and garden areas with 80 different plant species. In the center of the aquatic facility, a building shaped like a water lily has two floors. The bottom floor has an underwater restaurant that places diners in the heart of a massive aquarium. The upper floor is surrounded by a lake with an island upon which lives a colony of flamingos.
As we left the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain, my wife and I agreed it is one of the most unique and stunning places we have seen in our travels around the world. It is truly a city within a city, filled with wondrously modern and whimsical buildings, bound together by water and landscape, for the purpose of entertaining and edifying its visitors.
You can see parts of the City of Arts and Sciences in the George Clooney movie, Tomorrowland, that came out in 2015. Beyond fantasy, to truly believe that what you are seeing is real, you have to go there.
To see photos of the stunning buildings at The City of Arts and Science in Valencia, Spain, go to:
Hakuin Ekaku transformed fear into realizing that compassion for others is life's purpose. To awaken to this truth, Hakuin faced doubt in his mind, meditating on conundrums. He created one of the greatest of all: "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" Hakuin, who lived near Japan's Mount Fuji in the eighteenth century, advocated discipline and living a virtuous life.
What Is the Sound of One Hand Clapping?
"We all know the sound of two hands clapping. What is the sound of one hand clapping?"
This confounding question might be the only way most of us know about Hakuin Ekaku. He created it. What does the question mean, and why did he ask it?
While Hakuin's life experience in eighteenth century Japan might not seem relevant to us today, his example of leading a vital, engaged life, caring about others, using physical discipline and energy for the good of all, and excelling artistically after the age of sixty is worth our attention.
When he was a boy, Hakuin heard a preacher talk about hell. Specifically, the preacher described the Eight Hot Hells. The prospect literally scared the hell out of Hakuin. He thought the only way to escape, as the preacher painted it, bursting blisters, chattering teeth, a body breaking into pieces like a block of ice, being crushed into bloody jelly, and being impaled by fiery swords for up to 3.39738624×1018 years, was to go into a Zen monastery. Hakuin entered monastic life at age fifteen. Three years later, he gave up hope of saving himself from hell when he heard about an accomplished monk being murdered by bandits. Hakuin took off, traveling the country learning about literature and poetry.
Back at the monastery, Hakuin told the master of his fear of falling into hell. The teacher called him "self-centered" and assigned him an inscrutable mind puzzle, called a koan, to meditate on. These koans were designed to create psychological tension and doubt in the student. Hakuin wrote that his experience revealed that, "At the bottom of great doubt lies great awakening."
Hakuin was presented with a collection of classical koans to solve, such as two men arguing over a flapping flag. "The flag is moving," one said. "The wind is moving," said the other. A teacher walked by and said, "The flag does not move. The wind does not move. The mind moves."
Another: "A buffalo comes through a hole in the wall. The whole buffalo passes through, the head, the horns, and all four legs, except the tail. Why doesn't the tail come through?"
A teacher held up a spatula and said, "If you call this a spatula, you give offence. If you say it is not a spatula, you break the law. What do you call this?"
"If you have a stick, I will give you one. If you do not have a stick, I will take it away from you!"
"You are at the top of a 100-foot pole. What is your next step?"
When Hakuin was given one of these sizzling mind puzzles to solve, he meditated on it. Then, he went into a one-on-one interview with his teacher. He declared his koan and was expected to give his response. If he passed, he was given another. If he failed, he was sent back to work on it.
Hakuin passed through this style of koan study, and felt he could do better. He made up his own koans for his students. The most famous, the one that everyone knows: "What is the sound of one hand clapping?"
Hakuin encouraged deep and prolonged meditation, with real commitment and diligence. Through his own work, he realized that the purpose of life was to benefit others and help everyone to wake up to their own truth. He instructed his students to be ethical and live a virtuous life.
Later in his life, near the age of sixty, Hakuin took up painting. For the next quarter century, he completed over a thousand works. He became one of Japan's most famous artists.
One story sums up Hakuin's legacy: There was a young girl who lived in Hakuin's neighborhood. Her parents found out that she was pregnant. The girl did not want to implicate her lover, so after much intense questioning from her angry parents, the girl said that Hakuin was the father. The parents confronted Hakuin with their accusation. All he had to say was, "Is that so?"
After the child was born, they brought the baby to Hakuin, who had gained a spurious reputation because of the accusations. Hakuin took the child in and cared for it. A year later, the girl relented and told her parents that a young man who worked at the local fish market was the father. The girl's parents rushed to Hakuin to apologize and ask for forgiveness. As they took back their grandchild, all Hakuin said was, "Is that so?"
How to Live Mindfully With Chronic Pain
The author returned from traveling with a pinched nerve in his neck. As the pain turned permanent, he embraced it, believing that moving toward the pain strengthens us while making us softer. When we make pain our ally, we find gratitude and an appreciation for life.
Published in Elephant Journal
How to Live Mindfully with Chronic Pain
I returned home to Hawaii from traveling in Spain,with three-night stops in Los Angeles and San Francisco on either end. I spent nearly forty hours in airplane seats and sixteen nights in strange beds on bad pillows. After I got back into my own bed, I became aware of a mild pain deep on the left side of my neck.
As days passed, the pain rose in my consciousness. After about a week, I could not turn my head to the side or lift my chin without stabbing pain, radiating into my left shoulder and down my arm. I had slept wrong on my neck before and suffered intense pain for a week or two. I waited to see if my condition would improve. When I finally went to the doctor, he examined me, pulled my arms and tested my strength. I left with a prescription for a muscle relaxant. The x-ray that the doctor ordered revealed that I have degenerative disc disease.
A chiropractor told me that the most likely scenario was that I twisted my neck on my trip and put my cervical spine out of alignment. Calcium deposits around my discs are pinching my nerve.
Now that the pain is my constant companion, I have begun to explore the relationship. I notice that it ebbs and flows. Some of the time, it lets me be. If I move a certain way, I get a piercing reminder. The pain sends unsolicited pins and needles flowing down my left arm, as if a ball of barb wire tumbles from my elbow to my fingers. The tip of my left index finger is numb.
At moments, I probe the pain. When I can’t find a position for sleeping, I stay with the discomfort before I change sides. Trying to reach my toes in the shower, I stretch a little farther to feel the pinch. Lying on my back in yoga, I turn my head to taste the pain from the very center. I am not a masochist. Now that it is mine, I want to become intimate with the physical pain. I want to know its texture, its taste. I have avoided painkillers which would change the relationship and create a different dynamic.
The longer I live with the pain, the more I see my relationship with it changing. Similar to Emily Dickinson’s perceptions about growing accustomed to the dark, I find that either the nature of the pain changes, or the way I see it alters. My pain does change because the physiology of my body adjusts and compensates, on its own and through the chiropractic treatment and massage therapy. My attitude shifts as I see the pain as part of me. I accept it because in the moment I have no choice.
We all do have a choice. We can choose to avoid the pain. I agree with Pema Chodron, that when we put all our energy into protecting ourselves, we build armor, which imprisons the softness of our hearts. So, we practice mindfulness around our experience with pain to soften our hearts.
With our mindfulness practice, we do the best we can. We might start slowly, ease in. We are gentle with ourselves. We are committed to opening our lives and our hearts.
We choose to embrace our pain. It seems contradictive or counterintuitive. Pain is the enemy. All our systems work to avoid pain. To protect my impinged nerve, the muscles in my back clenched en masse.
The deeper we go with it, the more tempering and liberating we find the fire of pain. It strengthens without hardening or breaking us. We find that we are vulnerable. We surrender. Our hearts soften. Our intimacy with our pain makes us more tender, more tolerant and accepting.
Staying at the center of our pain, as a practice, shows us all the self-concern that we carry. We see the endless strategies that we employ to make ourselves feel comfortable. In our practice of mindfulness, we might watch our thoughts about the way that life is supposed to treat us, how our bodies are supposed to serve us, or at the least, leave us alone.
Being mindful, we can stop spending our time and energy vilifying, denying and avoiding our pain. We don’t need to dig a hole to hide in. We present ourselves. We approach it and even ally with our pain. Inside the fire, we might feel strangely grateful and glad to be alive.
We Eat Too Much Salt
(Potassium Can Help)
We each eat about three pounds of salt a year, nearly twice as much as we should. Too much sodium (salt) causes high blood pressure and kidney problems. Potassium interacts with sodium to lower our risk of cardiovascular disease. Fewer than two percent of us take in enough potassium. Too little potassium leads to problems with our muscles, breathing, and digestion. Think whole, unprocessed foods.
We Eat Too Much Salt (Potassium Can Help)
A few sprinkles of saltturn the foods we eat not only edible but exhilarating. Imagine eating popcorn without salt. You might as well eat a tub of Styrofoam peanuts. Even butter can’t save that. Salt renders a ribeye literally mouth-watering. Eggs without salt should be a sin. Not many foods escape the magical enhancement of salt.
As with anything that good, we start to crave salt. (Research shows that salt stimulates dopamine and opiate receptors in our brains.) As it is, we eat too much of the white gold.
Health organizations recommend that we take in no more than a heaping teaspoon of salt a day. That’s not just out of the shaker, but in all the foods we eat. We each actually consume nearly twice that much, about three pounds of salt a year. Think of pouring two cartons of Morton’s Salt (the one in the blue cylinder with the girl and her umbrella on the front) down our throats.
Sodium occurs naturally in many foods. Most of the sodium in our diets, though, comes from salt. Salt is added to the processed foods that are presented to us in restaurants and grocery stores. Go to your cupboard and frig and check out the labels.
Our bodies need sodium, i.e., salt. Salt binds water and balances the fluids in our cells. An electrically charged molecule, sodium, with potassium, regulates electrical activity in our cell membranes, which allows signals to be transmitted along our nerves, and keeps our muscles contracting and our hearts beating.
As we and our diets evolved, we found salt hard to come by (think salt mines and desert caravans). The food industry eventually went to the heart of our craving and mixed more salt than we need into their processed products.
Too much sodium, i.e., salt, binds more water in our bloodstream, which increases blood pressure. High blood pressure makes our hearts work harder to push the blood through the body, straining arteries and veins. High blood pressure, or hypertension, puts our bodies at risk for strokes, heart disease, and kidney failure. It is estimated that seventy-five million (one out of three of us) Americans suffer from high blood pressure.
The twist in this salty story is that sodium needs potassium to be of benefit in our bodies. Potassium is very similar chemically to sodium. It counteracts the ill effects of sodium. Potassium also balances acids and bases in our bodies. It is alkaline, countering the acid we get from meat, dairy, and processed cereals.
Sodium and potassium interact to keep blood pressure normal. Research shows that sodium keeps a check on potassium levels. Potassium keeps blood pressure normal, even when our sodium levels remain high.
If we take too little potassium into our bodies, our blood pressure goes up and we are at risk of cardiovascular disease. Increasing potassium intake while lowering sodium intake turns the key to reducing our risk of cardiovascular disease.
As we evolve to processed food, we eat fewer foods rich in potassium: fresh leafy greens, beet greens, beans, tuna and salmon, avocados, yams, parsley, tomatoes, potatoes, yogurt, eggs, milk, orange juice, chocolate, macadamia nuts, almonds, pistachios, bran, coconut water, bananas, apricots, cantaloupe, and mushrooms.
When we consume too little potassium, we experience fatigue and malaise, weakness, muscle pain, and constipation. Extreme lack of potassium causes paralysis, respiratory failure, stomach obstruction, tingling, crawling, numb, or itchy sensations in our limbs and extremities, and muscle spasms.
If we take in about five grams (also expressed as 5,000 milligrams, mg) of potassium a day, we can counteract the effects of salt, lowering our blood pressure and fighting off kidney stones and bone loss. As it is, fewer than two percent of Americans consume enough potassium, and women take in less than men.
For optimal cardiovascular health, we bring down our salt intake and bring up our potassium intake. Think whole, unprocessed foods. Think of eating one potassium-rich vegetable or fruit with each meal.
Potassium supplements should be supervised by a physician, since our kidneys secrete potassium, and our bodies need to absorb concentrated doses in a specific way.
Research shows that an increase of just over 1600 mg of potassium a day lowers our risk of stroke by twenty-one percent. Potassium chloride and potassium bicarbonate can help control mild hypertension.
We need to be aware of what we take into our bodies to remain healthy. Optimizing our potassium intake is a vital step.
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