Empathy and Vaccines

I think about empathy a LOT. Almost everything I see leads me to it and lately the uproar around the measles outbreak and vaccines has done it.

Primarily what’s got me going are the angry people lashing out at the anti-vaccine crowd and berating their supreme stupidity. I am not here to argue for or against vaccines. (For the record we went forward with most vaccines, on schedule, for our daughter.) But I am concerned with a more broad view of the situation – namely, how we treat those in the minority that most of society view as the wrong-doers.

I do believe in the profound importance of discussing hard issues and not tip-toeing around them for the sake of being nice. In fact, I think the nicest thing to do is help someone see the error of their ways in hopes that they can correct course and be better off for it. And in my world view we are all connected so how you live your life effects me, this increasing the importance of talking about the choices we all have to make.

As an example, the importance of breastfeeding and not doing CIO are two areas I am passionate about right now. I really want people to see that making an effort in these areas is in their best interests (and thus societies best interests). But I know a lot of people think it is really best to stay out of each others parenting. And I understand why! It is so sticky because it is easy to feel negatively judged around such things. So I think a lot about how to encourage people to not take things personally or feel ashamed if they don’t meet the ideals. Myself included! As far as I can tell from my research thus far empathy is the way forward with this.

Empathy is defined as such (from Wikipedia): The capacity to understand what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference, ie, the capacity to place oneself in another’s shoes. I take this to an extreme and really feel like we are all largely a product of our circumstances and that most people would be behaving in the same way given the same circumstances. So I don’t see ANY room to criticize others. I have become radical with my empathy. I have empathy for the most terrible person I can think of – the cereal killer who might some day kidnap my own daughter. K? And I am more and more convinced that this is the key to peace and true progress. It seems to me that only when you can truly respect the other side will they be able to truly hear your message.

Of course I have not always been this way. In the past I have been quite angry over such things as the pollution of our shared planet, social injustice and inequality to name a few. I ranted and I lashed out, I blamed and I hated. In, there is probably evidence of such on this very blog. Anyhow, it burned me. And ever since I have been struggling and growing with the idea of empathy for myself and others.

So to bring it back…when I see many of my progressive and “peace loving” friends hating on people they don’t agree with it alarms me. Of course it is sad that innocent people are being put at risk but that does not justify name calling! Anger happens and may even be justified, but to act from that place is not healthy. Even if there were zero debate over the safety of vaccinations I would still be saddened by the shaming that is going on. And because of the fact that there is still a debate over the issues, if anyone truly cares to convince others to vaccinate – ganging up, bullying and calling your opponents idiots is not the way to go about it!

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Everyone knows America has a huge financial debt. My housemate was lamenting recently about the entitled, “self made” members of our parent’s generation who put us there. But while we talked I found myself realizing the other types of debt preceding generations have accrued on themselves (and of course, us all).

First I’d like to talk about what I see as the Health Debt. As Americans are privy to more and more fabricated convenience foods the natural, home-cooked meal made from food grown in a clean way has all but disappeared. If you have time to make cheese, someone once told me, you have too much free time!  Most people balk at how expensive real (aka organic) food is. Meanwhile they don’t think twice about owning a fancy gas guzzling car (or iPod or new shoes or what??). Yep, people prioritize lots of things over their own health. And guess what? In the long run it is a LOT more expensive to end up with cancer or Alzheimer’s etc. Perhaps people opt for that second Coke cuz they’d rather have Alzheimer’s than remember how they didn’t prioritize their health…It seems to me that we are more concerned with the image of health than the real thing. White teeth, dyed hair, fad diets of either unnatural packaged foods or unnatural restrictions to maintain the waistline. Someone is going to have to pay for all those triple-bypass surgeries and all of that chemo and I have a feeling the bill is just starting to come due.

Next. Our earth and the shared resources therein have been consumed at a very unsustainable rate since industrialization. But even as recently as our grandparent’s generation people were THRIFTY. I don’t know when it started, but many people no longer give a single thought to where all that disposable stuff goes after the garbage truck cleanly removes it from your life. Or what happens to that nasty stove top cleaning chemical that you just washed down the drain? Or where do those precious metals for your shiny new device come from? Or what does it take to produce, package, ship and store all that processed food you buy. As a result our forests have been stripped, our water supplies are polluted and natural systems all across the globe are breaking down, I have come to see this as our Environmental Debt.

The last category is a bit more difficult, less tangible. I’ll call it Social Debt. Perhaps one of the most noble and esteemed traits Americans can think of is independence. This mentality has contributed to our national Health, Environmental AND Social Debt. By taking on life in isolation people have put a lot more stress on their systems thus breaking down their health. And a lot more resources are gobbled up when everyone needs their own this that and the other thing. Even grandma and grandpa’s house needs to be fully stocked with all the baby gear, you know!

But back to Social Debt. Independence grants us freedom- from sharing, from coming to terms with each other, from asking for help. Now, on the surface this seems wonderful: I hate asking for help! No one likes to share!! But in the end, I believe, we are the only ones to lose when we are able to avoid the humbling effect of asking for help or the true joy and satisfaction that comes when we can return the favor. When we sit alone in our cushy houses watching our favorite biased news source we miss out on a lot of mental and spiritual growth. So then we are sad and we eat more sugar and consume more trinkets and get angrier and angrier at each other…!

I wonder, what is the importance of financial debt in comparison to our health, environmental and social debts? Ok, I lied, I don’t wonder! And the same disclaimer as always, I don’t write this from a place of righteousness but from a place of frustation and concern.  I know first hand how extremely difficult it is to admit fault and change my habits. It is usually HARD. And painful! And only happens when the alternative (not changing) is even worse! Which, I believe in the case our our many debts is definitely the case. But the problem here is that almost everyone is doing it…what is the incentive for one person to change? Think of your children?

This entire blog is pretty well summed up in one of my favorite videos, http://www.storyofstuff.org/movies-all/story-of-stuff/

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3 More Communes

The title for this was tough. I say ‘commune’ for lack of a better word. Intentional communities is too long and not even that phrase fits all…as Coenraad at House Alive said, “I’m not really sure what our intention is”! Regardless, Troy and I visited three great and very different groups of people this last weekend, had a blast and learned a lot.

We started at 3,000 ft in the foothills of the Klammath Mountains (I think…the distinction between the Cascades and the Klammaths and the Siskiyous is still a bit hazy for me…). An hour from Ashland and 30 minutes up a gravel road lies Eloin, and the name appropriately means to remove to a distance – this magical place is surrounded by one of the few remaining old growth stands of forest in Southern Oregon and is certainly removed, in more ways than one.

Eloin is old growth itself, in terms of West Coast communes. The group started in 1974 and has been as large as 25 adult members. As a result the buildings are impressive. The kitchen is large, airy and filled with natural light. There are also many large homes about the property and the Temple is something to behold…This is a spiritually focused community and they certainly made that a priority while building.

Our time at Eloin was spent cooking, working in the garden, walking in the woods and playing games. Their life is relaxed enough so that even while working there is time to appreciate the blessings all around you. They say grace before each meal and every quarter moon

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Eloin – Anne working with the horses.

enjoy Sabbath and a spiritual reading after breakfast. They live amongst free ranging horses and donkeys and are off the grid, gathering their drinking water by hand from a spring.

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Eloin – making breakfast.

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Eloin – the garden.

Next we headed west, past Ashland to the Applegate Valley. This region is well known amongst farmers and back-to-the-landers. While Eloin was cool and shady under the big trees, Full Bloom is in full sun! On a south-west facing slope are three beautiful homes with views of those beautifully diverse tree-covered Siskiyou hills in the foreground and Dutchman Peak behind. There is a kitchen garden (the beds are in the shape of a flower), a large shop, goats, chickens and sheep. The kitchen is USDA certified and is home to a bakery.

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Full Bloom – Main house, Dutchman peak behind.

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Full Bloom – kitchen garden and private residence.


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Full Bloom – dining room and common space.

Full Bloom is a relatively new commune and does embrace that word. After starting 7 (?) years ago and getting most of the infrastructure laid down they are now focusing more on member relationships. They cook for each other 6 nights a week and have regular scheduled meetings and heart check-ins, providing space for quality communication. The founding members met at Green Gulch Farm and maintain those Buddhist ideals…”to awaken in ourselves and the many people who come here the bodhisattva spirit, the spirit of kindness and realistic helpfulness”, from the Green Gulch website.

Our last stop was House Alive, also in the Applegate. On a sunny south facing slope in a clearing in the trees (madrone, oak, and pine) are various beautiful cob structures, a big garden and some chickens. Coenraad Rogmans and his family host cob building workshops and live collaboratively with those who rent out some of the cob spaces on a longer term basis.

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House Alive – main house and part of the garden.

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House Alive – Coenraad and Troy talking water tanks and welding.

House Alive is a neat intermediate between a commune and more typical America. You pay rent, but maybe you pay a little less if you help out by growing food for the group. The cooking and eating spaces are shared so the individual homes can be more simple, and they would like to move towards ordering bulk food as a group to save money. In all aspects there is certainly an air of flexibility and creativity.

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House Alive – shared kitchen and “clubhouse”.

In my dream scenario I want elements of all three groups. There were many great aspects of each but of course no one was perfect! Perfectly imperfect, you might say 🙂

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My family, we have a new blog. It is dedicated to commune research. We talk a lot about living together in the country, raising most of our own food and focusing only on the simpler but richer things in life.  That blog is for internal purposes – sharing information and discussing ideas for income or location.

I wanted to post to that blog, but I don’t have anything technical to say on this first day of 2013. I am all existential this morning. Over the past two weeks I have been up and down with this idea – of living as a tribe with my closest relations and ideally some friends, too. It sounds like heaven to me. I see fresh green leaves emerging from rich earth, I feel the fire in my muscles as I chop wood, a smile spreads across my face as we sing and play music together. I am not a lone, wondering what to do with my days.

We want to have children soon. But I don’t want them in our current situation, which would require day care and distraction to keep them entertained. I want my children to grow up in community with elders and other children. I want them to be able to play in the dirt and make toys from sticks, where not everything they want to touch and explore is a “no-no”. All the children I see around me here are handed plastic toys or set in front of the TV so mom can get something done. That makes me sad.

But I worry, too. How will we afford land, property tax and health care? I guess that is my main concern – money. How do we do it as a group and from the country? I want to live this simple, clean life but it seems nearly impossible. I feel sick from the fear and despair.

Beyond that I have one additional worry. Is this goal mainly serving as escapism? Is all of this researching and fretting simply preventing me from being present and having community now? Should I just be happy where I am and continue down the path I am presented with or do I rally for what I think will be a life more closely in line with what I want and what I think is best for our world??? Round and round I go…

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Time for Rumi








Not Here.

There is courage involved if you want to become truth. There is a broken open place in a lover. Where are those qualities of bravery and sharp compassion in this group? What is the use of old and frozen thought? I want a howling hurt. This is not a treasury where gold is stored; this is for copper. We alchemists look for talent that can heat up and change. Lukewarm will not do. Halfhearted holding back, well-enough getting by? Not here.


ImageOut beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing

there is a field. I will meet you there.


When the soul lies down in that grass,

the world is too full to talk about

Idea, language, even the phrase each other

does not make any sense.

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B is for Body.

My back pain started in July 2005. By that fall it was constant and nagging in one spot and within a year it was full blown low back pain on my right side – but I really had no idea what had hit me. If only I had know at that point to really focus on and address it. Unfortunately I didn’t and it started to spread throughout the entire right side of my body…Neck, jaw, shoulder, armpit, arm, pectoral, shoulder blade, thoracic back, around the rib cage, mid and low back, butt hip groin thigh, back of knee…aggravated and aching and nagging with occasional spasms that make me want to kill things…

I was trying some different things. I saw a PT for a while, had massages, chiropractic, then a different PT and taping, tried acupuncture, talked to a pain specialist, the rolfing 10 series and then some, had Xrays and an MRI…the good news? Nothing was wrong with me (ha)! But the pain kept steadily spreading.

At first I was in denial about being in constant pain. I couldn’t believe that- yep, your life is happening and it is just going to be a lot of pain, every moment of it. I remember being at a potluck sometime in 2008 and watching everyone carrying on with the standard jovial banter that I had previously enjoyed – I felt so overcome with frustration and unhappiness. I was in shock. I could no longer to ignore this pain, it was consuming me.

So I started getting counseling and reading books on spirituality and eventually cleansing, yoga and meditation. Life is a struggle for many and always has been. This knowledge did not make me feel better but at least gave me something to contemplate and distract myself with. It gave me another focus and helped me find compassion and have an appreciation for the struggles and effort of all. Beautiful, right? I guess, but I still pondered the point in pushing on.

So 7+ years out and my back pain is still aggravated and has spread to the extremities, I have started getting headaches and just last week – a sharp burning pain in my right heel that I feel growing and connected to my hip and thigh…

That’s it. I don’t have a happy note of conclusion. I just needed to put it out there. Any and all suggestions are welcome.

I want to share this video because I can relate. Being forced to be so connected with my body through pain has also connected me with the struggles of all sick people and I know that this is connected to our sick planet and it all has the same root. But Eve Ensler says it much better in her TED talk – Suddenly, my body.


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Fall gardening.

I was happy realize all the things I could do in my garden this fall. All I ever want to do anymore is garden but this summer was too busy for much. Recently though I have been able to make some fun progress, especially with the warm weather we had until just a few days ago! So lovely.

After doing the initial steps of our lawn conversion in June I had a long strip along the road (Roadside) and a corner of the front yard (Corner) covered with cardboard and ~4″ of compost. Roadside was seeded with a bunch of quick growing flowers – sunflowers and poppies for filler that would look good in the mean time but hold space for the annual veggie bed. In Corner I built up two long mounds of dirt where I put a row of sunchokes and a row of asparagus inter-planted with strawberries (neutral companions).

Sometime in September, in the middle part of Roadside that is for food, I seeded lettuce, spinach, onions, peas and more I am forgetting for a little eating and a little nitrogen fixing.  Even though I did this on the biodynamically-appropriate day for each type I haven’t had enough growth to harvest anything yet. I was hoping for more, not sure if I could have done some things better for more growth or what.  And there are certainly patches of plants that did better than others…microhabitats within just an open plot ~8×25 ft. ??

Within the past few weeks I made two more mounds on either end of Roadside that I planted with a few pretty native shrubs – vine maple, currant and dogwood. A friend got me some good sized rocks to incorporate and then I will seed all over with native flowers. I couldn’t settle on doing just ornamental or just food…so, both!

I also took out the sunchokes and put in two blueberry bushes on a mound because they don’t make such an awkward screen right in the middle of Corner. I don’t feel great about the layout of these mounds, they don’t seem to visually flow…I will try it for a year.

I also transplanted quite a few herbs to start filling up the open dirt in Corner – thyme, parsley, sage, tarragon and also garlic and onions. And in the back yard I planted garlic into the raspberry row because I heard they were good companions 🙂 And I dug up the hops from the backyard to give away – I don’t use them for anything and they’re not native so bye bye!

It can be frustrating because I don’t really know what I am doing with any of this and making decisions is hard because even though I can always move things again, that is not an easy chore and it stets the plants back for a while. But regardless, it is one of my favorite ways to spend my daylight hours so I don’t mind that much.

My final step, next weekend, will be sheet mulching over the annual bed and a small section in back to start building some really happy soil…

Turns out fall gardening is especially fun because in this season that is otherwise about dying back it feels really good to put in place a few more things that will have a head start next spring…Plant seeds and sing songs 🙂

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When I Grow Up. Human Experience

When I grow up I wanna be happy.

When I grow up I wanna be free.

If I ever grow up all I wanna be is the real me.

But what about the times when I get in my own way?

What about the times when I just turn away?

What about the people that actually don’t have a say?

Nothings gonna change if I keep on the same way.

Now is the time when I get to decide.

Open my eyes and look inside.

To define my intentions and design my dimensions as divine intervention remind me, to see with my heart and not my eyes. Actualize.
Cuz the more I grow the less I think I know. And the more I know the far I have to go.

Cuz to truly grow old is so much harder than it seems.

To keep your innocence, be of service, live your dreams.

Now is the time when we get to decide to open our yes and use our minds, look inside.

To define our intentions and design our dimensions as divine intervention remind, to see with our heart and not our eyes. Compromise (?).

It can be so hard to break free of illusion.

Deep within my heart I can feel the solution.

Never gonna end, I will always be growing.

No need to believe now that I’ve tasted knowing (?).

Cuz now is the time when I get to decide to open my eyes and use my mind, look inside.

To define my intentions and design my dimensions and divine intervention remind me, to see with my heart and not my eyes.

When I grow up I learn to be truthful.

As I grow up I learn to be vulnerable.

As we all grow up now, finally, it can be simple.

As we show up we earn the key to the temple.








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B is for Both, And.

Last March I attended a meditation retreat. The teacher often answered questions with “It is Both, And”. The middle way…balance. For most of my life I have swung back and forth from high to low, cowgirl to hippie, flexibility and strength, righteous and humble, work and play, dark and light, low maintenance to high…clearly struggling to find myself.

But lately, thank goodness, I have begun to find balance. A little bit of stability in this ever changing world feels really good. To be able know and hear myself a bit more is a beautiful and amazing thing. And the best part is that this clear headed, present, awake, content mindset sheds so much light on the issues that I struggled over before, thus having much practical application! 🙂

So, when I saw my friend’s debating on Facebook about whether to feed and cloth the needy or treat the “source” my mind said “It’s Both, And”! And as always with these insights, they sound so obvious when you say them out loud! But really, to address the source while soothing the symptom is the most loving way to address issues like these.

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I have really come to appreciate the human need for community, though for many years I was more interested in INdependence. My ego needed to shine and and be shot down for me to learn the value of INTERdependence.

Approximately one year ago my ego was at it biggest. I had learned and suffered through a lot. I felt smart and powerful, so I raged. I was very angry with the people who seemed to me to be at fault for the suffering in our world. So I pointed my finger and placed blame. But inevitably I was put in my place and felt sick from all the anger inside of me. These are the cycles of the ego. And this is a whole other blog! But…

During this period I received an email from a Christian about times when you are filled with worry and fear.

“So, when it comes to waiting, it seems to me that there are two options: 

  • the first is to give up, give in to the fear, and say, “I simply can’t handle this”  or
  •  you can climb into your cocoon – this is the place of refuge where you realize that God is in control and you put all your trust in Him.”

Background story: a few years before this email, I had ended up at the first option. I was suffering through extreme back pain, being in debt while many others lavished in plenty, and having a self-identity crisis…I had lessons to learn and they were being beaten into me.

Then, one winter eve in Corvallis while recovering from my second bunionectomy I got a tooth ache. This new pain, on top of all the others, was incredible. It brought me to a point where I was so grief stricken I wanted to give up. I literally contemplated suicide. There was so much ugliness and pain in the world and I simply wanted to excuse myself from all of it. But obviously I did not. I could not do anything so sad to my parents, sister, boyfriend, and countless beautiful friends. I stuck it out for the ones who loved me.

Through this very difficult experience I had come to the end and gave in to the fear. I admitted that “I simply can’t handle this”. And it has turned out to be a very beautiful thing. I have learned to need and be part of a community. I have learned to happily give and receive help.  I have learned compassion and empathy for myself and ALL others. Some say that the most mature state is interdependence – and I agree.

But it has taken some years to see it this way. Meanwhile, I responded to the above email with anger and frustration. I did not have a God cocoon and it seemed that those who chose this route were weak and hiding from the difficult realities of our world. Life had spanked me and I thought it unfair and unhealthy that some might get to skip the tough experiences by having God to cuddle up with…

But in the end, at my darkest time, I was not alone either. I needed a cocoon and even though I struggled to see it, I had one. I had my community and for this I am so grateful. So, is one better than the other? God or community? In my hard earned opinion they are one 🙂 And we will all inevitably need that cocoon at some point. I just hope that those who do believe in God are not blinded to their need for community and the wisdom of interdependence.

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