Category Archives: Inner Nutrition

Inner Nutrition: How Can We Best Cope with Health Challenges? Roslyn McGrath

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You do everything you can to eat right, exercise regularly, and make healthy lifestyle choices. Or you’ve thought about doing so, but haven’t quite followed up with this very much yet. Or you feel like you should, but really don’t want to. Or sometimes you do these things, sometimes you don’t. You’re young. You’re old. You’re somewhere in-between. Regardless, it’s likely you’ve had, or at some point will have to deal with a significant health challenge, something beyond a stubbed toe or head cold, something that may be painful, limit your capacities, and/or threaten your survival.

Frustration, fear, anger, grief, sorrow, self-pity–any or all of these reactions may well up in dealing with your situation. It’s normal and it’s natural. And trying to stuff these emotions back down is likely only to increase your suffering sooner or later. More and more, research has shown how our mental and emotional state impacts our physical health. So what might help you to authentically cope with your situation in the most positive and effective way?

In speaking with and observing friends, family members, and clients, as well as considering my own experiences, a number of suggestions arose. Below is what our lay experts have to say. What might it be like to use these suggestions? What suggestions do you have of your own?

Don’t dwell on your health challenge too much. You are not the illness or injury; you are simply dealing with it. Be sure to pay attention to the other parts of your life as well. You’re likely to feel better emotionally, and more like yourself.

Consider with whom you’ll discuss your health challenge, as well as how often and in what ways. The fears, past experiences, and sympathy or pity of well-meaning others can drag you down because they focus upon your challenge as a negative. Who will be a compassionate supporter? Who will hold a positive space with and for you?

Don’t label your health challenge with its medical term, which can have many negative associations to it. Instead, see it in symbolic terms. This may help loosen up your view of it, bring you a greater sense of positive potential, and envision and work toward more positive outcomes.

Let your supporters know what form of support you’d like. This may be different at different times, so keep communicating. Are you seeking advice? Feedback? Cheerleading? Neutral listening? Help with tasks?

Have patience. Time as well as tenacity may be required for your healing. Trying to push the river may be pointless or even produce negative results, extending your healing time, so accepting where you’re at while continuing to envision your positive outcome is important.

Trust your gut in making decisions. Information-gathering in itself is unlikely to provide one 100% guaranteed “correct” choice and ultimately your healthcare choices are your own. So give yourself what you need to line up with a choice and then follow through on it.

Don’t give up. If the approach you’ve been going with has been given a good try and isn’t working for you, open to exploring other avenues.

Don’t expect to feel positive all the time. Emotions come up. Don’t judge yourself for having them. So long as we don’t hold on to them or feed them, they are temporary states. Accept your feelings for what they are, and return to your positive focus when you’re ready.

Trust. To the best of your ability, let go of worries, fears, and resistance, surrender to the universal flow, and watch the magic unfold. Remembering this may help lessen some of the suffering in the moment. 

Focus on what you can do more than on what you can’t, and do those activities that bring you joy and fulfillment.

Do something creative that you wouldn’t otherwise. Your current limitations may even help inspire the form your creativity takes. For example, when a very physically active friend was laid up in recovery from a hip replacement, she danced with her toes, developing the strength and coordination of her ankles, feet and toes.

Think about how you anticipate feeling when your healing is complete. Do your best to really feel how that feels, perhaps even imagining you’re breathing this feeling in from every direction, or it’s being poured into you by angels.

Pay attention to, and to the best of your ability, stay actively engaged in the lives of your loved ones, and with the world around you.

Spend time in nature. Sunshine can be very healing. Take time to slow down and appreciate the life around you. Breathe in the freshness of the earth. If you can’t get outside, play recordings of nature sounds and surround yourself with plants and flowers. Imagine yourself in a beautiful forest or meadow. 

Cultivate gratitude. This allows you to release negative emotions that no longer serve you. Taking time each day to practice gratefulness, whether in a thought, prayer, affirmative statement, meditation, or simply looking around for things for which you are grateful is healing. It’s particularly helpful to include yourself, and also the many ways in which your body is working well. Given the human body’s complexity, no matter your health challenge, likely there are many things functioning well, so this is a more balanced, accurate view. Gratitude allows us to receive more love and joy, and bathes the very body cells in a positive charge, relaxing us.

Special thanks to Joshua Alan Brown for his assistance with this article, and also to numerous friends, clients, and loved ones.

Roslyn Elena McGrath is an observer, participant, visionary, and implementer of life as it is and can be. She supports herself and others to shine their light through personal growth and vibrational healing sessions, workshops, books, recordings, art, and this magazine. Visit http://www.EmpoweringLightworks.com and HealthandHappinessUPMag.com.

Reprinted with permission from the Spring 2019 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2019. All rights reserved.

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What Is… Your Powerful Question? John Olesnavage

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Like many others, I have always been fascinated by and drawn to those who achieve what the rest of us just dream about. And, from an early age, I suspected there must be a common denominator, a secret sauce. They could not all be geniuses, right?”

I first met Dr. Clark Moustakas in 1994 when I enrolled in graduate studies. By then he had published over twenty books, and co-founded a graduate school of psychology which continues to thrive today as the Michigan School of Psychology in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

During our first one-on-one supervision meeting, I respectfully asked Clark how he did it all. With a beguiling smile that seemed to say “I know, and you can too,” he stated that he simply followed a single question “each-and-every day.” Momentarily stunned by his humility and directness, I asked him what his question was and he replied, “What is loneliness?” I already knew that his 1961 book, Loneliness (most recent version: Hauraki Publishing, 2016) was the title of his most revered and best-selling book. But now I understood that his book was not just the result of his writer’s craft; it was a window to his essence and meaning. Pursuing the question of loneliness enabled him to move beyond his perceived capabilities, and made impossible things possible.

In that moment, I also knew he was handing me the secret sauce and the recipe for living a self-actualized life. What he did not hand over was a process for finding a life-transforming question, but my search was on. Some months later, my question arrived quite unexpectedly, and my deer-in-the-headlights reaction convinced me it was “mine.” That same question continues to drive me today. It is the intuitive lens I use to examine life, and a bridge to a purposeful life.

My question,“What is boundary?”, was embedded in every nook and cranny of my life story, waiting patiently to be discovered. Pursuing an answer led me to numerous insights and further discoveries. My own research kept pointing to the fact that boundary was co-created, meaning it involves at least two people and a certain mutuality. This goes counter to the commonly accepted notion that boundary is a wall we build on our own. We can (and sometimes do) try to build these kinds of walls, especially when we are fearful, but they can become obstacles to real growth. My research also revealed that a healthy boundary is both flexible and whole. A boundary that has lost its flexibility through trauma, grief, or addiction produces feelings of being stuck. Holes in our boundary fabric produced by trauma, loss, etc., affect our ability to form healthy connections with others. In my work with clients, I found that various forms of play can restore flexibility, and integrating mind, body, and spirit creates the balance needed to repair boundary tears.

Finding a Powerful Question is not therapy, although it can lead to healing and truth. As in the case of Dr. Moustakas, it is stepping onto the same playing field as Albert Einstein and others who have achieved historic breakthroughs. In his biography of Einstein, Walter Isaacson noted that at age sixteen, Einstein had a single question that inspired him throughout all of his discoveries-“What would it be like to ride at the speed of light next to a beam of light?” (Isaacson, 114) Dig a little into the lives of Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John F. Kennedy, as I have, and you will find the Powerful Questions that drove each of them.

In 2011, I had the opportunity to help a group of fifteen entrepreneurs discover their Powerful Questions. That effort produced some amazing results, and created programs that continue to have a positive impact in Marquette, Michigan. One such effort was Start the Cycle, a bicycling program that offers area youth a chance to train for and compete in a strenuous mountain bike race. That program began when a local entrepreneur, Curt Hewitt, and I asked what impact mountain biking might have on at-risk youth. Another entrepreneur in the group, Laura MacDonald, saw this as a perfect fit for her Powerful Question, “What is legacy?” Under her leadership, Start the Cycle has expanded, serving hundreds of area youth since 2011. I detail Laura’s story and similar achievements in my just-released book, Ask* your Powerful Question. In 2017, I had the opportunity to introduce Powerful Questions to graduate students at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wisconsin. It was valued enough that it is now a course in the school’s Master’s level curriculum for lay students.

People ask me “Is this a spiritual approach? An entrepreneurial one? Or some sort of therapy?” If by therapy you mean finding out what is authentic and passionate in yourself, the answer is a resounding yes. If you are a seeker of any sort, be it spiritual or entrepreneurial, a Powerful Question will reveal what you truly desire most. Traveling this path is stepping up to the specialness of you. I cannot say it any better than Plato did in 399 B.C., “An unexamined life is one not worth living.” Find your Powerful Question, and let it lead you to the purposeful, passionate life you were born to live.

John Olesnavage, a resident of Big Bay, Michigan, is a psychologist, educator, and author who follows his own Powerful Question “each-and-every-day.” In addition to Ask* your Powerful Question, John also wrote Our Boundary, a book describing his ground-breaking, boundary-based approach to counseling.

Excerpted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Winter 2018-19 Issue, copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

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Defusing Explosions at Home & Work, Megan Keiser

Anyone working in the customer service industry can tell you one of the hardest parts is dealing with the irate customer, that customer who has seemingly saved up every ounce of disgust, annoyance, frustration, and disdain so it can be sent flying at the next unsuspecting customer service representative to answer with “Thank you for calling. How may I help you today?”

In the contact center world, defusing an upset caller is especially challenging. Great care is taken by the representative to respond effectively and appropriately to an irate customer. Not surprisingly, the same tools used to defuse angry customers can also be applied to our everyday lives in our interpersonal relationships, whether with a spouse, relative, friend, coworker, or child. Skills such as empathy, active listening, non-emotionally driven responses, and blame avoidance have a big impact in determining whether an interaction blows up in a fiery explosion, or cools off and gets snuffed out.

The first step of defusing is always to acknowledge what the upset party has stated and offer empathy. Empathy is a powerful tool. It’s the ability to place yourself in another person’s shoes to truly feel his or her frustrations as your own. Empathy is internalizing the feelings of the upset party and taking a moment to find commonalities you can share on his or her perspective of the situation. For example, the holidays are a time of joy and merriment, but can also be a time of high expectations and increased stress. Let’s say your sibling has taken on the role of holiday host for the first time and things are off to a rocky start (the turkey isn’t cooking properly, the kids are fighting mercilessly, and tensions are already mounting between Aunt Judith and Uncle Bud) and your sibling lashes out at you for not taking on the role yourself. Your first reaction might be to respond with, “You should calm down!” But remember to put yourself in your sibling’s shoes. Ask yourself, “How would I feel if I were responsible for hosting a lovely, harmonious holiday event and everything felt like it was falling apart?” A more appropriate response utilizing the tools of acknowledgment and empathy would be to respond with, “I can see you have a lot on your plate. What can I do to help?” Situation defused.

Second, active listening and asking follow-up questions are other critical elements related to our ability to demonstrate empathy appropriately. When we practice the art of active listening and asking follow-up questions, we show the other person we truly care about what he or she has to say and allow ourselves the opportunity to truly understand the issue. One of the biggest reasons people tend to get upset or stay upset is that they aren’t feeling heard. From their perspective, they are shouting and repeating the issue over and over again, but the person they are speaking with just isn’t acknowledging their concerns. This leads to great frustration. Practicing active listening allows you to truly hear what the root problem is, and asking questions allows you to further clarify and understand details that weren’t originally mentioned. In his book The 4 Essential Keys to Effective Communication in Love, Life, Work – Anywhere! author Bento Leal suggests that we “listen through the words to the essence of the message.” We can tune in to the essence of the message by noting not only the spoken words but also the look of frustration, anger, or worry written on another’s face, in their body language, or in their tone of voice. Reading between the lines like this may also help you identify the underlying cause of the frustration, even when it may not be apparent to the upset party themselves. Situation defused.

Third, ensure your own emotions aren’t impacting the words you choose to speak when responding to an upset individual. When being unfairly attacked or blamed for things, it is common to want to react to those comments by counter-attacking and immediately firing back some hurtful or accusatory statements. In his book If It Wasn’t for the Customers I’d Really Like This Job, author Robert Bacal urges us not to get trapped in the “Crisis Cycle,” the unending loop of abuse and attack. To break this cycle, don’t take the bait. Before responding, take a deep breath or two to ensure your logical brain has time to weigh in prior to your emotions driving your responses. Other tips include using the upset person’s name, responding calmly but firmly, and refocusing on the actual issue. Actively listening, acknowledging, and repeating back what the upset party has stated gives your logical brain time to process. When we couple active listening with empathetic responses, we avoid responding with hurtful statements and stop the crisis cycle. Situation defused.

A last tip is to avoid getting looped into the crisis cycle by avoiding blaming statements or “you” statements anytime you are defusing. Using words such as “you” or “your” are likely to escalate a conversation rather than cool it down. For example, responding to a complaint with “You are the only one complaining about this” won’t defuse a situation. A more helpful statement would be, “I haven’t heard this complaint before; I would like to understand more about it.” “I” statements are generally much more effective when working through a heated issue. Situation defused.

These are just a few simple tips from the contact center world to defuse those tense situations. Putting these tips into practice will help enhance your interpersonal relationships, and ultimately lead to more respectful, fulfilling relationships. Remember to channel your inner customer service representative when you need to defuse.

Megan Keiser is the Human Resources Manager for Superior Contact, a business offering outsourced contact center services. She is a member of Superiorland Toastmasters, focused on communication and leadership skills, and is certified to administer and interpret the EQi-2.0 and 360 emotional intelligence assessments.

Excerpted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Winter 2018-19 Issue, copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

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Inner Nutrition: Overcoming Our Disease of Dis-Ease, by Keith Glendon

As I read an inspirational article on the Internet the other day, I noticed tension building in my chest. I felt slightly inadequate. I watched a cloud of self-doubt form over my perspective. I became curious—why was this inspiration bringing me down? In the coming days, a pattern emerged. I noticed more articles on the Internet. More news headlines and connotations. More advertising and social media event invitations. It seemed wherever I turned, there was a common message: ‘Do more, achieve, strive, compete, stand out, be everything, have it all!’ I was un-inspired. Instead of motivating me to greatness, the undercurrent seemed to shout “You’re not enough!!”

Leonardo da Vinci spent sixteen years delaying his work on the Mona Lisa. For several years, the painting just sat there unfinished. He was criticized for dabbling in distractions that spanned painting and sculpture, music, the sciences, architecture, and other pursuits that kept him from progressing in the eyes of many as an artist. What his critical contemporaries didn’t recognize was that da Vinci’s rambling genius and creative process simply didn’t work along a timeline. He needed time, distraction, procrastination, unstructured puttering. It wasn’t about achievement or greatness but the process of exploring his unique interests and gifts, giving his piece into the flow of things.

After I caught myself being sideswiped by dark feelings from the “inspiration” with which I was being bombarded, I was reminded of the recent passing of my dad’s wife. Gail enjoyed many things but one thing she loved was quilting. A talented craftswoman, she always had a few quilt projects underway. Her creations were expressions of joy and of love. They were often gifts to those for whom she cared. They were artwork and simple, functional beauty – the product of her creative soul expressed in fabric. They were a gathering of friends. They were an investment of her heart. At times, she was intensely-focused at work on her quilts. Other times, projects would sit there in a corner while she read a book, gardened, or went on long bike rides with Dad. Taking time, setting aside, relaxing into life was an essential part of the process.

Gail was taken by disease. Cancer was the culprit. In life, though, she didn’t live in dis-ease. She didn’t strive or compete or seek to stand out or have it all. What she did have was joy in simple things, dedication to creativity, quiet consistency in her passion and love. She shared it freely. She took her time. Not long after she passed, Dad and I stood on a beach at sunset. As I felt his grief, I also felt gratitude for the quiet moment. The beauty of the sky. The lesson in Gail’s life.

There is a disease of dis-ease sweeping our world. Lest we lose our lives to it, let us remember it’s okay to take our time, to dabble, to be distracted, to simply be. In this fast-and-furious ‘modern world,’ let’s remember to express our love, take walks, enjoy one another’s company, create, garden, ‘waste’ time together. Let’s remember it’s okay to be at ease.

Keith Glendon is a grateful husband, father of four, writer, poet, global technology something-or-other, and generally life-loving seeker, learner, and gratitude-spreader. Having grown up in Marquette, traveled the world, and returned to settle in his hometown, he now focuses on being Daddy and offering what he can to the flow.

Excerpted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Summer 2018 Issue, copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

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Inner Nutrition: Procastination-Prevention Prompts, by Roslyn Elena McGrath

“Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week.” – Spanish Proverb

Does the mere thought of procrastination provoke a sense of uneasiness and even mild-to-moderate guilt?

According to http://www.psychologicalscience.org, “experts define it as the voluntary delay of some important task that we intend to do, despite knowing that we’ll suffer as a result. Studies have found that procrastinators carry accompanying feelings of guilt, shame, or anxiety with their decision to delay, in addition to negative impacts on ‘performance, well-being, health, relationships, regrets & bereavement.’ ”

Leading expert Pychyl, who runs the 20-year-old Procrastination Research Group, finds “Procrastinators get sick more often, report higher rates of depression, and suffer the somatic and psychological effects of elevated stress. Procrastination doesn’t only affect our personal well-being and integrity, but it has an ethical dimension, affecting those around us who suffer ‘second-hand,’ either because of the time we take away from them when we rush off to finish things last-minute, or because the stress we put ourselves under negatively affects the health of our relationships.”

While some of us are chronic procrastinators (20 percent of the U.S. population, according to psychologist Dr. Joseph Ferrari, a leading international researcher on the topic), most of us procrastinate at some time or another. Do you have a task you’ve been putting off? If so, I invite you to explore the following questions:

Is this actually a task or is it a goal? If it’s a goal, what is the first task for you to accomplish toward it? For example, if I want to lose weight, that is my goal. I will then need to choose concrete steps toward achieving it, perhaps no longer buying high-calorie snacks, or eating smaller portions. If what you initially chose is a goal, pick a beginning action step toward it, and apply the questions below.

Do I truly need to do this task? Is it actually a low priority item for my values, a “should” from a sense of social expectations or obligations? Or is it something that is more appropriately someone else’s responsibility? For example, has your child reached an age where he or she could put away his or her laundry, benefitting by taking responsibility for this task?

Do I want to do this task? Does it help me to achieve something I value? Or help to prevent something I find detrimental from taking place? Take a look at the longer-term benefits here. While your task may not have short-term appeal to you, its longer-term value may get you over the delaying-hump to act on it. For example, if I want healthy gums and teeth, I may choose to floss daily despite any dislike I may have for the action itself.

Am I able to do this task? Or do I need more information, skills, or other support? If so, what steps can I take to equip me to complete this task? Do I need to chunk this task down into a series of smaller, more easily accomplishable tasks?

Is there something else I need to do before tackling this task? Do I need more sleep and/or nutrition to be able to accomplish it? Do I need to clear a physical space (desk, counter, etc.) to be physically and/or mentally able to do it? Do I need to obtain and/or organize the materials involved to be able to do it? Is there a different task that really, truly is more important for me to take care of first?

Am I afraid of failing (or of succeeding) at this task? If so, what potential consequences of this are concerning me? How might I respond effectively to my concerns? Who or what might support me in responding to these concerns? Are these potential consequences of greater or lesser concern to me than the risks involved with not following through with this task?

Am I simply in the habit of not doing this task? If so, what steps can I take to help me create a new habit of accomplishing this task? Is there someone or something that might help support me in creating this new habit?

Is there a better way for me to accomplish this task? Is there a more efficient method for me to do this? A more enjoyable one? A better perspective on doing it? A better time of day for me to do it? Might it help me to schedule it in or tell someone supportive when I will accomplish it? Set a deadline for its completion? Reward myself in a healthy manner for following through at each step along the way? Would it be better for me to request, barter or pay someone else to do it?

As Pychyl explains “Procrastination is really a self-inflicted wound that gradually chips away at the most valuable resource in the world: time.” Only you can discover what you need to do to help heal that wound and reap the rewards of time well-spent.

Roslyn Elena McGrath is the author of Chakras Alive! and other personal growth books and CDs. She recently released a recording of the Chakras Alive! meditations, and also offers workshops and private appointments. For more info., visit http://www.empoweringlightworks.com or contact (906) 228-9097, info@empoweringlightworks.com.

Reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Spring 2018 Issue, copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

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Can I Really Heal? by Joshua Brown

I want to share something here specific to my personal experience and perspective over the past seven years since sustaining a spinal cord injury from a car accident that left me quadriplegic.

 
It is difficult not to take on a condition as an identity. We sometimes start to identify with our issues until we develop a form of apathy and entitled victimhood.

 
And when we are in deep physical pain and emotional suffering—feeling helpless, we expect others to cater to that, and they often do, enabling us to continue our dream of suffering. I realize this will trigger some folks, but again, this is my personal perspective. Please hear me out if you will.

 
There is a way out of your suffering, or at least a way to lessen it. And if you must suffer, then at least there is a way to find peace with it.

 
If you really want out of suffering, or at least to become functional, open your heart, open your mind. Be willing to move outside of your comfort zone. You could call it a leap of faith. Be willing to let go, and release old conditioning, habits, beliefs, relationships that aren’t serving you.

 
Be willing to ask questions—Is there a way out of this pain (other than dying unless it’s your time)?

 
Do I have to wait until some miracle cure comes along so I can feel better, or walk, or whatever?

 

Do I have to wait decades upon decades hoping?

 
Can I allow myself to believe that I can find the answers and healing in my own life, right now, today, rather than being in agony waiting for someone to produce the magic fix?

Am I attached to this suffering? Afraid to lose this suffering self, even as I say I want it gone? Am I afraid of who I can become if I let it go? Am I afraid to rise to the responsibility?

 
Yes, there is a way out of this pain. No, I do not have to wait for a miracle cure in order to make my life better today. No, I don’t have to wait decades to do something about improving my life today. I can empower myself, rather than waiting for others to find the answers. I have found many of the answers that work for me, and many are still unfolding.

 
Ask and it is given. Seek and you will find. Knock and it will be opened to you.
With spinal cord injuries and physical paralysis come a host of issues. A few of these are intense, debilitating neuropathic and inflammatory pain, impaired bowel and bladder function, inflammation, swelling/edema, skin sores, lung congestion, loss of bone density, muscle spasms, low and swinging blood pressure, urinary tract infections, ingrown toenails.

Those in my situation are prescribed a host of pharmaceutical drugs early on, and while they are useful to a degree, I have seen them overused. They mask symptoms, suppress systems. To me, it’s as if plugging your ears when your body is screaming at you to listen. For example, with the use of opioid drugs, when the body receives up to a maximum prescribed dosage, the nervous system creates new pain receptors so it can feel.

 
What does that tell you? Your body is giving you messages, over and over again! And what do we do? “Shut up! Just go away!” we say. We are not addressing the root causes. We are just avoiding, suppressing, ignoring until the dysfunction can no longer be ignored.

 
I still use pharmaceutical drugs sometimes because they can be useful for managing some symptoms while you’re on your way to improvements.

 
My body is a complex organism, a very intelligent organism. And my tiny mind, the part of my brain that thinks in words and is educated, would do best to learn that that system is perfect. It knows what is needed, and I must reconnect to its language to discover its solutions.

 
Your journey is not going to be like mine. You may find your remedy through a different process than mine. But I am here to tell you that you do have options. The answers exist. Healing is real.

 
I have eliminated much physical pain through natural and non-invasive means. Now I am more functional. I know how to keep my bowels healthy even with paralysis. I rarely ever have a skin sore. My lungs are improving getting stronger, with very little congestion. Muscle spasticity is minimal. (I like some to keep muscle tone.) My blood pressure is more balanced. I very rarely have a cold or flu (though I do believe they can be good for us).

 
Is it all perfect? No. But life is so much better than two or four or seven years ago. I expect it to get better. I will keep going. Why? Because I like feeling good. I like feeling free. I like being at my best for the humans around me.

 
Joshua Brown suffered a broken neck caused by a severe car accident seven years ago, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. This has led him on a healing journey, learning how to heal in his own way, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Winter 2017 – 2018 Issue, copyright 2017. All rights reserved.

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Inner Nutrition: What Camp Means to Me, by Christine Saari

Photograph by Christine Saari

 

It all began with a clearing in the woods cluttered with ramshackle buildings from a former homestead: the remains of a cabin, a leaning barn, a decaying pig sty and chicken coop. I was horrified to learn this was to be the site for our camp. Why would we want a camp to begin with when we lived amidst a beautiful landscape waiting to be explored? “I’ll never come here,” I said to my husband. If he wanted a camp, so be it. I did not!

Jon proceeded without me. One day he took me to the transformed site – the buildings were gone, the clearing pristine. Then he purchased a 100-year old log cabin which had brambles growing inside and no windows and doors. Again I was aghast. But Jon was undeterred. The building was taken apart, transferred and rebuilt. Trees were felled for replacement logs, windows cut, doors made, layers of wallpaper stripped off the cedar logs. Endless work, but I participated, helped lay the floor, chinked, found furniture, worked to make the place cozy.

The two-story cabin has been proudly standing in our clearing since 1994, over time joined by a two-seater outhouse bought from an aunt, a shed and sauna rescued from a pasture for cows who rubbed the dovetailed corners round. Finnish relatives equipped the smoke sauna with a hearth and benches, and a deck was added to the house.

Although I said I’d never come, I have grown to love our camp above the West Branch of the Whitefish River. Why? What does camp mean for me?

With a thirty-mile trip, it is close enough from home to come for just an evening in the summer or for an overnight stay. Of course, if we can we stay longer, but whatever the length of our visit, we return to town refreshed.

Thanks to the “primitive” nature of the place – no electricity, a spring in the woods, a wood stove, life there slows down immediately. We forget about the news, e-mail or phone connection. Instead we make sure the kerosene lamps are filled for the evening and that there is enough wood to stay warm. This is a place just to be. We cook simple meals, talk, write letters, read and play scrabble. We take time to take a nap, we go to bed early. In summer we take canoe rides on the river, in winter we ski. We watch the natural world around us: a wild turkey has lost a beautiful feather, irises are blooming on the shore, a heron flies overhead.

Although we are close to a road, we seem far away from civilization. I can sunbathe unobserved. There are berries and mushrooms and flowers to pick. The stars shine brightly at night, the moon lights up the clearing, fireflies glow in the dark. Because the area is small, we have gotten to know it intimately. Every time we come we see changes. The river swells from melting snow, spring leaves unfold, white trilliums cover the dark forest floor. Here we are aware of the annual cycle of growth and decay and of our place in this universe.

Aside from all that, at camp we are surrounded by our ancestors: the flour bin reminds us of Jon’s grandmother’s farm. Jon’s father brought the cuckoo clock from the war in Europe, and camp brings me back to my childhood, to the Austrian mountain farm without electricity and running water where I grew up. Here I am connected to the past and to nature. Here I feel whole.

Christine Saari, an Austrian immigrant,  is a writer and visual artist. She has published a book, Love and War at Stag Farm, The Story of Hirschengut, an Austrian Mountain Farm 1938-48. It tells the story of her family in Austria during WWII and its aftermath.

Reprinted with permission from the Summer 2012 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

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