Letter from the Publisher, December 2017

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Root out the violence in your life, and learn to live compassionately and mindfully. Seek peace. When you have peace within, real peace with others is possible.

~Excerpted from Being Peace, by Zen Master, Tibetan Peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Thich Nhat Hanh

The holidays are a time for reflecting on spirit and peace. Doing so requires that we consider the obstacles to peace—in ourselves, our communities and around the world.

With each news story that breaks, revealing the degree to which violence and aggression occurs in places near and far, it is natural to want to find someone or something to blame. Like something out of a Marvel comic book, it would be so comforting if there were a singular, sinister villain at whom we could shake our finger, and who could hold the culpability for all that ails our society.

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Letter from the Publisher, March 2016

Human beings have a collective fascination with our own eyes. While sight is just one of the five senses, it maintains a universal primacy in how we understand, interpret and communicate with the world. In so many cultures, the eyes represent the essential nature of connection to self, others, soul and spirit.

Eyes have been a recurring theme in my life: my great-great-grandfather and great-grandfather were optometrists who gave eye exams in people’s homes on the Lower East Side during the turn of the century. My family still owns and operates Philadelphia Eyeglass Labs and Wink Optical, a chain of local optical shops that they founded over 125 years ago. In this issue, we hear from one of their best and brightest opticians about how technology is helping to bring greater clarity to how people see.

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Letter from the Publisher, February 2016

Hello, fellow February dwellers! It’s that time when temperatures drop to shudder-worthy lows and “wintry mix” coats the streets. It’s spectacular snow days, snowman-making and ice skating—not to mention shoveling, salting, skidding, and shivering!

It’s a time to go inside, literally and metaphorically, to retreat to the cozy corners of our couches and desks and hibernate with our thoughts, ideas and dreams. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, winter is associated with the element of water. To contain our energy within ourselves is to stand in the energy of the Water element.

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Letter from the Publisher, January 2016

2016 is upon us, will all of the excitement and promise that comes with a new year. In our culture, January is also goal-setting season. Gym memberships soar alongside our desire for self-improvement as we commit to having a new body, a new mind, a new us. It’s as if we all collectively decide that we’re going to be better with a capital B! Better NOW! Better than EVER!!

This attitude can be inspiring and motivating. But it can also be overwhelming—and if your past efforts have been less than successful (and research shows that 92 percent of us have made and failed at New Year’s resolutions), it can bring up sour memories.

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Letter from the Publisher, December 2015

“Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.” —Brené Brown

As I write this, I have a sleeping infant swaddled on my chest. I can hardly believe this little precious babe is my child. It’s barely the middle of November, but my season of giving thanks and celebration began on October 28, 2015, when my son Asa was born, and his birth mom placed him in my ready embrace.

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Letter from the Publisher, November 2015

My house is not so cute. Any realtor or HDTV host would say it “lacks curb appeal”.

It’s an ugly duckling among swans in historic Wyncote, with its soaring 19th-century Victorian mansions that look like they came right out of the pages of an architectural history textbook. My house, on the other hand, looks like it arrived in a time capsule from the 1950s—and it hasn’t aged well.

When I first saw it on Zillow, I almost passed it over completely. But my deeper wisdom prevailed: when I got past the exterior facade, I realized it was a great choice for my family. The home offered what we needed, in the location we wanted, and at a price we could afford. Continue reading

Letter from the Publisher, October 2015

When I met my husband, Matt, I thought that activism was for other people—people with more time and more heart. On one of our first dates, he told me, “I’m working on a film project about overcrowding in the Philadelphia prison system.” I was intimidated and a little embarrassed at not being up on the topic. I think I managed to say something like “Sounds kind of heavy.” I had no idea how much I would learn in the ensuing five years, or who I might become.

That project eventually became Broken on All Sides, a 68-minute documentary film about the intersection of class, race and the prison-industrial complex. Matt shot, directed, edited and distributed it; I spent many hours watching him work and going with him to protests and conferences, ingesting the issue on a deeper level and eventually becoming a collaborator on the final cut. The critically acclaimed film has been screened in more than 50 locations since its release in 2011, including at a conference of civil rights leaders in Selma, Alabama, and a panel with Angela Davis in Berkeley, California.

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Letter from Publisher, September 2015

I have just added Willie Nelson to my list of personal heroes. I’m sure I’m not alone, there. An octogenarian who has recorded more than 200 albums since he started his career in the 1950s, he has long since earned his place as a country music legend, humanitarian, social and environmental activist and American icon. (And that was all before he became the elder statesman for the legalization of marijuana!)

His legacy aside, I was unprepared for the experience of witnessing Mr. Nelson rocking out to 4,000 people in an Atlantic City amphitheater last Sunday night. My mind and heart were blown wide open by the very force of his being: energy, love, creativity and joy just pour out from this man. He is resonant with vitality and, at the same time, grounded by learned wisdom and deep pathos. He is eye-catching and familiar, with his creaky voice and warm smile, that signature bandana and silvery braids. He is not at all what you think of when you hear the words “senior citizen.” As I stamped my feet and raised my glass to the anthemic “I Didn’t Come Here, and I Ain’t Leaving,” I sent my appreciation to him—not just for his musical gifts but for the spiritual teaching he has offered through his own life. What an exquisite example of “agelessness,” and right on time for our September issue on that theme.

I came home inspired to learn about how Mr. Nelson has spent the last eight decades. A guy who has been renowned for his Zen-like disposition and affection for “herbal supplements,” his biography reads like a playbook on longevity. True to the ideas presented in this month’s feature piece, “Ageless Being: Staying Vibrant in Mind, Body and Spirit” by Kathleen Barnes, it’s clear that he has kept his mind in a state of continual expansion, his body supple, and his heart porous.

Yoga, much like the tae kwon do that Mr. Nelson has practiced since he was a young man, is one of the most powerful forms of agelessness. It is both a preventative and a curative for dozens of health-related issues. For me, it’s been a 17-year journey to ease muscle tension, lift depression and decrease anxiety. Two years ago, I took the 200-hour teacher training in the Integral Yoga tradition, founded by Swami Satchidananda. His motto, and the aim of the yoga that he taught until he left his body at 87, was “easeful body, peaceful mind.”

I realize I’m aging, too. I’ve watched yoga culture grow in the U.S. over the past decade. I often mourn that in many studios, the philosophy is downplayed in favor of the sexier, more acrobatic elements of the form. Still, by and large, I am pleased to see so many people practicing, and the impact that is having on our culture. It’s not a coincidence that in an age when you can buy yoga pants at Target, we are seeing increasing acceptance of yoga and other alternative health modalities by the medical establishment. Meredith Montgomery explores the implications in our second feature piece, “Yoga Enters the Medical Mainstream: Research Proves Its Health Benefits.”

In our special “Local Yoga Voices” section, we hear directly from local yogis about what this practice has done for them, their students and the communities where they teach, in Bucks and Montgomery Counties. We’ll hear from Robbin Alston of Áse Yoga, Pooja Erica Andersen of Chalfont Yoga and Patty Ferry of Whole Body Yoga about yoga’s profound ability to transform us from the inside out.

For those who are new to yoga, or haven’t practiced in a while, we’ve also included a local yoga directory with a list of popular studios in the Bucks and Montgomery region. If there’s a studio you know and love that’s not listed, just drop us a line and let us know. We’ll be sure to include it next time.

I end with gratitude for the wisdom of the sages on this tricky business of living and dying. I’ll keep working to find peace with my body and mind even as my vintage increases. So at the end of the day, I can say with a smile, in the words of my guru Willie Nelson, “roll me up and smoke me when I die.”

Karen


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Letter from Publisher, August 2015

Hooray for vacation season! I’m feeling blessed to get away, writing from a dorm room at The Garrison Institute, in New York’s renowned Hudson Valley. I’m at a weeklong retreat to learn the communication and self-awareness process called nonviolent communication. It’s intensive work, softened by the exquisite view of the Hudson River from my window.

The philosophy is that in order to be clear and effective in our communications with others, we need to be in touch with what’s alive inside ourselves. Only through self-empathy can we come to have true and meaningful empathy for others.

Our group comprises parents and “parents in waiting” like me. My husband and I are in the process of adopting a child, with both anticipation and nervousness. Will we do it right, and what does that mean? With all the conflicting opinions, theories and ideas circulating, it’s tough to know. Will others judge our decision in ways that may affect our child?

I take heart from the advice of Dr. Adriana Moise, a board-certified pediatrician and Integrative Medicine Fellow who studied with Dr. Andrew Weil. In her Quakertown practice, she encourages parents to ask questions that they may be reluctant or otherwise embarrassed to ask, without fear of being judged.

I’m also grateful when the moms and dads in my retreat circle look at me with love and vulnerability in their eyes and say, “No one knows what they’re doing. We’re just all doing our very best.”

So we huddle around notebooks, coffee mugs in hand, our minds and hearts eager to learn new tools for bringing mindfulness into our family life. We’re all grateful to be provided some kind of “awareness roadmap” for the relational challenges inherent in the parenting journey. Although no one claims to be an expert, we can share what’s working for us.

Like my friend and colleague Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayers, of Elkins Park, who began teaching cooking to her son George in order to address his need to connect with others and stay focused. In her words, “When we cook, George and I work easily in relationship. I may pour and he may stir, or vice versa. We measure, mix and mash in a healthy back and forth way.” Her book, The Kitchen Classroom, and related classes offer a way that parents and kids can practice awareness of one another in a way that’s mutually rewarding, fun and inexpensive (page 22).

I loved learning that at Tinicum Art and Science, cooking is part of the curriculum. For those that prefer sticking close to their own kitchens, Ellen Sue Spicer-Jacobson, of Bala Cynwd, offers a kid-capable recipe from her cookbook, The Whole Foods Experience (page 21).

Kathleen Krol and Jacquelyn O’Malley have excellent suggestions about how we can create the conditions for peaceful communication in the home and steer clear of “tantrum territory” (pages 17 and 18). By minimizing distractions and limiting the number of stimuli in the home environment, we create space and time for both parties to more fully process what’s happening and to respond thoughtfully.

No matter what our parenting philosophy, we can support one another in our shared intention to build strong, happy families. In letting go of our anxieties about what’s good and what’s bad, we can more easily drop into the moment of clarity, love and connection with our kids and ourselves.

To doing our best,
Karen


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Letter from Publisher, July 2015

For me, summertime always feels like a gift. I delight in bare shoulders and liberated toes, sunglasses and water ice. As June turns into July, I sense that “last day of school” feeling rising up inside and even running errands feels easier and more fun.

Much of what I love about summer is that it offers all of us the opportunity to shift into a lower gear. Kids without homework and afterschool activities and bosses on vacation make long weekends of R&R more doable. Hours upon hours of daylight stretch time in our favor.

Summer’s specialness in the Greater Delaware Valley comes in part from the bountiful harvest of local produce and the opportunity to explore surrounding farmlands. As a girl I remember celebrating when juicy nectarines and peaches reappeared in our family’s fruit bowl, and how quickly my brother and I could turn a bag of cherries into a pile of pits. We picked strawberries in Bucks County and came home from the shore with bags of prized Jersey tomatoes.

In Melinda Hemmelgarn’s July feature article, “Food Democracy,” we explore the importance of the everyday food choices we can make as individuals and communities and ways to support wellness and sustainability. During a time of year when we celebrate “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” it feels good to know that many Americans are waking up to the fact that knowing what is in what we eat and how it’s produced is essential to our well-being. Lisa White from the Doylestown Food Co-op addresses the role that co-ops, seed farms and community supported agriculture play in supporting our evolving consciousness.

Another aspect of the food justice movement involves ensuring that fresh, healthy foods make their way to everyone, irrespective of socioeconomic boundaries. Avery Mack’s article on “Food Gleaning” highlights the creative and efficient programs underway across the country to cut down on food waste and create a more egalitarian distribution of healthful nutrition to our citizens. We also learn about two local programs, Manna on Main Street and Bucks Knocks Out Hunger, that are doing this important work in our community.

In our Healing Ways department, writer Linda Sechrist sheds light on Lyme disease, one of the darker aspects of nature that’s exacerbated by ignorance of effective measures we can take. National and local experts offer resources for understanding, preventing and treating this challenging condition.

I wish you all long, lazy days and balmy nights, opportunities to turn away from glowing screens and to-do lists and toward sun, sand, earth and sky, and to the places and people that give you a sense of meaning, connection and liberation.

Yours in conscious community,
Karen


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Letter from Publisher, June 2015

It feels like a sign that my official first issue as publisher is on Healing Addiction, a subject that has touched me personally, as I expect it will have touched many of our readers in some way. Like many hard facts of life, addiction of any kind may be seen as “someone else’s problem” until it affects someone close to us.

I grew up seeing two men in my family struggle with substance addiction. One found his salvation through Alcoholics Anonymous. But the other didn’t resonate with it and suffered the demands and effects of addiction throughout his life; his continued pain profoundly reverberated in his spirit and that of those that cared about him. The experience opened my heart with compassion for anyone dealing with this complex issue.

Thankfully, additional help is now available. Lisa Marshall explores proven alternatives in our feature article, “Rethinking Recovery: Holistic Approaches to Healing Addictions,” where experts share how breakthroughs are making long-term recovery possible for more people. Effective complementary modalities include yoga, acupuncture, cognitive mindfulness practices and hypnotherapy. The goal is for everyone to be able to live a happy, healthy, addiction-free life.

Locally, we hear from Mike Huggins, founder of the Transformation Yoga Project (TYP), who began teaching yoga in prison during his own incarceration and went on to create a team of teachers offering yoga classes across the Delaware Valley to support recovery from addiction and trauma. Beyond asanas (yoga positions), participants are encouraged to look inward to find peace and equanimity, and to develop spiritual aspects of gratitude, redemption and salvation.

I first met Mike in 2010 at Street Yoga, a pioneering program that originated in Seattle to serve at-risk communities through yoga and meditation practices. It was during that weekend training, Mike recently told me, that he and his friend Colleen Devirgiliis were inspired to start TYP.

Our expanded slate of local wellness professionals underscore the fact that addiction isn’t limited to drugs and alcohol, but manifests in different ways for each of us. I gulped when my acupuncturist suggested that I cut out white starches and sugar from my diet to help reverse skin and digestion issues I was struggling with. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized it was a problem for me.

I’ve made progress—replacing sugar cubes with Stevia and white rice with quinoa. But I’m far from having it beat; when I’m stressed or overscheduled, my car cup holders are quick to fill up with empty soda cans and candy wrappers.

If we’re anything alike, there’s probably at least one thing in your life—maybe it’s your cell phone or your daily mocha latte that shouts, “You can’t do without me!” It feels like just acknowledging what those cravings are for ourselves is a step in the right direction.

Wherever you are on your journey, know that we are together on the path to discovering our healthiest, wholest selves.

Yours in authentic community,
Karen


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Letter from Publisher, May 2015

Serving as publisher of Natural Awakenings of Bucks and Montgomery for nearly three years has been an amazing and rewarding experience for which I will always be grateful. Working with you has filled my heart and expanded my mind.

headshotAs with any business venture, a candid evaluation of the current situation points to what’s necessary in order to keep growing. When I reached a point where I saw that in order to take the magazine to greater heights, I also realized that I’d need to accordingly make some big changes in my life.

After assessing what would be best for our community of readers, I decided that it was time to open the door to another passionate and open-minded individual able to lead the charge. I’m pleased to share the good news that with this issue I am passing the torch on to a new publisher, Karen Meshkov, of Wyncote. Please join me in warmly welcoming her.karen meshkov

Many of you have asked about my own future plans. At the moment, I plan to have a fun-filled fantastic summer with my family. Beyond that, I expect to play a different role in the holistic arena because once you’re “awakened”, there’s no turning back.

With your steadfast support, this magazine is now poised to move to the next level of expanded service. Thank you for inviting us into your lives and infusing it with the energy and personality of the Bucks/Montgomery community. Thank you for how well you’ve loved us and for continuing to support Karen as you have me.

To the future—Salut!
Audrey


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