With the passing of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Zen Buddhist monk and peace campaigner who brought mindfulness to the West, the world has lost another mentor. Every time we lose someone who helps us live and act in accordance with our highest good, it is a tremendous loss to the world. Martin Luther King. Nelson Mandela. Bishop Desmond Tutu. Thich Nhat Hanh. Orest Bedrij. Although they are no longer on this earthly plane, their inspiration lives on.
Mentors are very important to me. They inspire me to be better in every way. I celebrate their life, I praise their presence and spirit, and I integrate their teachings into the core of my being, so that I can become what God intended me to be.
“The glory of God is the communion of all things fully alive” ~ The Irenaeus’s axiom
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an American Baptist minister, had a gift for capturing the hearts and minds of people with his homily-like discourses. His speeches—considered some of the most iconic of the 20th century— had a profound effect on the national consciousness.
In his book Strength to Love, published in 1963, King wrote: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
As individuals, we all have challenges in life. The question is, how will we respond?
During this Christmas season, as I meditate on the image of the innocent, vulnerable baby Jesus, I am reminded of the opportunity for spiritual renewal. I think most of us can relate on some level, even those who do not identify themselves as Christians. Perhaps it is simply the idea of birth and a chance to begin again that calls to us, that gives us hope as this year comes to a close and a New Year beckons.
At the surface there is really nothing glamorous about Christmas. Do you ever wonder what courage, trust and faith Mary and Joseph had? We have Joseph breaking the law, knowing what he should do with a seemingly “adulterous woman,” but he doesn’t divorce Mary as the Law clearly tells him to do, even though he has no direct way of knowing that the baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit [Matthew 1:18–24]. Think about the fact that they were homeless – born in a stable surrounded by unknown Shepherds and animals. What is the meaning of all this? And what does this have to do with me?
Inspired by the purity of the baby Jesus, I reflect on the scripture from Matthew 18:3, where Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Of course, as we mature, we must take on the responsibilities of adulthood. But all too often, along the way we become focused solely on worldly life. Our behavior and our choices are influenced by the people who are most important to us. In the past, it was parents, friends, and teachers. Today, we have a great many more connections through social media and the internet. These influences mold us into who we are. Along the way, we are prone to losing our innocence, and if we are not aware, we can also lose our potential for divinity.
The biblical creation story in the Torah (Old Testament) states, “Let us make humans in our image” (Genesis 1:26). The plural pronoun is the first hint that we are going to be brought into a relational, participatory, and shared life. The secret is planted within our deepest identity and slowly reveals itself. Then, for the most part, we turn away until our life as we know it comes close to the end.
Father Richard Rohr views religion’s purpose as reminding us of who we truly are: “The essential work of religion is to help us recognize and recover the divine image in ourselves and everything else too. Whatever we call it, this ‘image of God’ is absolute and unchanging. There is nothing we can do to increase or decrease it. It is not ours to decide who has it or does not have it. It is a pure and total gift, given equally to all.”
Contemplation Leads Us to Truth
Contemplation teaches us how to observe our own small mind and, frankly, to see how inadequate it is to the task in front of us. As Eckhart Tolle says, 98% of human thought is “repetitive and pointless.”
“Why do you look to one another for approval instead of the approval that comes from the one God?” (John 5:44). So many of us accept our self-image from within a system of false images. Whether we describe ourselves as smart, strong, good looking, or a loser—all are just words created by humans. This will never work. We must find our true self hidden within—that Divine image we are made in. St. Teresa of Ávila envisioned God telling her, “If you wish to find Me, in yourself seek Me.”
The one who is spirit took on flesh for all eternity. As C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity, “It is really, I suggest, a timeless truth about God, that human nature, and the human experience of weakness and sleep and ignorance, are somehow included in his whole divine life.” Jesus had to be made like us in every way (Hebrews 2:17). His body is not insignificant.
Transformation through Love
So, I ask the question, “Why? And what does this have to do with me?” We all have some kind of image of God, but how do we know these are not false images? I believe we cannot begin to find the answer until we are willing to be reached by an all-transforming movement of love. This is based in trust, to be willing to let go and let be. As Meister Eckhart says, “For the person who has learned to let go and let be, nothing can ever get in the way again.”
Whether you are Christian or not, we can start with an image of the baby Jesus, the ultimate expression of God’s humility, and let go of all the garbage we carry. Christmas to me is a reminder that God became human so that we may become Divine. Our DNA is divine, and the divine indwelling is never earned by any behavior, group membership, ritual, or hiding from it (“Hiding from God” Genesis 3:8, “How did you know you were naked?” Genesis 3:11). When we don’t see ourselves as Divine, we can easily instead experience nakedness, vulnerability, guilt, shame, and rebellion. We must rise above, recognize, and realize (see Romans 11:6; Ephesians 2:8–10) and thus fall in love with the God within and share it.
Our Lady of Vladimir: The Virgin of Tenderness
Our Lady of Vladimir, my personal favorite icon, also known as Vladimir Mother of God, and the Theotokos of Vladimir, is a 12th-century Byzantine icon depicting the Virgin and Child.
Icons are images of a sacred person or scene used in the Eastern churches of the Christian world. True icons are the culmination of a long period of prayer, meditation, and fasting undertaken by the artist. In this way, the artist is brought close in spirit to God. Thus, icons are often called “a meeting of heaven and earth” or “windows into heaven.”
This icon, depicting the Virgin Mary with the infant Christ nestled against her cheek, is also known as “The Virgin of Tenderness.” From antiquity, Mary has been called “Theotokos” or “God-Bearer” (Mother of God). The Theotokos is the most elevated human being in the Eastern and Western church. She is the ultimate example of the human capacity to surrender, trusting in God and following that trust.
May each of us begin again and truly live, believing that we are made in the image of God. Let us manifest selfless love, let us be the Light in the world, and with joy in our hearts, let us be of service to others. Let us truly reflect the birth of Christ in our souls. This Divine heart within is a spiritual portrait of the heart of the universe: strongly aglow with the divine fire, beaming light in every direction, and at the same time open because it is wounded.
Wishing a Joyous Christmas, Winter Solstice, belated Chanukah, and a Happy New Year to you all and our world. May our prayers be our words in deeds, and may our earth be made very peaceful because of each of us.
Spices, herbal medicines, essential oils, and distilled natural products provide a rich source of compounds for the discovery and production of novel antiviral drugs. The determination of the antiviral mechanisms of these natural products has revealed how they interfere with the viral life cycle, i.e., during viral entry, replication, assembly, or discharge, as well as virus-specific host targets.
A number of essential oils exhibit anti-viral and anti-influenza activities. These include Cinnamomum zeylanicum leaf oil (cinnamon), Citrus bergamia (bergamot), Cymbopogon flexuosus (lemongrass) and Thymus vulgaris (Red Thyme). In studies, a blend of essential oils has been proven to inhibit the infectivity of influenza virus via inactivating viral binding ability and viral protein translation.
Eucalyptus essential oil has been shown to improve the innate cell-mediated immune response and can be used as an immunoregulatory agent against infectious diseases.,Tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil are capable of inactivating influenza virus A. Geranium and lemon essential oils downregulate ACE2, a SARS-CoV-2 spike receptor-binding domain in epithelial cells, and are valuable natural anti-viral agents that may contribute to the prevention of the invasion of SARS-CoV-2 into the human body.
Tea tree essential oil inhibits influenza during the early stages by preventing intracellular processing of the viral particle. When introduced into cell culture media, tea tree oil prevented viral uncoating by interfering with the acidification of the endosomes and membrane fusion. The ability to prevent endosome acidification was ascribed to the tea treeessential oil constituents terpinen-4-ol, α-terpineol and terpinolene. Tea treeessential oil, when actively diffused with a nebulizer for two seconds, cleared nearly all airborne influenza viruses at 10 minutes, and showed zero virus at 15 minutes post nebulizer treatment. Eucalyptus essential oil showed zero virus at 15 minutes following a 15 second period of active diffusion with a nebulizer.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) essential oil has been used extensively to prevent HSV infection and to inhibit influenza viruses. Lemon balm essential oil has been shown to prevent attachment of the virus to host cell surface cell receptors. Studies show that viral induced autophagy was effectively inhibited by clove bud (Eugenia caryophyllata) essential oil and eugenol in cells infected with 8 separate flu viruses. And a blend of clove bud and sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) essential oils has been shown to inhibit viral protein production.
Essential oils are complex mixtures of compounds and several essential oil components may act synergistically to inhibit the virus. For example, a study evaluated the in vitro antiviral effect against influenza type A (H1N1) of commercial essential oils that included cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), bergamot (Citrus bergamia), lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). The oils were tested in the liquid phase at a concentration of 0.3% and in the vapor phase. The oils of cinnamon, bergamot, thyme, and lemongrass displayed 100% inhibition of H1N1 in the liquid phase, while the inhibition for lavender essential oil was 85%. However, in the vapor phase, 100% inhibition was observed only for cinnamon leaf essential oil after 30 min of exposure. The bergamot, lemongrass, thyme, and lavender essential oils displayed inhibition rates of 95%, 90%, 70%, and 80%, respectively.
Limonene is a terpene compound found in many citrus oils. It may be a possible agent or adjuvant against infection, immunity, and inflammation in COVID-19.
There are a variety of ways to use essential oils. For optimal results, I recommend using a blend of oils. To use essential oils therapeutically:
Treat face masks by sprinkling a few drops onto the outer surface;
As an aerosol disinfectant or a surface sanitizing agent, combine 5% essential oil blend, 60% alcohol and 35% distilled water in a spray bottle;
Add essential oil to a diffuser;
Mix with a carrier oil and rub on hands and neck area. Use 5% EO blend to carrier oil (a blend of coconut and almond oil is very nice);
Add to a bath with Epsom salts and mustard powder (I like Dr. Singha’s Mustard Bath with essential oils). Use 1-2 cups of Epsom salts, 1 tablespoon mustard powder, 1 tablespoon of baking soda and 10-20 drops of essential oil blend. Taking this bath before bedtime with a diaphoretic tea blend is wonderful for helping with fevers, chills, and body aches.
Inhalation steam: Add 3-5 drops to a bowl of hot water, lean your head over the bowl, put a towel over your head and bowl, and breathe in the vapor.
Surgical masks are helpful for preventing virus spread into the air and transmission to humans. However, after mask removal, the virus remains on the mask and is probably re-aerosolized, increasing the risk of human infection. Coating the mask with a few drops of essential oil, or spraying the mask with an aerosol spray of essential oil blend as described above, may be helpful.
Along with antiviral activity, there may be some relief of symptoms of COVID-19 provided by essential oils including relaxation and mood enhancement. For example, a systematic review and meta-analysis (65 RTCs) review paper on the effects of lavender essential oil found lavender to be very effective at reducing anxiety.
There are nondrug therapeutic strategies targeting inflammatory and immunological processes that may be useful for reducing COVID-19-induced complications and improving patient outcome. For example, vagal nerve stimulation has a wide field of therapeutic benefit for patients and could easily be combined with the best current medical strategies. Vagus nerve stimulation attenuates inflammation both in experimental models and preliminary data in people. The development of non-invasive vagal nerve stimulation, a non-pharmacological adjuvant, may help reduce the burden of COVID-19 and could be investigated more thoroughly. Continuous vagal tone monitoring in patients with COVID-19 could be used as a predictive marker of COVID-19 illness, as well as a predictive marker of response to COVID-19 treatment such as VNS or others.
Activation of your vagus nerve counteracts your sympathetic nervous system. Stimulating the vagus nerve is a quick and easy way to relieve anxiety and is the “yin” activator that can reduce heart rate and blood pressure and stimulate digestion.
The vagus nerve functions in the service of awakening (sub or super) consciousness and in immortality – the connection to Spirit. This system is described in the Tibetan Inner Fire meditations as well as in the Taoist, “shen” breathing practices.
When you stimulate your vagus nerve, it releases an array of anti-stress enzymes and hormones such as acetylcholine, prolactin, vasopressin, and oxytocin. Vagus nerve stimulation is associated with benefits such as improved memory, immune function, sleep, and higher levels of growth hormone. It can also help to regulate immune function – buffering inflammation, allergic responses, and even tension headaches. Increased positive social connections are also beneficial for your overall wellbeing. Positive emotions, positive social connections, and physical health influence one another in a self-sustaining upward-spiral dynamic.
Repetitive meditation or prayer, often with beads or knotted ropes, and controlled deep breathing are other relaxation technique that can have health benefits.
In these challenging times, when we’re constantly confronted with uncertainty, one of the most beneficial things we can do for our emotional and physical wellbeing is to practice being present, calm, and grateful. I recommend preparing a relaxing candlelight bath with lavender essential oil and reading and reflecting on something you find spiritually nourishing to relieve stress and lift the spirits.
“We need to make the kind of society where it is easier for people to be good.”
Peter Maurin (1877–1949)
Many of us are looking forward to once again gathering with friends and family at Thanksgiving. Along with enjoying our favorite delicious holiday foods and other traditions, let’s remember that the heart of Thanksgiving is gratitude. In the midst of the crucible of change that the world is experiencing, we need to focus our attention and efforts on loving each other more, and doing what we can to make the world a better place for everyone.
I offer this simple Thanksgiving prayer of reflection: “May I trust my own goodness. May I see the goodness in others. May we always remain hopeful and live in the present with gratitude and love in our hearts.”
“Hope says God has not abandoned us in the world … He pursues us, dwells in us, intervenes for us and will not forget us.” Scott McClellian
Apples: A Traditional Harvest Food
Celebrating the bounty of the harvest is one of the joys of Thanksgiving. Apples are among
my favorite fall foods, and the humble fruit has a wide array of health benefits. There’s a lot of truth in the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
Apples are a good source of nutrients, including minerals, dietary fiber, antioxidants, and ursolic acid. Preclinical studies have found apple pomace and its isolated extracts improve lipid metabolism, antioxidant status, and gastrointestinal function and demonstrate a positive effect on metabolic disorders (eg, hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, etc.).
Epidemiological studies show that frequent apple consumption is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and that apples are an ideal food for cholesterol management.,,Consumption of apples and the individual flavonoid compounds, quercetin and epicatechin are associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality.
Apples contain over one hundred phenolic compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.These phenolic acids and flavonoids comprise six major classes: phenolcarboxylic acids (e.g., chlorogenic acid), anthocyanins (e.g., cyanidin glycosides), flavonols (e.g., quercetin glycosides), dihydrochalcones (e.g., phloridzin), flavan-3-ols (e.g., catechin), and procyanidins (e.g., procyanidin B2).
Synergy is the Key
The key to the health benefits of apples is the combination of active compounds, known as the synergistic effect. A major proportion of the bioactive components in apples, including high molecular weight polyphenols, are converted by the colonic microbiota to bioavailable and biologically active compounds with systemic health benefits, in addition to modulating microbial composition.
Apples have been found to inhibit chronic disease, including cancer cell proliferation,,,and tumors.,
In studies, fresh Red Delicious apple extract inhibited cell proliferation in a dose-dependent manner in colon cancer. Apple extract also inhibited human liver tumor cells. Researchers found that tumor proliferation was inhibited 57% by extract containing apple skin and 40% by extract not containing skin.
Apples inhibit tyrosinase and possess anti-melanoma effects in B16 mouse melanoma cells, as well.
For those trying to lose excess weight, I highly recommend eating an apple before a meal. Apples are low in calories, highly nutritious, and help you to feel satisfied and less hungry. There are other health benefits to eating an apple daily, as well. A recent study found that whole Gala apple consumption is an effective dietary strategy to mitigate high fat meal-induced postprandial inflammation that exacerbates cardiovascular disease risk in overweight and obesity. And another recent study showed the replacement of calories in the Western diet with apple pomace attenuated non-alcoholic fatty liver disease risk.
Have a blessed Thanksgiving!
“I am not this hair, I am not this skin, I am the soul that lives within.” ~ Rumi
Do you know how New York City got the nickname “The Big Apple”?
Although New York State is America’s top apple grower, after the state of Washington, the New York City nickname has nothing to do with fruit production. The Big Apple moniker first gained popularity in connection with horseracing. Around 1920, New York City newspaper reporter John Fitz Gerald, whose beat was the track, heard African-American stable hands in New Orleans say they were going to “the big apple,” a reference to New York City, whose race tracks were considered big-time venues. Fitz Gerald soon began making mention of the Big Apple in his newspaper columns. In the 1930s, jazz musicians adopted the term to indicate New York City was home to big-league jazz clubs.
Let the godly sing for joy to the Lord; it is fitting for the pure to praise him. Praise the Lord with melodies on the lyre; make music for him on the ten-stringed harp. Sing a new song of praise to him; play skillfully on the harp, and sing with joy. Psalm 33: 1-3
Jazz as a Path to the Creator
John Coltrane’s commitment to experimentation and exploration, his cross-cultural interests, and his spirituality as much as his musicianship have made him a hero to me and many others. His work inspires the understanding that jazz music, at its core, is spiritual, even to those that don’t realize it. Consider, for a moment, the unifying power of jazz. Every culture embraces jazz and gives it its own spin. Musicians of all colors, races, religions, ages, and backgrounds, play music together and make it as ONE; just as the universe is ONE, and we are all part of that ONE.