Monthly Archives: February 2012

“The craving for fame, wealth, power and sex serves to create only the illusion of happiness and ends up exacerbating feelings of disconnection and emptiness.”

Read below for whole article (link:

Beyond environment: falling back in love with Mother Earth

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh explains why mindfulness and a spiritual revolution rather than economics is needed to protect nature and limit climate change

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh says a spiritual revolution is needed if we are going to confront the environmental challenges that face us. Photograph: Plum Village

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh has been practising meditation and mindfulness for 70 years and radiates an extraordinary sense of calm and peace. This is a man who on a fundamental level walks his talk, and whom Buddhists revere as a Bodhisattva; seeking the highest level of being in order to help others.

Ever since being caught up in the horrors of the Vietnam war, the 86-year-old monk has committed his life to reconciling conflict and in 1967 Martin Luther King nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize, saying “his ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.”

So it seems only natural that in recent years he has turned his attention towards not only addressing peoples’ disharmonious relationships with each other, but also with the planet on which all our lives depend.

Thay, as he is known to his many thousands of followers, sees the lack of meaning and connection in peoples’ lives as being the cause of our addiction to consumerism and that it is vital we recognise and respond to the stress we are putting on Earth if civilisation is to survive.

What Buddhism offers, he says, is the recognition that we all suffer and the way to overcome that pain is to directly confront it, rather than seeking to hide or bypass it through our obsession with shopping, entertainment, work or the beautification of our bodies. The craving for fame, wealth, power and sex serves to create only the illusion of happiness and ends up exacerbating feelings of disconnection and emptiness.

Thay refers to a billionaire chief executive of one of America’s largest companies, who came to one of his meditation courses and talked of his suffering, worries and doubts, of thinking everyone was coming to take advantage of him and that he had no friends.

In an interview at his home and retreat centre in Plum Village, near Bordeaux, Thay outlines how a spiritual revolution is needed if we are going to confront the multitude of environmental challenges.

While many experts point to the enormous complexity and difficulty in addressing issues ranging from the destruction of ecosystems to the loss of millions of species, Thay sees a Gordian Knot that needs slicing through with a single strike of a sharp blade.

Move beyond concept of the “environment”

He believes we need to move beyond talking about the environment, as this leads people to experience themselves and Earth as two separate entities and to see the planet in terms only of what it can do for them.

Change is possible only if there is a recognition that people and planet are ultimately one and the same.

“You carry Mother Earth within you,” says Thay. “She is not outside of you. Mother Earth is not just your environment.

“In that insight of inter-being, it is possible to have real communication with the Earth, which is the highest form of prayer. In that kind of relationship you have enough love, strength and awakening in order to change your life.

“Changing is not just changing the things outside of us. First of all we need the right view that transcends all notions including of being and non-being, creator and creature, mind and spirit. That kind of insight is crucial for transformation and healing.

“Fear, separation, hate and anger come from the wrong view that you and the earth are two separate entities, the Earth is only the environment. You are in the centre and you want to do something for the Earth in order for you to survive. That is a dualistic way of seeing.

“So to breathe in and be aware of your body and look deeply into it and realise you are the Earth and your consciousness is also the consciousness of the earth. Not to cut the tree not to pollute the water, that is not enough.”

Putting an economic value on nature is not enough

Thay, who will this spring be in the UK to lead a five-day retreat as well as a mindfulness in education conference, says the current vogue in economic and business circles that the best way to protect the planet is by putting an economic value on nature is akin to putting a plaster on a gaping wound.

“I don’t think it will work,” he says. “We need a real awakening, enlightenment, to change our way of thinking and seeing things.”

Rather than placing a price tag of our forests and coral reefs, Thay says change will happen on a fundamental level only if we fall back in love with the planet: “The Earth cannot be described either by the notion of matter or mind, which are just ideas, two faces of the same reality. That pine tree is not just matter as it possesses a sense of knowing. A dust particle is not just matter since each of its atoms has intelligence and is a living reality.

“When we recognise the virtues, the talent, the beauty of Mother Earth, something is born in us, some kind of connection, love is born.

“We want to be connected. That is the meaning of love, to be at one. When you love someone you want to say I need you, I take refuge in you. You do anything for the benefit of the Earth and the Earth will do anything for your wellbeing.”

In the world of business, Thay gives the example of Yvon Chouinard, founder and owner of outdoor clothing company Patagonia, who combined developing a successful business with the practice of mindfulness and compassion: “It’s possible to make money in a way that is not destructive, that promotes more social justice and more understanding and lessens the suffering that exists all around us,” says Thay.

“Looking deeply, we see that it’s possible to work in the corporate world in a way that brings a lot of happiness both to other people and to us … our work has meaning.”

Thay, who has written more than 100 books, suggests that the lost connection with Earth’s natural rhythm is behind many modern sicknesses and that, in a similar way to our psychological pattern of blaming our mother and father for our unhappiness, there is an even more hidden unconscious dynamic of blaming Mother Earth.

In a new essay, Intimate Conversation with Mother Earth, he writes: “Some of us resent you for giving birth to them, causing them to endure suffering, because they are not yet able to understand and appreciate you.”

How mindfulness can reconnect people to Mother Earth

He points to increasing evidence that mindfulness can help people to reconnect by slowing down and appreciating all the gifts that the earth can offer.

“Many people suffer deeply and they do not know they suffer,” he says. “They try to cover up the suffering by being busy. Many people get sick today because they get alienated from Mother Earth.

“The practice of mindfulness helps us to touch Mother Earth inside of the body and this practice can help heal people. So the healing of the people should go together with the healing of the Earth and this is the insight and it is possible for anyone to practice.

“This kind of enlightenment is very crucial to a collective awakening. In Buddhism we talk of meditation as an act of awakening, to be awake to the fact that the earth is in danger and living species are in danger.”

Thay gives the example of something as simple and ordinary as drinking a cup of tea. This can help transform a person’s life if he or she were truly to devote their attention to it.

“When I am mindful, I enjoy more my tea,” says Thay as he pours himself a cup and slowly savours the first sip. “I am fully present in the here and now, not carried away by my sorrow, my fear, my projects, the past and the future. I am here available to life.

“When I drink tea this is a wonderful moment. You do not need a lot of power or fame or money to be happy. Mindfulness can help you to be happy in the here and now. Every moment can be a happy moment. Set an example and help people to do the same. Take a few minutes in order to experiment to see the truth.”

Need to deal with ones own anger to be an effective social activist

Thay has over many years developed the notion of applied Buddhism underpinned by a set of ethical practices known as the five mindfulness trainings, which are very clear on the importance of tackling social injustice.

However, if social and environmental activists are to be effective, Thay says they must first deal with their own anger. Only if people discover compassion for themselves will they be able to confront those they hold accountable for polluting our seas and cutting down our forests.

“In Buddhism we speak of collective action,” he says. “Sometimes something wrong is going on in the world and we think it is the other people who are doing it and we are not doing it.

“But you are part of the wrongdoing by the way you live your life. If you are able to understand that, not only you suffer but the other person suffers, that is also an insight.

“When you see the other person suffer you will not want to punish or blame but help that person to suffer less. If you are burdened with anger, fear, ignorance and you suffer too much, you cannot help another person. If you suffer less you are lighter more smiling, pleasant to be with, and in a position to help the person.

“Activists have to have a spiritual practice in order to help them to suffer less, to nourish the happiness and to handle the suffering so they will be effective in helping the world. With anger and frustration you cannot do much.”

Touching the “ultimate dimension”

Key to Thay’s teaching is the importance of understanding that while we need to live and operate in a dualistic world, it is also vital to understand that our peace and happiness lie in the recognition of the ultimate dimension: “If we are able to touch deeply the historical dimension – through a leaf, a flower, a pebble, a beam of light, a mountain, a river, a bird, or our own body – we touch at the same time the ultimate dimension. The ultimate dimension cannot be described as personal or impersonal, material or spiritual, object or subject of cognition – we say only that it is always shining, and shining on itself.

“Touching the ultimate dimension, we feel happy and comfortable, like the birds enjoying the blue sky, or the deer enjoying the green fields. We know that we do not have to look for the ultimate outside of ourselves – it is available within us, in this very moment.”

While Thay believes there is a way of creating a more harmonious relationship between humanity and the planet, he also recognises that there is a very real risk that we will continue on our destructive path and that civilisation may collapse.

He says all we need to do is see how nature has responded to other species that have got out of control: “When the need to survive is replaced with greed and pride, there is violence, which always brings about unnecessary devastation.

“We have learned the lesson that when we perpetrate violence towards our own and other species, we are violent towards ourselves; and when we know how to protect all beings, we are protecting ourselves.”

Remaining optimistic despite risk of impending catastrophe

In Greek mythology, when Pandora opened the gift of a box, all the evils were released into the world. The one remaining item was “hope”.

Thay is clear that maintaining optimism is essential if we are to find a way of avoiding devastating climate change and the enormous social upheavals that will result.

However, he is not naïve and recognises that powerful forces are steadily pushing us further towards the edge of the precipice.

In his best-selling book on the environment, The World we Have, he writes: “We have constructed a system we can’t control. It imposes itself on us, and we become its slaves and victims.

“We have created a society in which the rich become richer and the poor become poorer, and in which we are so caught up in our own immediate problems that we cannot afford to be aware of what is going on with the rest of the human family or our planet Earth.

“In my mind I see a group of chickens in a cage disputing over a few seeds of grain, unaware that in a few hours they will all be killed.”

An edited video of Jo Confino’s interview with Thich Nhat Hahn can be seen here.

For information on Thay’s visit to the UK this spring, which includes a meditation in Trafalgar Square, a talk at the Royal Festival Hall, a five-day retreat and a three-day mindfulness in education conference, go to the Cooling the Flames website.


This is from the website – direct link to the below article is as follows. To summarise, before you go on, basically the only vaguely safe sweetener is currently considered to be Stevia (plant-based) and brand names include Truvia and Canderel Green …. :

Quick Guide To Artificial Sweeteners and Sugar Substitutes
by Evita Ochel

on Feb 13, 2009

Most of us out there have been brought up with a very clear understanding of what sugar is. Most of us love it and are in fact quite addicted to it.

However during the past few decades more and more negative research and press continues to come out about sugar. This has been hard for many to ignore – given our weight, diabetes and other health problems.

Thus as sugar’s popularity began to decrease, the popularity of artificial sweeteners began to grow. However, unlike our familiarity with sugar, most of us today did not grow up with many of the artificial sweeteners that are around today. Most of us have no idea where they come from, how they compare to sugar and even if they are safe for us to consume.

Therefore, today I want to present you with a quick guide to understanding artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes.

Why Go Artificial?

Artificial sweeteners gained popularity the most for no other reason than the fact that we want to have our cake and eat it too – literally. By now most people have caught on to the fact that sugar = quick weight gain.

Thus the main reason why people have turned and continue to turn to artificial sweeteners is that we want the sweetness of sugar in many common foods, but without the unnecessary calories. Thus, this brought about the popularity and age of artificial sweeteners.

These are often, many times sweeter than sugar, but contain few, if any calories. Sugar on the other hand, biochemically exists either as a single or double sugar which is full of calories and needs minimal if any digestion, thereby going straight into our blood stream.

Since sugar is an energy source and our body quickly gets overwhelmed with too much energy, most of it gets packed away into our fat cells, as there is only so much that our cells need or can store in their short-term reserves. That is only the tipping point where the problems with sugar and our health are concerned.

The second biggest reason why some people look toward artificial sweeteners is because they may have diabetes and thus have to avoid increasing their blood-sugar. Some artificial sweeteners completely do not act like sugars in our body and thus became a perfect option for diabetics – sweet taste, minus the high if any blood-sugar health risks.

So let us examine the artificial sweeteners out there and learn a little bit more about what some of us may be putting into our bodies.
1. Acesulfame-K

– is 200 times sweeter than sugar

– was introduced in 1967, approved by FDA in 1988 and had its use expanded in 1998

– breaks down into acetoacetamide, which has been linked to thyroid problems and tumor formation

– thought not to be metabolized by the body and excreted in urine

– has no calories

– to date has not been tested properly and is considered the worst sweetener by some due to the great lack of information and testing done on it

– FDA has no plans of removing it from the market anytime soon or to push for proper testing
2. Aspartame

– most commonly known as Equal or NutraSweet

– is about 200 times sweeter than sugar

– has essentially no calories (due to small amounts used)

– discovered in 1965, refused at first by the FDA in 1974 and approved by FDA in 1980

– made from amino acids and metabolized by body through various toxic reactions

– breaks down into the amino acids phenylalanine and aspartic acid, as well as methanol (or wood alcohol – known poison) and possibly formaldehyde

– is considered a neurotoxic substance that has been associated with numerous health problems including dizziness, visual impairment, severe muscle aches, numbing of extremities, pancreatitis, high blood pressure, retinal hemorrhaging, seizures, multiple sclerosis like symptoms and depression, as well it is suspected of causing birth defects and chemical disruptions in the brain
3. Saccharin

– most commonly known as Sweet ’N Low

– is 200 – 700 times sweeter than sugar

– has no calories

– originally synthesized from toluene/coal tar in late 1800′s

– thought not to be metabolized by the body and excreted in urine

– is the most tested artificial sweetener to date

– studies have continually proven links to cancer

– considered for official ban in 1977, but instead got removed from carcinogenic list in US in 2000
4. Sucralose

– most commonly known as Splenda

– is about 600 times sweeter than sugar

– discovered in 1976, approved by Canada in 1991 and by FDA in 1998

– made by chlorination of sucrose

– has no calories

– considered a safe alternative to aspartame, saccharin and acesulfame K by most

– studies however have been inadequate and some have pointed at links between sucralose and thymus and immune dysfunction, as well as possibly being mutagenic
5. Stevia

– most commonly known as Truvia

– is about 100 – 300 times sweeter than sugar

– breaks down into steviol, which some suspected of being mutagenic

– rejected by FDA for approval in 1990 and earlier for oddly unjustified/political reasons

– extracts of Stevia got approved by the FDA in December 2008

– comes from natural plant origin, but commercially sold in chemically altered form

– considered by many natural health proponents as the ultimate safe sweetener
6. Maltitol, Mannitol, Sorbitol and Xylitol

– are chemically known as sugar alcohols

– are half as sweet as sugar

– are not well absorbed by the body

– produce a laxative effect in large quantities
7. Neotame

– is about 7,000 – 13,000 times sweeter than sugar

– chemically related to aspartame

– has no calories

– approved by the FDA in 2002

– not widely used to date, mostly due to the known problems with aspartame
8. Cyclamate

– known as the original Sweet N’ Low

– discovered in 1937 and banned by FDA in 1970

– a petition has been currently filed to the FDA for re-approval

– animal studies showed product to be carcinogenic
9. High Fructose Corn Syrup

– commonly referred to as glucose/fructose in Canada

– in use since about the 1980’s

– produced by processing that increases the fructose content

– depending on the formulation may be sweeter, just as sweet or slightly less sweet than sugar

– cheaper than sugar

– contains calories equivalent to regular sugar

– greatly linked to obesity, diabetes and heart disease

The above is just a condensed summary of what each of the sugar substitutes is all about. If you ingest any of the above, it would be very wise to conduct more of your own research on the product if you intend to keep using it, as each one carries with it a certain risk.

My personal health advice to you is not to go up and down the list and see which one is the better option to rely on. Aside from perhaps Stevia, the sugar alcohols and high fructose corn syrup, all of the other sweeteners are nothing more than chemical substances which should not be ingested by anyone in any amounts.

While some of us can rely on the FDA or other governing bodies to make the decisions for us, I strongly urge you not to be a guinea pig yourself. The fact that these substances are being used by people today is nothing short of perhaps one of the best long term studies that is taking place at our own personal expense. Unfortunately, many people are learning the hard way and paying for it with their health, that these substances are not safe or at least do not lead to average, never mind optimal health.

While your concerns about calories, blood-glucose stress and dental health are valid when it comes to eating regular sugar, what we really should be moving towards are not sugar replacements, but complete sugar removals. Yes, this may sound unrealistic to many, but again it comes down to how serious you are about your health and how open minded you are to break out of the clever brainwashing that has taken place in society up until this point. Several companies are making billions of dollars off of the sugar industry, while we pay both financially and with our health.

We can continue to come up with any and every excuse why we need sugar, crave sugar or want sugar, or we can just break the vicious cycle, detoxify and get off of the addictive substance once and for all, to live out our best health ever, processed-sugar free!

For detailed information on artificial sweeteners, check out the following sites:



3. From Dr. Mercola “New Study of Splenda Reveals Shocking Information about Potential Harmful Effects“

For more information on sugar and its effects, check out sugar expert Dr. Scott Olson’s site, OR his book Sugarettes
*Photograph provided by abbyladybug