Sunday, January 27, 2013

Diet and Right Action, Connecting the Dots: Part III

 “Looking deeply at any one thing, we see the whole cosmos”    - Thich Nhat Hahn

After a busy week and some interesting conversations with people this week, I’ve been reminded of the importance of reminding ourselves to seek mindfulness in every moment. It is a true challenge with our results- and profit-driven society, the breakneck pace we all are on. It is truly a rat race in so many ways. Where does it leave us? It comes down to a question of values and faith in many ways. We are all inter-related… we in fact all have inter-being. Do you value your health? What affect does your health and happiness have on my life and that of others? Quite a bit. We are all closely related, much more than we like to think. Our culture is incredibly individualistic and increasingly violent. How does this impact each of us? Many people only know what they have been taught in their early years and so can’t make any adjustments.

One of the benefits of a plant-based diet has been to awaken to this notion of interbeing which there is in the world around us. As mentioned in earlier posts I’ve been reading books from Zen master, Thich Nhat Hahn (Thay), for many years, and was fortunate to see him when he visited Los Angeles in 2007. He conducted a day of mindfulness and a peace walk through MacArthur Park. Later in the evening he did a lecture before a full-crowd at the Pasadena Civic Center. It was a gentle yet powerful talk, and it was the first time I had ever heard someone I truly seen as an awakened person say that our species may not survive.  Thay discussed how this is due to the increasing pace of environmental damage, climate change and resource depletion. I truly took it to heart. I had always knew that the threat of nuclear war could destroy us all, and I had recently learned that climate change could be bad, really through Al Gore’s efforts. I supposed up to that point I had never deeply, mindfully understood that humanity could be near an end, so much sooner than I’d ever thought before. When Thay speaks about Right Action, he directly speaks now to a vegan / plant-based diet as one that is the best for ourselves and our world. He is truly awake.

So from that day in 2007 to this past year, I would say I lost touch with this notion to some degree, although through the “Great Recession” as its been called over the past five years, I’d been focused more on reading mainly around the destruction in our economies, how we got there through all the bank and corporate mania and bubble-building… and people have been forgetting the fact that every year things have been getting worse for the climate. Every year more and more ecosystems and species go extinct. People in general have been very distracted, and in folly, trying to get back to the destructive "go-go-go" pace of economic growth which causes so much trouble.

Recently, Thay has been speaking very clearly about the fact that due to the latest environmental reports on climate change, our species may in fact be gone in another 100 years. It is no longer a possibility… the writing is clearly on the wall based on the track we are on. So what does this mean for us? Thay states that we should not be overwhelmed by despair. We need to understand deeply that we ARE part of the environment. This understanding can help us to change our hearts and make the needed changes to care for ourselves, each other and the planet.

The TNH Audio site has the talk, with notes, podcast and video.  The video is here below for your convenience.  Minute 10 starts the answers to the environmental questions.  I think it is a deeply important and mindful discussion... I'd recommend everyone at least listen to minutes 15:00 - 18:00 for a wake up call.

Additional Resources in Connecting the Dots

So I’d also like to also mention a few other great sources of plant-based diet nutritional wisdom I haven’t mentioned yet when connecting the dots the past couple of years. These three are on my bookshelf, and I would highly recommend them to everyone:

Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn. A very important book on the studies conducted by Dr. Esselstyn and how we can actually prevent and even reverse heart disease by a low/no-oil, plant-based diet. Amazing that we can take personal control over the number 1 cause of death in the West. Dr. Esselstyn is also in the important documentary "Forks Over Knives" which is on Netflix, it's highly recommended viewing.

The Starch Solution, by Dr. John McDougall. Another fantastic book which has so much hard science behind it, and goes to the next level, discussing how the traditional Western diet is having such a tragic impact on the environment. Dr. McDougall is likely the most passionate speaker out there promoting plant-based diets. I truly find him inspirational.

Last, but not definitely not least, Healthy Eating, Healthy World, by J. Morris Hicks. I first learned about Mr. Hicks through his great daily blog posts on his website. He has been blogging daily for almost 2 years straight now, and his posts have been at least a weekly part of my life for the past 6 months or so. Highly recommended reading and insights. Mr. Hicks is definitely a Big Picture guy and activist when it comes to plant-based nutrition making a difference in people's lives and he focuses on how to get the important message out to the mainstream so it can have an impact in saving the environment, and us. Again, his website has excellent information and his book is a truly comprehensive compilation of important plant-based facts and information. As reading lists go, his book is a great place to start along with The China Study.

Hoping that you all may find new inspiration for making the move towards a plant-based diet, and gain all of the rewards of health and well-being that come from it.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Diet and Right Action, Connecting the Dots: Part II

So I mentioned in my earlier post that my reading The China Study in August, 2011 was the foundation for many diet and world-view changes in my life. The book resonated with me on so many levels, not just with the wake-up of information, but with the fact that we have more control and power in our lives over our health… it’s not just genetics and luck… we have real choices in our lives on how we eat and our overall health. Reading that animal-based foods can cause cancer? Incredible… and yet it made sense. Many members of my family have died of cancer and have been debilitated or killed by strokes and or their complications. Cancer has killed grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends. Stroke deeply affected my grandparents, and even my otherwise very-fit brother at the age of 51.  He was very lucky to have recovered.  Adult onset, Type 2 diabetes has affected friends and family as well. Could I not have more control than simply exercising, reducing stress and eating more greens? How is it that we have never heard this information before??? Dr. Campbell masterfully walked through the details in a very readable, and caring way.

So what happened next? Well, I sent an email to all my family and friends that The China Study was likely one of the most important books that they could read, and that I cared about their well-being and should read it. I had some good feedback, I had some replies like “all things in moderation”… I replied that moderation is what has been the source of my family’s health problems. Again, I’m not about living to be 100+ years old, I am totally about living the healthiest, most active life I can with the time I am given. So, in addition to this I have always been an advocate for universal health care, especially after seeing the excellent documentaries “Sick Around the World” and “Sick Around America”. So I was particularly interested when the Obama administration started taking up the cause of healthcare reform, for better or worse. We need to get people healthy and actually inform them how they can take control of their own health. Dr. Campbell’s information was the start… the dots were beginning to connect!

The next book I read was Eat to Live by
Dr. Joel Fuhrman.  It is another excellent, eye-opening book that confirms and validates a plant-based diet and provides a diet plan to implement a plant-based diet of what he calls Nutritional Excellence. I really appreciated the concept of nutrient density he brought out. I had always loved vegetables but soon learned to appreciate certain ones even more, such as kale, spinach and nutrient-rich leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables. Highly recommended book.  Dr. Fuhrman states:
“A Diet of Nutritional Excellence There is an important take-home message here—and that is to understand how critical a life-or-death issue nutrition is. We must get this right. Humans are primates, and all other primates eat a diet of predominantly natural vegetation. If primates eat some animal products, it is a very small percentage of their total caloric intake. Modern science shows that most common ailments in today’s world are the result of nutritional ignorance. However, we can eat a diet rich in phytochemicals from a variety of natural plant foods that will afford us the ability to live a long and healthy life.  
I always try to emphasize the benefits of nutritional excellence. With a truly healthy diet, you can not only expect a drop in blood pressure and cholesterol and a reversal of heart disease, but your headaches, constipation, indigestion, and bad breath should all resolve. Eating for nutritional excellence enables people to reverse diabetes and to gradually lose their dependence on drugs. You can expect to reach a normal weight without counting calories and dieting, as well as achieve robust health and live a long life free of the fear of heart attacks and strokes.”
Fuhrman, Joel (2011-01-05). Eat to Live: The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss (p. 163). Little, Brown and Company.

So I really like documentary films and Netflix has a lot of good ones. One I watched while reading Eat to Live was the film, “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.” It’s the great story of Joe Cross, who when faced with serious illness, learns to take control of his health through diet. I also realized how nutrition. I was happy to find Dr. Fuhrman was in the movie and was Joe’s advising doctor. Also around the same time, the movie “Forks Over Knives” came out on DVD and hit Netflix. I found out that Dr. Campbell and other authorities in the field were in the movie and knew I had to watch it. All I can say is that this is likely the most powerful documentary for waking one up to the benefits of a whole foods, plant-based diet. Please watch it if you haven’t done so, it’s really excellent. The dots were continuing to be connected.

Eat to Live and Forks Over Knives had a strong impact on my nutritional resolve, but I was about to really go “down the rabbit hole” as they say and become more aware and in tune with the global benefits of a plant-based diet while reading the next book The Food Revolution by John Robbins.  Mr. Robbins wrote the foreword to The China Study so I knew it was going to be important, I just didn’t know the ways it would further expand my understanding of how beneficial a plant-based diet could be, in a holistic world view and spiritual sense. Mr. Robbins introduced me to the U.N. study “Livestock’s Long Shadow” () and many others. I began to see the deep suffering of animals on farms and other areas of exploitation around the world, as well as the critical connection to global warming with our diets. It’s not enough to just switch out one’s light bulbs and drive a hybrid… eating vegan can have a bigger impact than all other individual eco-friendly activities combined. The book and documentary An Incovenient Truth had always resonated with me, so these points just made even more sense and were validating and affirming. A plant-based diet was not only important, but critical for the sustainability of ecosystems and life on our planet. As incredibly informative as the book is, what I liked best about it was its deeply spiritual tone. In the final chapter, John writes:

 “So much is at stake in our times. Whether we like it or not, and whether we accept it or not, the choices we make, individually and collectively, in the coming years will make an incredible amount of difference, perhaps more so than at any other time in the history of life on this planet. It is not just the quality of our personal lives and health that depends, now, on the choices we make. The destiny of life on Earth is up for grabs. And we are each part of how it will turn out.” 
John Robbins. Food Revolution, The: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World (p. 384). Kindle Edition.

Finally, coming around again to Right Action, I discovered a great book that was published by Thich Nhat Hahn (“Thay”) and Dr. Lilian W. Y. Cheung, a fantastic book about mindfulness and eating, entitled Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful LifeIt once again brought out the importance and deeply spiritual nature of eating, and how being mindful and centered was another important element of health. 

So I’d like to share Thay’s presentation at Google on Health, which is truly excellent, and brings together the notion that true health as a combination of Mind and Body.  After the introductions and songs, Dr. Cheung speaks at 42:00, and Thay speaks at 57:00. I hope you enjoy and benefit from the wisdom which Thay presents, as I did.  

Namaste, my friends... 
Mindfulness as a Foundation for Health: Thich Nhat Hanh and Health@Google

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Diet and Right Action -- Connecting the Dots: Part I

It was another one of those conversations… “Where do you get your protein?”  The classic question that’s asked when I talk to someone who finds out that I now follow a plant-based diet, essentially a vegan diet.  That is, I do not eat animal-based foods.  So, I gave the stock answers that I’ve grown used to, and which are always surprising for people… “I get my protein from plants… just like some of the largest land animals on earth including gorillas and elephants.”  That usually makes some people think and wonder, and it also does always make me reflect, and usually along the way I may get tuned out because of my reasons, and the research that I’ve done.  It’s now been 17 months since I decided to go vegan.  This is my first installment of a series of brief “connect the dots” posts of how I got here and why I hope that all people go plant-based… not just for their personal health and well-being, but for the sake of, and survival of, all life on our beautiful planet.

The situation.  A couple years ago I was traveling a lot for work as I had mentioned before, and although I was eating a fairly balanced diet, salads, etc., I was still not feeling great.  I was about 15 pounds overweight and just was feeling sluggish.  Despite fairly regular exercise, being over 40 was just plain starting to kick in.  I needed to find an easy way to eat an optimal diet and keep myself healthy and keep up with a very busy work schedule and have something left over for home life.

The discovery.  Searching one weekend for the optimal diet, I reviewed a whole lot of information and stumbled across a site that recommended eating green smoothies as an excellent way to get more vegetables and nutrients into one’s diet easily.  The site then discussed an important book with amazing implications about the traditional Western diet.  The book was The China Study, by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University.  I then started researching the book, I went to Amazon and started reading the description and reviews.  It had over 1,200 reviews and was 4.5 stars out of 5. I kept reading “life-changing” over and over again… well, I guess I was ready for some change, because I picked up the book that day (8/7/11) and started reading… and reading… and reading.

All I can say is that the book truly is profoundly enlightening and can become life-changing if one is open to the important wisdom provided there – that the traditional Western diet with animal-based foods is toxic, and the optimal diet for a human being is a whole foods, plant-based diet. It began a truly enlightening journey of research and gradual change and validation of my views on diet. It was still only the beginning, but the most important foundation. I count myself as incredibly fortunate to have discovered the book and become one of the people that “gets it” about the research, the politics, the importance of Dr. Campbell’s research. Many people may not be ready to accept this message until they have become sick in some way and are ready to look at diet change as a way of saving their life. I am hoping that I can still help enlighten my family and friends who have not become aware, and may yet suffer the effects of a traditional American diet... the cancers, stroke, heart disease and diabetes.

I really like the way Dr. Campbell writes, it enhances the importance and sincerity of the message. As found in the first chapter:

"So, what is my prescription for good health? In short, it is about the multiple health benefits of consuming plant-based foods, and the largely unappreciated health dangers of consuming animal-based foods, including all types of meat, dairy and eggs. I did not begin with preconceived ideas, philosophical or otherwise, to prove the worthiness of plant-based diets. I started at the opposite end of the spectrum: as a meat-loving dairy farmer in my personal life and an “establishment” scientist in my professional life. I even used to lament the views of vegetarians as I taught nutritional biochemistry to pre-med students.

My only interest now is to explain the scientific basis for my views in the clearest way possible. Changing dietary practices will only occur and be maintained when people believe the evidence and experience the benefits. People decide what to eat for a number of reasons, health considerations being only one. My task is only to present the scientific evidence in a form that can be understood. The rest is up to you.

The scientific basis for my views is largely empirical, obtained through observation and measurement. It is not illusory, hypothetical or anecdotal; it is from legitimate research findings. It is a type of science originally advocated 2,400 years ago by the Father of Medicine, Hippocrates, who said, “There are, in effect, two things: to know and to believe one knows. To know is science. To believe one knows is ignorance.” I plan to show you what I have come to know."

Campbell, T. Colin; Thomas M. Campbell II; John Robbins; Howard Lyman (2006-06-01). The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted And the Startling Implications for Diet, We (p. 21). BenBella Books.

I consider one of the important aspects of Right Action to be about doing no harm… to others and to oneself. I did not know it when I started to read The China Study, but I was about to embark on a journey and “wake up” to what we are doing to ourselves when we eat the traditional Western diet. Later research would lead me to also better understand what we are doing to the animals around us who are our fellow earthlings, to the immense cruelty and “misery on the menu", and what we are doing to the planet as a whole through traditional diets with meat, fish and dairy.

The following is a lecture where Dr. Campbell speaks about his research and findings in his book The China Study. His conclusion – the standard Western diet is toxic. This is an excellent introduction to his research. I hope you find it interesting.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Know Thyself

I hope your new year is going well.  In this post, I want to share a few things about some of my life research the past couple years, in particular related to thoughts on world views and diet, and then connect the dots a little bit on where I’m coming from.  I hope it provides a little bit of grounding to where I’m coming from, especially as this blog in general is a bit of a self-discovery experiment in some ways with my writing, and sharing perspectives which I think/feel have been helpful to me and may be to others.

So for about the past year I’ve been in a significant state of self-reflection, it’s not just mid-life seriously kicking in… I’ve always been pretty introspective, done some journaling off and on (not as much as I should), and I highly recommend journaling to everyone as an important activity.  I’ve recently picked it back up as part of this blogging effort/process, in trying to find the important themes which have colored and are coloring my life.  So some of the past year’s efforts have been a sort of culmination to reading and research over the years on different themes. 

First, I’ve been re-evaluating my work, as I’ve been kind of in a funk with the work that I do in the IT, information technolgy industry.  I’ve been working in this area for about the past 18 years… a long time.  It’s been good, stable work (knock on wood)… but all I can say is that, honestly, it’s never been truly, deeply fulfilling.  It is far different from the roots of my undergraduate education which were in the liberal arts, primarily religious studies, philosophy and literature.  So, honestly, the reason I got into IT in the first place was because my original plans, more along the lines of ministry and social work at the time, turned out to not be the path for me… and practically I had to retrain to get work.  I tried looking at social work and legal work and did both classes, part-time jobs and internships in these areas, but these also didn’t fully seem to work out right.  In any case, with the emerging areas of technology in the 90’s, and some advice from friends getting their education in related fields, I changed my course essentially on a dime, jumped into a graduate program with both feet, and ended up making a career out of it.  

 Fast forward 18 years… now after a heavy, 16-month stretch of project work and associated stress, I noticed some of the classic symptoms of burnout appearing.  So for better or worse, here I am, at a point where I know that I need to rediscover my passion for work, which hopefully is more in line with my real personality.  So I’ve been looking at a number of different avenues, one of them trying to rediscover what and where my strengths and talents are, and potentially how I can potentially re-direct my career.

OK, so enough background for one post, I’d like to spend the rest giving some perspective on what I’ve been finding recently and connect the dots some on some topics that I hope to write on creatively, and that may set the tone for some of this year’s efforts.  I think I’ve mentioned previously the excellent site, Zen Habits, which is written by Leo Babauta.  He’s a really talented person / blogger.   He had a really nice post last month which touched me, on finding / re-finding work that is based on your passions:

In the post is a really inspirational TED talk by Scott Dinsmore.  In watching the video, Scott mentions the book StrengthsFinder 2.0, so yesterday I picked it up, read the initial chapter and took the online assessment test.  In a nutshell, the book 
points out that we are far better off if the work we do is in alignment with our key strengths, aka talents, rather than spending too much of our time (wasting energy) trying to improve ourselves and build on our weaknesses.  I’m down with that concept.  Know thyself they say, and leverage that.  Always easier said than done, even after all these years.  So after reviewing the results of the test, it is clear that I’m not using my main strengths/talents as much as I should in my work, which by far occupies the vast majority of my productive hours each day.  

So from the assessment test, I found I have the following 5 Key Strengths:  Input, Learner, Intellection, Harmony, Empathy.  Interesting, but actually not any surprises here... yet still enlightening and revealing reminders for what are truly strengths to be best developed and leveraged.  Well, not sure yet how but I plan to actively use the new knowledge, but I'll be actively reading the book, and we’ll see how it affects me as consultant and project manager in information technology… through plenty of reflection, there is likely to be significant changes on the horizon as the main components of my job are not set up to allow me to leverage these talents in the best ways.

In any case, so far I can highly recommend the book, and also these two of Leo’s Zen Habits posts on this topic:

So, in closing, my hope is that we all will come to truly know ourselves better, our strengths, our key values, and find the courage to live in accordance with them.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A New Year’s Hope

Happy New Year to everyone.  I have a hope that this New Year will be one of inspiration, new awareness, of refreshment and renewal, and also of acceptance… especially for those of us who have felt a lot of tension throughout 2012.  My hope is that there will be a new balance in 2013 and that there will be an understanding of the wisdom of acceptance of the way things are, and gain refreshment in the present moment.

The acceptance may be able to help us all deal with the problems of our time... the ignorance, the anger, the mean-ness, the over-consumption, the ecological destruction, etc. which is hurting us all.  There is a great emptiness within us and our culture, a suffering, from striving and stress.  Those of us who want a better world and want it now… this feeling can cause suffering… we need to have a balance of accepting things as they are, and try to focus in on the present moment, and the peace and joy that can be found in the here and now.

One of the great wisdom teachers of our time is Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who lives with his Buddhist community in France.  Known to his followers simply as “Thay”, which is the Vietnamese word meaning master or teacher, Thay has shared the simplicity and the deep wisdom of mindfulness and the Eightfold path.  I was fortunate to have been introduced to Thay 16 years ago by a good friend from college.  Many of Thay's dharma talks can be found here:

I want to share Thay’s New Year’s Eve talk here as he is always inspirational and speaks clearly and deeply about the concepts of mindfulness.  May you be blessed with the gift of mindfulness and peace in your New Year.

Minute 29:00 begins a nice review of the Eightfold path by Thay: