June 25, 2009

Treasure hunter finds rainforest gold

Posted in Between Us column, Health at 3:58 am by dinaheng

John Easterling has always had a fascination with treasure hunting.

After graduating from the University of North Carolina with a degree in environmental science, he sold his car and bought a ticket to Ecuador to look for lost cities of gold. When he didn’t find any, he began to buy local handicraft items and developed a business around selling the native wares.

The promise of gem stones lured him to Brazil, then to Peru, where he started exploring the Amazon Rainforest, trading with the Shipibo Indians and other tribes for their ceramics, monkey bones and artifacts. Then, in 1982, he got sick.

“I had hepatitis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever before I went to Peru, which left me physically compromised,” says Easterling, who caught a low-grade jungle fever. “The indigenous community started making these teas and sharing them with me. I had no expectations, but after three or four days, I felt a lot better. After a few weeks, I felt better than I ever had in my life.”dinah-eng-21

Easterling took some of the Gato vine (Uncaria Tomentosa) and Chanca Piedra shrub (Phyllanthus Niruri) with him, making teas for himself over the next couple of years. He became convinced that the medicinal healing properties of plants were the real treasure of the Rainforest, and started the Amazon Herb Company.

“The Indians starting telling me fascinating stories about healing,” Easterling says. “No one from the outside had been interested in this before. There were plants in different areas used for different illnesses. I began working with different practitioners to formulate our products.”

Established in 1990, the company developed nutritional supplements and skin care products, and works to preserve the Rainforest. Easterling envisions using eco-commerce for Rainforest sustainability, promoting health, and of course, making money for himself.

While the efficacy of his products may be different for each person, Easterling’s belief in the power of the Rainforest botanicals makes sense to me.

“Everything has an energy and vibration,” Easterling says. “The resonance and frequency of what we put in our bodies is so important. A plant in the middle of Iowa sees only plants like itself and is sprayed with chemicals and toxins. When you eat that corn, you’re taking in the stress of the life of that corn plant.

“The information ingrained in the Rainforest plants is about survival of the fittest, and living in a place of balance and harmony. I find that when I eat things from the Rainforest, I don’t need to eat as much. The plants there are sending messages to us about healing.”

While there is no U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversight of Rainforest products, the ingredients cited in products like Zamu — a nutritional drink that touts Camu Camu, a Rainforest fruit with high concentrations of Vitamin C — sound like they’d certainly offer health benefits to anyone.

It’s good that we’re paying more attention to what we put in our bodies. For example, the popularity of acai berries — touted for their weight loss benefits — is understandable  because there’s no doubt that berries and other fruits are a key part of any healthy diet promoting weight loss. Whether there’s anything special about acai’s ability to help you lose those pounds, though, is unproven.

As more research is done on the medicinal properties of Rainforest plants, I have no doubt that new drugs will emerge for many diseases. What’s important is recognizing that whatever we eat is only a part of how we treat our bodies every day. The mind, body and spirit are connected, and we must take care of the wholeness of who we are.

For Easterling, the hunt for cities of gold may have ended, but he looks forward to the discoveries ahead in the Rainforest.

“The Amazon Rainforest produces 30 percent of the world’s oxygen, and is our planet’s greatest climate stabilizer,” he says. “Seventy percent of the world’s plants showing anti-cancer activity came from the Rainforest. From a global perspective, the real treasure is the Rainforest itself.”

June 24, 2009

Los Angeles Times articles…

Posted in Business at 5:16 am by dinaheng

Many thanks to the Los Angeles Times for putting articles I’ve written for them online.  Stories run the gamut from entertainment and travel to real estate and homes coverage.  If you’d like to check some of them out, click here.

June 18, 2009

Do you love your job?

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Employment, Spirituality at 2:07 am by dinaheng

In a world where most of us spend much — if not most — of our waking hours working, thinking about work, dreading work, or postponing work, two authors are urging us to take a step back and look at what work really means to us.

Philosopher Alain de Botton, author of “The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work” (Pantheon Books, $26), recently made an audience at The Getty Center in Los Angeles twitter — aloud — at his witty observations of today’s workaholics.

“To be alive in the modern age is to never be far from a career crisis,” De Botton says. “We exhaust ourselves partly through megalomania. We’ve come to believe the essence of a person is what we do. People ask, ‘What do you do?’ not just to find out about status and connections, but to find out about our identity.”

Yet who we are, as human beings, has less to do with the way we earn money than the way we treat ourselves and others. De Botton’s book explores a number of occupations, ranging from fisherman to aircraft salesman to painter, giving witness to what his subjects did every day.dinah-eng-21

What isn’t as clear are the answers to the questions he explores… What makes work pleasurable? How do we decide what jobs to pursue? In a time of economic uncertainty, what meaning does work have?

“Work becomes meaningful when we’re able to either alleviate suffering or produce delight for someone else,” De Botton says. “Most people are stuck in such large systems that’s it’s hard to feel like you’re making a difference with your work. Eighty percent of Americans work in a company with more than 500 employees. There isn’t enough meaningful contact.”

So how do we create more meaning in our work?  In our lives? Chris Gardner, owner and CEO of Gardner Rich LLC and the inspiration for the movie “The Pursuit of Happiness” (which starred Will Smith as Chris), says it all in the title of his new book, “Start Where You Are…Life Lessons in Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be” (Amistad, $26.99).

“Focus on achieving balance in your life, and not just balance in your checking account,” Gardner says. “Then ask yourself, what is the one thing that turns you on like nothing else in the world? Find the passion, then figure out how to do it. Forget Plan B. A lot of people go for Plan B, which is practicality. There is no Plan B for passion. Plan B is for everybody not committed to Plan A.”

Whatever plans many of us had in the last couple of years have been tossed out the window with a recession that’s cut into our savings and eliminated jobs in every sector. But as Gardner points out, there are opportunities all around us if we’ve brave enough to really answer the question: What is it I’d really like to do with my life?

For those who have been laid off, Gardner advises forgetting about finding another job.

“You’re not going to find a job right now,” Gardner says. “Focus on creating an opportunity for yourself. You’ve lost your job, but you haven’t lost your skills and talent. What do you enjoy? Detroit’s ground zero for the unemployment rate, but those workers all have skills. It’ll be interesting to see how many people there take those skills and do something with them.”

His book is filled with practical and inspirational advice for how to get to the next place in your life — whether that next place is centered around work or a personal goal. The lessons are to the point, in your face, and full of positive energy.

Chapter headings tell the story — “Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Yesterday?,” “Supply and Demand Ain’t Rocket Science,” “It Takes as Much Energy to Bag an Elephant as It Does a Mouse” or “Make Your Dream Bigger Than Yourself.”

Whether it’s work or home, many of us hold onto limiting behaviors because of what we were taught. Gardner says we’re all made of spiritual genetics. We were given our parents’ physical attributes, but we don’t have to emulate their behavior or values.

“A lot of us, when we wind up on our butts, need to ask, ‘How did I get here?’ “ Gardner says. “The answer is, ‘I drove here.’ That answer is empowering because then I can say, ‘I can also drive out of here.’ The cavalry ain’t coming to the rescue. We were all born with a spirit that can embrace the light or the darkness. I believe we choose the soul of who we are.”

So if life (or your job) isn’t working out the way you want, maybe it’s time to do something about it.

June 11, 2009

To be a hero…

Posted in Between Us column at 2:44 am by dinaheng

The first thing my niece and nephews did when they saw Darth Vader was to run up and sneak under his big, black cape, squealing with delight. Not that he was their hero, but Star Wars characters are a family favorite. And since Vader was made of LEGOs, he didn’t seem to mind.

Riley, 6; Will and Hannah, 4-year-old twins, and Colin, 2, were on their first California vacation, and their parents and I followed them to Legoland, just north of San Diego. Adults may think we’re the ones leading the way, but when it comes to having adventures in life, kids are the ones who have no fear.

Wherever you go in Legoland, a 128-acre family theme park, there are amazing life-like models made from more than 35 million LEGO bricks. There are busts of luminaries like President Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein, replicas of city skylines, and animals ranging from tiny rabbits to huge elephants.dinah-eng-21

The challenge is to keep the kids from climbing on them, or climbing over the little fences meant to separate the models from the humans. As we walked through Miniland USA, my brother-in-law Danny was constantly catching one child or another who had one foot over the fence before he or she became the giant who leveled Las Vegas.

The theme of the park is “Heroes Wanted,” a lesson taught to young and old alike.

“The hero theme is present throughout the activities and rides,” explains Lynn Crockett, education programs manager for Legoland. “The children are not passive participants. They’re in charge. They make the decisions on how fast or slow rides go in some situations. There are attractions where they’re simulating heroes in real life, like fire fighters, or imaginary heroes, like Bionicles.

“Research shows that children remember things better if they’re actively doing and achieving something themselves. We want kids to feel a sense of empowerment over their own lives, and to know they can make an impact in the world.”

While there are roller coasters and a wicked in the air, upside-down-sideways contraption that looks like it’d break your neck ride in the Castle Hill area, most of the rides are very calm. It was great fun watching the kids “drive” their own cars and pilot helicopters that moved up and down.

Moving from one section of the park to another, we adults pushed the kids in double strollers. The kids, of course, jumped out when we’d pass a gift shop to see what they could find. Star Wars light sabers were the toy of choice.

At one point, two-year-old Colin pointed his light saber at a little girl nearby, who was a good foot taller than he was, and lunged at her with all his Jedi might. When we made him stop, the little girl, who was holding a toy sword and shield, was clearly disappointed.

“I was hoping he’d play with me,” she said, quietly.

Ah, who knows what lurks in the minds of fair maidens?

Riley, the oldest, has been a Star Wars fan since he was a toddler, watching all the “Star Wars” movies with his dad. Being the big brother in the family, he’s already shown a hero’s heart that looks out for everyone. When I asked Riley if he wanted to be a Jedi when he grows up, his mom noted, “I think he already is one.”

At dinner that night, Riley sat next to his dad, who pulled out his wallet to pay the bill.

“Dad, are you rich?” he asked.

“Yes, Riley,” Danny replied. “I am rich. I’m rich because I have you, Will, Hannah, Colin, and your mom. People who are rich aren’t the ones who have money. People are rich if they love their family, and love God.”

Now that’s a real hero’s lesson.

June 4, 2009

“Cellular Wisdom” is in us all…

Posted in Between Us column, Spirituality, Women at 4:11 am by dinaheng

For every woman who tries to achieve anything, there’s always a challenge she must confront in order to succeed.

Sometimes that challenge is a familiar one, giving us a sinking feeling in our gut as we approach it. Sometimes the challenge is unanticipated, and hits us out of the blue. Unless we understand and resolve those roadblocks, we may sideline ourselves with our own fears.

A new book, “Cellular Wisdom for Women: An Inner Work Book” by Joan C. King, Ph.D. (Word Keepers, Inc. $20), offers women tools to explore the inner self and change the outer behaviors that prevent us from living the lives we want.dinah-eng-21

A former professor and department chair at Tufts University School of Medicine, King was also a Dominican nun for nearly a decade before leaving the convent to enter academia. She has merged scientific research with spiritual principles in her book, showing how cells in the body can model our beliefs.

“We are hybrids of spirit and matter,” says King, a chemist with a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology. “Cells took a billion years for DNA to come together and evolve, learning how to become a functioning cell. It took another billion years before cells learned to specialize, and we became multi-cellular organisms.

“I believe that cells contain the wisdom that’s embedded in the life force of ourselves. When beliefs tell us, ‘No, I can’t do that,’ it shuts down the life force and restricts what cells can take in. We shut ourselves down in many ways because of our beliefs.”

For King, the self-exploration that led to writing her book, began with a sabbatical from Tufts in 1997. She found herself facing the fear of not knowing who she was without an academic title.

“I took a lot of writing classes, and began to write about cellular wisdom,” King says. “What if I’d been looking through a lens to study cells, but had missed a major reality — that the cells were not just a vehicle for moving around physically, but also contained the teachings of how to live exuberantly? ”

So what did King do? The author, who has a fear of heights and water, jumped off a mountain and went parasailing.

Joan C. King

Joan C. King

“The feeling of elation when those sails filled the air was amazing,” King says. “I knew I’d be fine because I’d let a belief go. We know we’ve escaped a (limiting) belief when our cells feel the elation and vitality physically. It’s a sense of expansion, and we gain confidence.  We begin to see options that we could have never seen before because our beliefs are like the lens of a camera, and can shut down the possibilities we see.”

The book gives exercises to identify feelings and beliefs, and suggestions for action steps to address limiting ideas. King explores beliefs like “I’m not good enough,” “I can’t (do or have something), until…” and “Why am I so emotional?”

King, now a life coach based in Loveland, Colo., is writing a series of books on several aspects of “Cellular Wisdom.” (www.cellular-wisdom.com)

“Most of the time, it’s not until people have met a tragedy or problem that they explore these things,” King says. “Or they have met a certain level of success and ask, is that all there is? It’s a crisis of meaning. Many of us have gone down a road and there’s a moment of recognizing we’ve outgrown it, or it’s not enough. It’s the yearning of the spirit that leads us to these searches.”

So when you reach out to be more than you think you are, don’t worry about hitting that wall of resistance and fear.

As King says, “That’s the challenge — to go through it — and meet the greatness of who we are.”