Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Why Taste Matters

I entered a portal to the perfect-health dimension last Saturday. As my feet  landed on the other side of bright orange entrance doors, I felt a ticklish current move through my waters. I knew I had been transported someplace really special. I had arrived at Satmya.

Rows of potions and lotions glimmered and shimmered from rustic, wooden shelves; teas and tonics and oils and elixirs beamed vitality; rosehip oil and calendula cream oozed soothing, uplifting scents. Books of wisdom and ancient texts of lore offered the seeds to spiritual enlightenment.

I breathed in a ‘this-is-lovely’ breath and further explored its otherworldly terrain. Once satisfied, I did what I came to do: attend an Ayurvedic winter cooking class. Boy, did I absorb some quality info.

I have already posted  on the basic principle of Ayurvedic Medicine. For a brief summary, view it here: http://audreyshanahan.blogspot.com/2010/10/petals-in-air.html

Anywho, what I learned on Saturday was mostly how the six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent) influence our humours or individual constitutions. In Ayurveda there are three humours: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. All of these humours are made up in differing proportions of the five great elements. In turn, the elements are associated with specific tastes. Tastes are our biggest clue when deciding what is best for us individually. For example, a person with a dominant Pitta humour (fire and water) may want to avoid pungent tastes such as raw onions and chillies. Overdosing on such tastes could well light the fires of indignation. Not cool. Choose sweet, earthy tastes to pacify the Pitta bull.

I also learned how choosing seasonally relevant tastes can optimize health. For instance, in early winter, which is the current season, the Kapha (water and earth) principle naturally dominates. Kapha tastes are generally sweet, so individual Kapha types may want to veer away from sweet and earthy root vegetables at this time of year or risk aggravation/overload/heaviness.

There’s much more to discover. Satmya’s website www.satmya.com is chock-full of information. Click on their link below to find out your personal dosha. http://satmya.com/satmya/ayurveda/dosha-quiz/

Friday, 19 November 2010

Ireland Will Rise from the Ashes

This post is going to make a hypocrite of me. Last night I didn’t just watch the news, I watched Prime Time. The sheer scale of the nation’s financial crisis drew me in the way spinach does Popeye. With one exception: the news’s effect on my physical state was more shock than strength-enhancing. Wow, as Harry said to Marv in Home Alone when the ceiling fell through, what a hole.

I won’t go into how the presence of the IMF and the European Central Bank is going to erode our sovereignty. Or how debt forgiveness laws in our country are archaic, or how the next budget will likely reveal a plan that trumpets bleeding money into flailing banks over encouraging economic growth. I won’t go into it because everyone everywhere is going into it more than most of us can stomach. And personally, I feel that economists are really the only people who are qualified to gauge the outcome. Not politicians with dubious credentials or journalists with egos, and certainly not me - however accurate I may think my ill-supported guesstulations are.

Why, oh why, I ask myself, isn’t there a system in place that sees to it that only the most qualified - and not the most charming and manipulative - sit in positions of major importance? Doesn’t it seem like a no-brainer? How did we not see the importance of brainpower? There is a difference - a major one - between intelligence and cunning, the latter being the prized quality of the modern-day politician. The good news: we now clearly see the Emperor is naked.

Anyway, I digress. I’ll give my positive twist; my entirely subjective, if flaky, opinion on how the situation may actually turn in our favour.

For one thing: the truth is about to out. No longer will the Irish people be lured by false promises. No longer will we be hoodwinked by cunning spin. The bamboozling is over. The game is up. There is going to be major systemic change in this country. We may even veer towards total social equality, which was, let us remember, the dream of the patriots who began again our country's journey to independence in 1916. Funny that it was Fianna Fail that quashed their dreams, too.

 How could we not change to socially conscious government now we’ve seen what money-obsessed neo-liberal ideologues are capable of? Possibly, and this is wildly optimistic, we may even change our views on how Government itself is structured. Maybe we'll see through the whole power myth and realize that we alone are our masters. These are exciting times, no doubting it.

We’re at a crossroads. We have decisions to make - even though it may take a few years before we’re totally free to implement them. I believe in evolution and I believe in Ireland. Mostly, though, I believe in the people of Ireland.

We will rise again. We don't need to wear ourselves down with anger or violence or upheaval. We need to get wise. 

Henry Ford said: “Failure is only the opportunity to more intelligently begin again.”

I agree. I am in no way undermining the stress families are under when I say that. Our system has failed us spectacularly and I have nothing but compassion for those who have been forced to bear the brunt of it.

Let us never let it happen to us again.There is no greater teacher than suffering.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

The News Today

I walked in on my dad last night. He was doing it again: watching the main evening news. Generally, when I hear the bullet-spray beat of the terrorising intro music, I dive for a safe corner. I dread to see those stern faced harbingers of doom (reporters) sensationalising reality for the worse.

In fact, if I were to take a no-holds-barred shot at expressing my disdain for the news, I’d say this: I abhor it in full awareness of how strong a word abhor actually is.

I just don’t think it helps anyone’s mental health. It provokes, aggravates, shocks and startles – because hat’s what it’s designed to do. I earned a Masters in journalism a couple of years ago. A chief condition of that award was my demonstration of an understanding of the art of news making. Man, was that a slog. I mean, besides a shrink, who wants to understand madness?

I sat pale faced as I listened to lecturers explain to us – as though it were a noble art – how to shock the socks off people.  Points were awarded for adding a ‘shock factor.’ “This is what the people want,” we were told. Our seniors told us, in no uncertain terms, that fear and awe were the most important components of news journalism. They told us to occasionally mix the horror with heart warming animal stories. “People like animals too,” the sages would say. Notice how after subjecting you to war and violence and corruption, reporters will flick to daisy the dolphin in Florida who can flip right through a tiny plastic ring. It’s insulting.

Well, they didn’t persuade me to follow their write-by-numbers approach to news. I couldn’t and still can’t be persuaded to make people miserable, which is why I’m blogging and writing fiction with my time. Thing is, I’d prefer to make my world up as I go along. I figure that if it’s all going to be plucked from the ether, I’d prefer to do the plucking myself rather than have someone else do it for me. That way, I at least get to smile a few times a day instead of passively listening to people tell me the world is ending.

Funny story about my sister Jen:

When Jen was small, mam tells us, she would protest to the news by draping a cloth over the television screen. This would get my news-loving parents up in arms. “Take that down! We’re trying to watch the news.”

Jen’s protest never worked because she was smaller than my parents. But what her elders didn’t understand was that she wasn’t just smaller than them – she was wiser, too; and sensitive to the mood that would wash over the room once the blaring bulletins got in. She probably felt like she had a duty to protect her family since both her parents were hypnotised in their armchairs. Imagine the pressure? Both parents down, infected by the negativity, her - the next most senior person in the room, watching the happiness ship go under. She undoubtedly honoured her duty of care to her younger siblings by reaching for a cloth and, for that, kudos to her – even though her peaceful rebellion was ultimately squashed like a bug. Come hell or high water, we all had to sit and listen to the always well-groomed Ann Doyle elegantly dish the dirt.

It all boils down to this, I think:

Children are super sentient and pick up on negative vibrations more discerningly than adults. Grown ups have long become numbed, and perhaps addicted, to bad news. Children just want to play unperturbed with their toys. They appreciate peace and happiness.

Why can’t we?

Does the fact that I still hide from the news mean I should be playing with alphabet bocks? I hope not, though many would say it does.

I don’t care. I’d rather watch oops TV with Justin Lee Collins than listen to hell’s bells.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

School has disappeared...

When I was smaller, around the size of a street bin, I remember walking to school with my older brother and two younger siblings. My brother, head of the litter, would tell us that the school had disappeared; that it had been swallowed up by the mist and fog. This would make our stomachs bubble explosively in the kind of excitement that encouraged the morning’s porridge to erupt out of our mouths. “The school’s disappeared, the school’s disappeared,” we would bounce and shout and scream, our minds insane on freedom. We’d walk through the haze, pirouetting and skipping out of sight of one another. “I can’t see you. Where have you gone? You’ve disappeared!”

The world had been veiled from our eyes in a cloak of ethereal white air. We played with the limitless possibilities it offered; ran and zig-zagged like young pups. We grasped the untouchable cloak of fog in search of one another. “Come back, it’s not funny,” the younger ones might shriek after a minor silence; to which we, the wise elders, would respond before their distress got out of hand. Sometimes.

But, alas, the blazing fires of our passion were put out at the sight of the school building as we approached it. The mist, we then learned, was not as magic as it seemed. My big brother, already versed in the ways of the real world, would look at us apologetically, as though he knew how it felt to have lofty dreams crumble. But his game was worth playing, worth believing in; even if it only lasted a few dewy minutes.

In a child’s life, a few minutes of magic moments live forever. To this day, when I open my curtains and see a heavy mist, I wonder if the real world, with all its responsibilities and chores, has disappeared.

I hope children still play that game.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Is there anybody out there?

Her name is Mazlan Othman, she’s an astrophysicist and the UN has so much confidence in her they’re getting ready to appoint her to greet ETs. Yes, you heard right - the UN are appointing an envoy to welcome ETs. It’s unlikely the meeting will be over coffee at the UN’s New York headquarters, but it’s looking increasingly likely there will be a meeting. And now that we’ve accepted that, we’ve started to get ready for the big day. We’ve chosen a leader.

The Case for Aliens

Stephen Hawking, the earth’s eminent physicist, told The Times of London in an interview in April:  "To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational…The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like."

In the same interview, Hawking also said: “I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. The outcome for us would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”

His opinion, and that’s all it is, creates a few points of contention for this writer. The first one: In anticipating what aliens may be like, he assumes that they are exploitative beings who want to make contact only because they’ve bankrupted their own resources. This is cynicism at its most grandiose. He’s basically saying, ‘they’re not curious, they’re hungry, now RUN for your lives.’

The second point of contention: Hawking uses an historical reference – an earthly one at that - to anticipate an event in the future. His thinking goes along the following lines: ‘Well, I know that the last time unkown lands were discovered here on earth, the explorers pillaged and wrecked the place, so that’s bound to be what will happen when the aliens arrive.’

Perhaps, and this is only a suggestion, we should make sure Hawking is busy when the aliens arrive? Because the man has a flaw and it’s this – he’s a scaredy cat. ‘This bad thing happened in the past, so it’s going to happen again in the future,’ is not the strongest belief system. If an individual reported to their doctor with Hawking’s beliefs, that doctor, or any loving person, would diagnose the individual with low self-esteem. The individual would also be encouraged to see things in a more positive light. Unfortunately, we seem to accept low self-esteem and fear-based thinking on a collective level in a way we just don’t in a private individual.

How do you feel?

There’s no right or wrong answer, there’s just a preferred answer, and that’s open. That is, of course, assuming we all want a friendly universe - especially now that we’re coming to accept that the universe doesn’t just revolve around us.

Are you frightened? Intrigued? Ecstatic? Confused? I ask because your answer, our answer, will ultimately shape how the greatest ever meeting in history will go. The most important question we can ask, and Einstein will back me up on this, is: ‘Is the universe friendly?’  Our perceptions – this is scientifically proven – shape our reality. I’m not saying it’s simple, but I am saying that it’s science. If you anticipate friendliness, it’s likely that you’re going to be met with friendliness. For humanoids who need the support of empirical evidence, I will elaborate on that. To those of you who ‘just know’ and need no proof, I say, you’ll get something out of reading the proof anyway. Here it is:

The Observer Effect

What you observe as affects what you observe. Quantum physicists have collectively spent eons on this concept, trying to tidy it up and iron out all of its ambiguities. They found that each time they tried to prove a particular concept, they did indeed prove it. If they chose to disprove the very same one, then they could do that, too. How?

The most famous experiment, and the one that featured in the paradigm shifting documentary What The Bleep Do We Know? is the experiment conducted on light. It went like this:

Scientists shone a beam of light on a barrier with two open slits. Some of the light travelled through the barrier, indicating that light has the property of a wave. The rest of the light went through the slits, indicating that light also has a particle property. When they closed one slit, and left the other open, the light appeared as just a single shaft of light. Besides the fact that the experiments proved that light can be both a particle and a wave – at the same time – it proved that the behaviour of light depended on the experimental setup. Ask a question a certain way and you get a certain answer. That’s what quantum physicists call The Observer Effect.

Intriguing, eh? Not to mention the fact that we can use a word like behaviour when referring to light.

Is the universe friendly?

When a highly specialist, vast and intricate pattern appeared in a crop field in Chilbolton, England, on the morning of August 14th 2001, locals were left scratching their heads. Who had created it? How had they created it? Why did they create it? Darcy Ladd, manager of the nearby Chilbolton Radio Observatory, reported that no unusual activity had been detected the night before – either in the field or in the airspace above. How could they – whoever it was that formulated and executed the genius pattern – have gone undetected? An aerial view of the wheat art revealed a human face, expertly woven into the crops through a series of what looked like megapixels.

A few days later, another pattern or glyph appeared in a nearby field. The second glyph appeared to be a response to a transmission sent into deep space thirty years previously by the SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). SETI called it the Arecibo Glyph. Having calculated that it wouldn’t reach its destination - a star cluster in far space - for thousands of years, they reduced the crop message to hoax. Daniel Pinchbeck, New York based journalist and author, wasn’t satisfied with the brush off and investigated further. In an article for Wired magazine the following year, he addressed naked facts.

The original Arecibo message was fired into space as an encoded radio transmission. It contained the numbers one to 10, the atomic numbers of elements important to human life, a depiction of the physical structure of DNA, our solar system, a human figure, and the radio dish that was used to send the message. The response contained the following fascinating alterations:

-          Silicon – with an alternative atomic number
-          An altered strand of DNA
-          An altered solar system
-          A picture of a big-headed humanoid
-          A completely different transmitter.

Now, unless there are some brainiac individuals on this planet with knowledge and equipment the rest of us don’t have, the glyph was a pretty clear message that we’re not alone. If it’s taken for what it is, then we can assume that the aliens are friendly, too – since they’re swapping notes with us. But, alas, we’re human, and we don’t believe just any old thing. Maybe, then, we should just keep an open mind.


Da Vinci once famously said “I am still learning.” This summed up an attitude of total openness. He couldn’t, and we can’t, know all there is to know. How could we? The universe is constantly changing and evolving. We can only try to keep up with that change and avoid anchoring ourselves to the familiarity of fear-based beliefs. The unkown is not a place where bad things happen; it’s a place that hasn’t been explored yet. True, our history has taught us that explorers aren’t the nicest people, but history belongs in its place – the past. We take the positive lessons from it and dump the rest. Is that not what we do in our individual lives?  It has never been more important for us to replace our fear with curiosity. We are on the cusp of a complete paradigm shift. Even the UN thinks so. If it’s going to happen, why not embrace it? 

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

London, Gujarati-style

"Come in," Roshni motioned to me, "I’m just feeding the baby."

Roshni was a married Indian woman living in London in a five bedroom house with 13 of her fellow countrymen. I, at the time a down and out 24-year-old Irish girl, remember feeling grateful to finally have found a place to live. Yes, grateful – even though my new Gujarati house mates thought I was looking for a place to lay low. Why, oh why, they asked me with their eyes, would I choose to live among them? Who would choose to be the black, pardon me, white sheep?

The answer goes a bit like this: I had a broken heart, a Masters, no job, was broke, and the stupid ‘sub-prime’ recession was just sinking its teeth in. All of this and I wanted to live in London with my hip journo friends. So I compromised - by culling my beliefs, high standards and all manner of prejudicial attitudinal tendencies. I sucked it up. And it worked. It really, really worked. I had my own room in the house – the only person with that privilege, which helped. And in just a few months, I emerged through its door, 18 Chaplin Road, just off Wembley High Street, transformed. It helped enormously that my house mates turned out to be amongst the nicest, warmest people I have ever met.

 At first, of course, I didn't know that. So I neglected to tell my family and friends the gritty facts. I told them an outright lie – that I was living in a spacious house with people my own age with similar interests and career objectives – that we were all pals, it was cosy, fluffy, safe and warm. I wanted my loved ones to be able to sleep at night, even if I couldn’t. I had given them enough reason to doubt the viability of me as an Independent person - my recent solo trip to Vietnam to the detriment of my career and long-tem relationship just one. I was throwing dice with life just to see what would show up. I had nothing, nothing to lose. I figured if I tried to be brave, even if I didn’t really feel brave, that the universe would reward me.

Now, I’m not a gambler, but since my experience, I have learned that the odds of reward - especially when a person trusts and puts their heart into something - are huge. Scrap that – guaranteed.

My first night in the house was spent in Mr French’s arms. Mr French is a teddy bear (I’m human and I need comfort, forgive me). I had been in an unhealthy co-dependent relationship with Mr French (not my first) since my return from Asia. The deal went something like this: he hugged me at night and I made sure not to leave him face down on the floor when I left him alone for hours at a time. It worked.  And though I had to force his coarse, stubby arms around me at night, I felt safe. When the sound of adolescent Indian boys playing computer games in the next room filled mine, I’ll admit, I did cry. And I did ask myself what the hell I was doing, why I was doing it and if it was likely that I had completely lost my mind. And then, to prove to myself that I had, I took an internship, an unpaid internship. Why would I do that? Well, to get ahead, of course.

I remember being in the basement office of the magazine in central London, which was run by a self-serving businessman who I later discovered wasn’t paying anyone. After two weeks of hard graft and finger-numbing writing, I felt compelled by some force (possibly a proletariat aversion to exploitation) to tell him what I thought of him. I left without expenses or references. Besides an old Nokia phone, which caused me untold misery - and a borderline anorexic wallet - the cotton shopping bag I had been passing off as ‘boho chic’ was depressingly empty.

At that point, I figured I was karmically owed a windfall and that if I just hung on, it would come. It didn’t. All I had to my name was a box of weetabix, no milk and a loaf of bread (I did have butter). I started to cry, sometimes like a newborn. I was lost and afraid and felt that life was so unfair. Just so unfair. I started to talk to the man upstairs. I asked him to notice me, to see that I was trying with everything I had to make something of myself. I apologised for the mistakes of my past and asked for a clean slate. I told him I would do good things with my life if he would just grant me some fortune. I meant every word.

The next day, maybe not actually the next day, but very soon after, Kaushal, Roshni’s entrepreneur husband, asked me to write content for a business website of his. For money. ‘Act cool,’ I told myself, eyes ravenous for the green stuff. ‘How much, Kaushal?’ I asked, cool as. ‘Two weeks rent?’ Done. I had bought myself time; enough to land a job in a down trodden bar near Wembley Stadium. “Of course I know how to change a keg,” I smugly told the manager, “Piss easy, really.” When the time came, as it was inevitably going to, I bottled it. But before I did, I attempted the task, knowing full well I didn’t have the skills - a trait of mine that has led me down some dark roads, particularly where machines are concerned.

I, mechanically-challenged person, released a lever I guessed was relevant to the job. “Oh no,” I croaked, a mili-second later, “I immediately regret this decision.” I heard an angry, hissing release of gas and imagined being blown out through the doors of the pub onto the street, my life cut short. I ran for it upstairs to the owner’s flat. Holding back tears, I came clean. I kept my job, but gained a reputation as the token blonde ditz. I could accept that. It was a humbling lesson in honesty. I grew from it.

What followed was a chain of events that I can only put down to fate, orchestrated, of course, by a force I can only call mysterious. A kind Irish woman I met in an Irish pub - whose daughter worked for a large media firm - arranged an interview for me. Just like that. I began meditation (to relieve myself of mounting tension) and found a centre, just on my doorstep, where it was offered for free. Gratuit. No charge. In this day and age, that is a rare thing. I grew and grew in personal awareness and strength. I climbed my way steadily to where I am today: author of a debut novel, which my agent thinks will be published, called The Enlightenment Trail. I live in Ireland, with my boyfriend, and am an exceedingly happy person who doesn’t tell all that many lies. There’s not much I’d be afraid to try at this stage. I know now that it’s possible to get where you want to go if you just trust. I don’t mean that in a ‘to hell with responsibility’ way. I mean it in a ‘if the world challenges you for all you have, call its bluff,’ kind of way.

I have since left Mr French. I don’t know where I got the strength. I left him on the landing in Chaplin Road, face up, hopeful that someone would find him and love him the way I did. I was flying with this country’s notorious cheap airline company and had to be strict with myself on space. It was a cold act, but one that ultimately freed us both.

To any graduate in today’s lousy financial climate who feels like it was all for nothing, I say: “Just do it – whatever it is your heart desires.” You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. In fact, if you’re coming from a place where you have no job, you can only gain from trying.