Travels with Penelope

Travel, Food, Wine, Spirituality and Everything Else

Category: Spirituality (page 3 of 4)

August 7, 2015 Dietarian

Before we get into today’s post I want say that Travels With Penelope is undergoing changes. Shortly the web address will change so emails will be subsiding. I encourage you to ‘follow’ by subscribing to the blog in order to continue to receive notifications. If you are already a subscriber, you do not have to resubscribe.

No matter what your dietary preferences may be I think you will enjoy the article recently posted in the NYT.

My Dinner With Longevity Expert Dan Buettner (No Kale Required)

It led me to reflect on the many dietary (from the Greek diaita meaning a way of life) paths I have chosen. Omnivore, vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan, raw foodie, juicer, sometimes combining more than one way at a given time, I will not become a Paleo because I agree with longevity expert Dan Buettner when he recently joked in the above article, that’s fine “if all you want is the life expectancy of a cave man.”

Am I conflicted? Not so much as it may sound. Changes in diet have been evolutionary moments in which I took in what body wisdom dictated and followed through on its sage advise. I have discovered that it takes about three weeks to change the palate. For example, the first week I ate raw, the food tasted lackluster, the second, some dishes began to appeal, and by the third I was in love. At the same time with a highly alkalized body wine tasted like vinegar, coffee like mud. Later with a little less alkaline in the diet I managed to shift the taste of wine back to nectar.

I turned back to coffee because I missed the early morning ritual it provided and the coziness of beginning the day with a warm beverage. I also rationalized that coffee as Buettner noted is one of the biggest anti-oxidants in the American diet. Furthermore, as a recent study from Japan has confirmed, coffee drinkers reach older age more free of common diseases than non-drinkers. Coffee gains ground with health experts.

Later, with my ubiquitous need for change, I turned to tea. Currently, my drink of choice is an almond milk chai, not the way most coffee houses prepare it loaded with sweetness, but as it is made at Portola Coffee Lab in Costa Mesa, Ca.  Portola Coffee Lab: Micro Roaster of the Year or my own brew made with organic rooibos, fresh ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, and combined with steamed organic almond milk. The spices take care of the need for sweeteners, but on occasion I add a dollop of honey.

Recently, the coffee roaster at Portola prepared a cup of coffee for me one of my favorites from Kenya, no less. First cup in seven months I had to take my time, sipping ever so slowly. Three tablespoons in the caffeine began to pack a wallop. Still, the three T’s were heavenly!

My palate is not only conflicted, as some would have it, but likes change, variety and trips into the world of the unusual. When I transitioned into a vegetarian and could no longer depend on a pork chop, a chicken leg or a fillet for my main gig the experience of what I could eat expanded exponentially. I discovered Beluga lentils, mung beans, faro, millet and buckwheat groats. The same happened when I left dairy and eggs to transition from vegetarian to vegan. No move had quite the expansiveness as the move into the world of raw. I discovered that cheeses made with nuts are amazingly similar to cheeses made with milk. When I made raw zucchini pasta for friends, they failed to recognize the zucchini thinking it was wheat pasta.

Over the years I have drawn from each of the “ways” distilling the best and hopefully adding to the health and happiness of body, mind and spirit. The journey holds no absolutes, with personal health, animal health, and that of the planet my only goal. Lately, I had sensed a new adventure looming on the horizon. When I came across the article above on Dan Buettner’s writings about the Blue Zone diets I knew I had landed yet again.

May 6, 2015 Jiu

When I was introduced to orange wine I was drawn to its unusual gold color and out-on-the-farm nose. Earthiness describes my first taste. A lingering complex finish left an impression of a drink that had come from antiquity. Smitten in that first encounter, I imbibed a bit too much. The following morning in conversation with my son I revealed that the orange had loosened my tongue and as a result I waxed eloquent on expository profound truths or, to put it mildly, the gospel according to P.

My wise son had only one comment. “Mom, wine is the truth serum.”  My mind had a history of playing push-pull with to imbibe or not to imbibe. The idea of a truth serum deepened my quandary.

I appreciated the enjoyment a glass of vino provides especially when properly paired with food. Its health benefits are easily available through Google. Humankind has been enjoying the pleasures and benefits of the grape for at least 7000 if not a million years. The drunken monkey hypothesis has added to our knowledge of why. None-the-less and not infrequently, a nagging voice would chastise me with such thoughts as, “an enlightened being would not imbibe alcohol even if it were a low nine per cent Riesling.”

At times I wondered if my feelings were a hangover from a past life as a Hindu. On my first trip to India in 1985 it was nearly impossible to get an alcoholic drink outside a major hotel. Of course all of that has changed since and India has developed a thriving wine region. Or, perhaps I had been a Muslim. But then some of the first wines were produced in northern Iran. In hyper-looping around Azerbaijan an Islamic culture, I was surprised to learn that it has been producing wine for centuries. So much for past life theory.

On return from Eurasia, I decided to attend a conference on Understanding Jui: The History and Culture of Alcoholic Beverages in China. As wine production began in China, I anticipated getting a great deal of useful information that would help me in countering the inner nag. The Confucius Institute at UCDavis hosted the event in the Mondavi Food and Wine Center.

Before going further I need to report that UCDavis has just been recognized for the third year in a row as having the number one agricultural school in the world, and it’s the only UC campus to be number one in anything worldwide.

The daylong included talks and a panel by prestigious experts, mainly from China. Just what I wanted. Patrick McGovern drew me to the meeting. The Scientific Director of the Bimolecular Archaeology, Project for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum and adjunct Professor of Anthropology at University of Pennsylvania, he has been most helpful to my partner and me on a book we are writing on the vessels mainly glass, used in making and imbibing wine.

McGovern’s research has been key to our knowledge of the use of alcoholic beverage in the ancient world. With a dual hat, he has pursued archaeological and chemical clues from ancient China and other parts of Asia to make his discoveries.

Fondly known as the “Indiana of Jones of Ancient Ales, Wines, cuisines and beverages,” his book In The Search for the Origins of Viniculture and Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer and Other Alcoholic Beverages reveals the story of humankind’s intoxicating quest for the perfect drink in ancient China is a must for anyone working in the wine industry. He describes how the analysis of early pottery from Hiahu in the Yellow River valley of China reconstructed a mixed fermented beverage of rice, hawthorn fruit, grape and honey. Analysis of bronze vessels from the Shang/Western Zhou Dynasty discovered that residue in the vessels still held liquids with millet, rice wine and beer from 3000 years back.

My nag listened intently to McGovern along with the several others who discussed how the story of alcohol has been foundational in every aspect of culture, not only in China, but others as well. Michele Yeh, the Department Chair of East Asian Languages and Culture at UCDavis for example, related that, in China by the third century, jiu became associated with poets so much so that, if someone claimed to be a poet but did not drink jiu, others questioned whether they could truly call themselves poets.

In China we find a history of formalized consumption as exemplified in state rituals, in ancestry worship, and in the rise of cult drinking in the third century when the meaning of drinking evolved. Social, political and intellectual factors contributed to the development of the rituals. Appropriate imbibing based on Confucian ideals also holds true. Drinking is not just about fallen down drunken stupidity.

Not only is the history of alcohol use in America short-lived in contrast to China, it has been frowned upon. One need only consider Prohibition as an example. Nor does it have the kind of formalized ritual around the use of jiu that is found in China. Wedding and New Years Eve toasts are two exceptions; the use of wine at Mass in the Catholic Church another.

If McGovern was the perfect keynote, Cecilia Chiang former owner of The Mandarin in San Francisco was the perfect close. Cecilia opened her talk on a personal note: “I am ninety five years old.” She described her life in China as the daughter of a wealthy, French champagne drinking family who fled during the Communist revolutions and moved to San Francisco in 1960. Opening a restaurant she offered many Northern Chinese dishes for the first time. Among other chefs she taught Alice Waters how to prepare excellent Chinese food. She spoke of introducing Mondavi fume blanc at her restaurant. She spoke of how Robert Mondavi with a bevy of wine knowledgeable guests often frequented her restaurant. With her inspiring talk,  my inner nag begin to wither on the vine.

On an entirely separate venture from the above, I had gone to Colorado to attend a retreat to be given by an esteemed Tibetan monk. The day before the retreat a friend and I were crawling down a dirt road exploring the local environs. When we passed a monk walking along my intuition stopped the car and inquired, “Are you giving a retreat?” After his affirmative answered we spent a several moments engaging in a delightful conversation. WhenI ran into him again that evening while registering for the retreat we resumed our conversation. I felt the beginnings of a budding friendship.

Following our karmic meeting, I drove to the only restaurant in the small town where I ordered a glass of cabernet to pair with a mushroom entre. While sipping and waiting for mushrooms the monk showed up. He passed my table and smiled. Chagrined, I felt like I had been caught engaging in crime, minor of course. Had I seen him enter, I would have hidden my glass. So much for budding friendship!

Moments later the he gave me a teaching. A server glided across the restaurant with a glass of wine and presented it to the monk. He turned and raised his glass in my direction.

Further chagrined, but, I breathed a sigh of relief to know that even some enlightened beings imbibe.

I’ve had enough of the nag. I’m giving him up. In his ignorance, he simply does not know what he’s talking about!



January 2015 Inner Travel

The Winter Festival with its full monsoon of celebration, gift and food has quietly receded to an echo distantly drumming in the deeper crevices of my mind and memory. Prior, there were so many well intentioned plans including cookie baking to sitting in hermetic solitude before the fireplace while a coffee-ground log slowly burned its way toward extinction. After, longer draughts of same while waiting for more cookies to bake their way into edible form in space. My gifts arrived in spades: family, friends, space, solitude and art making ( the cookie work) and now that it’s 2015, we have a new trail marker along the illusionary path that we call time.

Added horizontally, 2015 is an eight year, or, another way to look at it, a year created by two fours. It takes a four to make a square. It takes two squares to cap and shoe a cube. In the world of symbolic process squares ground. Ground what? Whatever, better yet, whoever needs grounding. And to ground means? To sit squarely and solidly as a cube that fully recognizes itself as a cube while geometry turns into poetry.

Stillness and fire are basic elements of transformation. Give time over to shake and shift. Perhaps this is the deeper meaning of New Year’s resolutions: let go of the meaningless, the unnecessary, the trappings, and dive into unbounded space.

Is space anything but unbounded? My space, your space surely have boundaries. Unbounded space: the ocean of bliss, the pool of the unknown, the universe of the unlimited, is the only god-dess I want to know. May knowledge of the unbounded expand in 2015.

November 26, 2014 Husbonda and Gratitude




I want to acknowledge and respond to some comments that have come from my readers. Seems that the time of posting has caused a little confusion. As one person said, I was getting posts on Sardegna long after I thought you had returned to the States. Right! Frequently and for purposes of reflection some posts are written post trip.

Then, there is the partner issue. ”Why do you call him your partner?” This one has really bugged a few (I have noted that the few are of the upper generation). I thought it was perfectly appropriate given the evolution of relationships with their sundry varietals. I like a universal concept as in “partner,” it rules out types, discrimination and expectations. I have always looked on my significant other as my partner in my life. Both are found under definitions of the H word.

The Old English husbonda  defined as the master of a house is derived from the Old Norse husbondi. Hus meaning house and bondi householder. (Does that mean a wife is in bond to the master of the hus?) Bua also elated to Old Norse means to inhabit and is akin to Old English buan to dwell. Buan is related to bower for which one definition is a lady’s private apartment in a castle or medieval hall. Exploring husbonda does get complicated.

In my travels through several on-line dictionaries, husbonda is consistently defined as master of the house-note, not a partner in life, but one who lords it over. My partner is definitely not one who lords it over, so I wonder if he still qualifies as a husbonda? No matter, I will continue to refer to him as partner, thereby covering all bases: better half, companion, consort, mate, spouse, Mr. Right, soul mate among others.

In conclusion,  I will end with Happy Thanksgiving. May you and yours, partners, children, parents, and friends find joy in sharing this auspicious day. Be it far from the maddening world of commercials, sales and materialism, and aligned with human connection, meaning and gratitude for life. Tagore speaks of art as the expression that comes out of abundance. May this be a most artful day for all.

Penelope (and her partner)



October 10, 2014 Reflections on Bean Paste

To supplement or not to supplement with white bean paste?

Recently, I received an email from an old friend. No personal message, just a link to a weight loss product Forskolin, made from white beans. It included a video of Dr. Oz promoting the product. White bean paste sounded like a winner especially with  Oprah on a sidebar giving it a thumbs up. According to the info I received, white bean paste can help a girl to get rid of excess belly fat. The hidden persuaders tempting, I went online to purchase a round.

Just as I was about to click on the add-to-your-cart button a pop-up of my father appeared in my mind’s eye. When I was a child, he was fond of asking me if I lived to eat or ate to live? I thought of his question as his humorous way of making me conscious of how much food I was consuming. I never gave him an answer; I knew he didn’t expect one, but as he sat there in my mind’s eye, smiling no less, I finally responded. One cannot be separated from the other; the act of eating is both necessary to life as well as part of why we live.

Several decades back, I began to reflect on the kind of vehicle with which I had been blessed to carry me through this lifetime. I noticed early on that in spite of my mother’s well rounded healthy cooking my body gained weight rather easily. By the time I was in high school I frequently went on grapefruit and hardboiled egg diets so popular at the time, to help maintain my girlish figure. I had friends with the opposite issue; they drank lots of milkshakes.

After high school graduation I joined a western monastic community where we were served three squares a day prepared by professional chefs. Between meals, we had coffee breaks peppered with pastries and cookies. A year after joining my knees began to bother me. Our horarium included several daily rounds of prayers – knees to kneeler! When I approached my director about my knee issue, she told me I was overweight and suggested a diet. So, while my fellow classmates ate the fabulous dinners prepared by the chefs, I hightailed it over to a special dietary kitchen to pick up my perfectly balanced, oil and butter free, low carb diet. And coffee breaks became just that: coffee breaks sans cookies! The diet worked and in a short time, as I took off ten pounds, the knees went pain-free! Goal accomplished, I returned to a normal diet but minus desserts. However, my fat loving body had its own plans and the weight slowly inched up. How I longed for grapefruit and eggs.

I had a slew of relatives with adipose tissue issues, far worse than mine. As I observed their plump bodies I knew the genes had it in for me as well. From high school on through the years in the monastery, and long after leaving it I returned time after time to a “diet.” Not binge, but just to what helped to prevent bulge. Not only was I prompted by vanity, but also the desire to be healthy. I rotated through low carb, no fat, juice, all veggie, two annual ten-day water fasts and Weight Watchers. They worked. I cleared the toxins, slimmed down, but after awhile I would have to return to a more rigid disciplined way of eating.

On another note and while living in India in the nineties, I was introduced to the 5000-year-old Ayurveda health system. In what has been called the oldest holistic health system in the world. I learned about the three body types and the appropriate diet for each type or dosha as they are called. Kapha, pitta and vata refer to the elements earth, fire and water. Each body, it is said has a predominance of one or two and is called accordingly.

Wouldn’t you know it? I am heavy on kapha-earth with just enough pitta-fire to keep the fat under control. It is recommended that kaphas abstain from wheat and dairy.

After I returned from India the blood type diet became the rage. According to its guidelines, Type O’s such as myself should avoid dairy and wheat! It was beginning to sound like a conspiracy!

From a yoga regimen in India I went on to Tai Chi and became interested in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) where herbals instead of chemicals are used to overcome negative body conditions as well as to cleanse and energize. In general, nine body types are described; we have physiological, structural, and psychological elements that create our unique bodies. TCM looks at the person’s constitution for clinical treatment, to promote health and to balance the yin-yang in one’s body. Once again, I found myself confronting foods that I should avoid or in this case, add to my diet.

As I made my way through the various traditions and paths of eating, not to mention my interest in farm to fork and Slow Food, fortunately, I began to listen to my body. At one point it told me to stop eating meat. I did, not for any moral or spiritual reason, but only because my body said, “don’t eat meat.” I agreed. In recent years it said, “don’t eat wheat.” OK, I said. Every time it speaks I find its message generally in alignment with the information I had garnered from my studies. I think that’s what’s called body wisdom.

I have learned that I need to make food choices according to my genetics, doshas, blood type, common sense and perhaps most important, body wisdom. How I carry them out depends on whether the body and spirit are willing.

We eat to live, but what we eat has an impact on how we live. We also live to eat but how we live is determined by what we eat. In its Greek origin, the word diet means a way of life. According to the above mentioned ancient health systems, the intake of food is advised according to the body type. If one follows what is suggested and listens to the body as well, diet does become a way of life.

In my growing age I finally reached a point where I had everything with my diet nicely settled. And then I receive the email about bean paste. Here’s the upshot. An active ingredient in white kidney bean extract, phaseolus vulgaris blocks the enzyme necessary for starch digestion. Theoretically, the starch will pass through the digestive tract without being broken down into simple sugars and later stored as fat. At last, with this miracle supplement I can eat pizza, pasta, bread, in a nutshell. all the carbs I want.

Tell me, what’s a girl to do?

July 20, 2014 Fit for a Foodie

Once up and running, word got out, spread far and wide that the amrit was one of the best restaurants in the state of Maharastra. Tourists drove the forty five or so kilometres from what was then called Bombay, to the village of Ganespuri, knocked on the gate to the meditation ashram that housed the amrit, and asked for dining reservations. While the resident devotees found it rather humorous, tourists when told that the amrit not a public restaurant and served food for the residents of the ashram only, went away disappointed.

One of those fortunate individuals to eat the ambrosia served in the amrit three times a day for one solid year, why I get jealous when I remember my experience of living there some twenty-five years ago. The amrit’s five star reputation—well deserved!

This was not a restaurant in any ordinary sense, but it could have held its own against some of the starred Michelins. The philosophy behind it ran in deep streams of thought coming out of the Vedas and the Upanishads, some of the world’s most ancient scriptures. Food a necessity, not only nurtures the body, the divine can be known through the sense of taste.

One of my work assignments that year now seemingly so long ago, was prep work in the kitchen. As we washed, cut, and chopped vegetables, de-stemmed thyme, peeled mangos and papayas, kneaded dough for naan and chapatis we worked in silence and listened to recordings of ancient Sanskrit mantras and ragas. In a kitchen so contemplative and peaceful I could not help but fall into that same state. I could feel that peace slipping through my fingers into the food that would eventually nurture the souls of those ate it. This was in fact the intention behind the the silence and chanting. To this day I listen regularly to chants when preparing meals in my own kitchen.

An aside on a similar note: years later while visiting a large winery down in Chile I thought I was in a church when I entered the barrel room to the sound of Gregorian Chants. Piped in over a sound system because sound carries vibration, the winemaker convinced that the elevated vibrations of the chant would permeate the wine, played them continuously as the wine aged.

How many times have I heard the question, “do you like the food?” to be followed by the answer, “it’s divine”– music to the ears of the chef. According to the dictates in the ashram not only the method of preparation,  the intentions and state of the staff are important. I would add a very important third ingredient,  the essence and quality of the food.

What is it that makes me  feel that the food is divine.

First, it makes me feel good—it’s that simple.

Second, it takes me out of my ordinary experience into dimensions beyond the thing itself. Like the visuals of a gorgeous sunset, the taste of food can be overwhelming. It is one of life’s most pleasurable experiences. I am not talking about the self-gratification found in an eat, drink, and be merry hedonism in which food is solely an end in itself. That’s another topic.

How was the food in Sardegna? Divine! Simple, made with local ingredients, beautifully presented. People fuss over the preparation process like a hen taking care of her chicks.

As I toured the island some ingredients growing increasingly familiar drew my attention to the essence of  Sardinian food. I knew from conversations with chefs and locals there was a great deal of concern and pride in the way food was prepared–in short, with good energy.

Rather than my usual focus on the dishes or menus I began to focus on the menu of some of  the ingredients that turned up in one form or another across Sardegna.

Pecorino, like I had never tasted it, young and soft like mozzarella or aged from a few months up to a year. Casu marsu, a maggot riddled form was new to me. Pecorino and ricotta the other ubiquitous cheese are made from sheep’s milk until they are shorn in late spring. Cow milk replaces sheep’s milk for ricotta until late in the fall. With more sheep populating Sardegna than people it is understandable why lamb, pecorino and ricotta dominate the cuisine.







Bread, made in the old, traditional way. I cannot imagine how a Sard could handle gluten intolerance, but surprisingly, there is a segment of the population with problems. One chef teacher told me that many feel that the gluten issue began when wheat production was “modernized.”






Pasta. Culurgiones, ricotta filled pockets rather than ravioli, malloreddus, small dumplings in tomato sauce rather than gnocci, fregola, a nutty pasta frequently served with clams, varying slightly from north to south were common.

















Veggies: tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant dominate.







Seada: ravioli like pockets filled with pecorino, topped with honey is divine.









Wine: cannonau, vermintino, carignan always available, but rare varietals indigenous to the island may be had as well.










Nutshell: the divine food of Sardegna covers all three of the above criteria making it more than fit for a foodie, the kind of foodie as explained by Mark Bittman.

Rethinking the Word ‘Foodie’


Pleasure is just one aspect. It’s even more important to reflect our values.

JUNE 24, 2014

6-16-2014 On to Rome

My partner called Uber at 6:00 AM. Within fifteen minutes Kushal picked us up. I knew it would be a safe ride to the airport the moment I saw Ganesh on his dashboard. With traffic on the 405 amazingly light for the early morning commute slot, we arrived at John Wayne Airport aptly named for the big guy, by 6:30. At barely ten years old I can remember seeing JW at the local Thrifty’s Drugs former home of the nickel ice cream, and probably the nearest drug store to his home on Lido Isle. Sightings of celebrities were common in those days with the coastline a preferred playground, and are still so today, but not only was John Wayne famous, the people of south OC loved him.

Kushal described how he worked his way around the world to get from Nepal to the US. As a driver for hire, he worked in Israel, Italy and Germany, the latter for a handicapped man, as he related it. All the while his intention was to work his way to the US. Now, finally settled in his home of choice California, he has started a family. To show his loyalty to his new home he gave his four-month old daughter an American name.

Kushal’s is one of many amazing stories, I have heard recounted by Uber drivers since we joined up last month. The ride to the airport cost us 25.00. The same for a taxi would have been 40.00 sans tip! No wonder taxi drivers are rising up against Uber! In some places Uber has wiped out fifty percent of taxi business.

On the flight to Chicago the man next to me all dressed up like a CEO in his crisp white shirt, perfectly creased, light coffee pants and spit shined oxfords read through reams of charts making notes here and there. I noticed Southern Wines and Spirits in bold print across the top of the pages. I would have struck up a conversation about the wines part, but noticed late in the flight and at that point I was not much in the mood for conversation.

A few minutes before landing he pulled out a new hardback—Collective Genuis. I could not help peering over his shoulder, checking out a few lines. I had the middle seat he had the window so I faked looking out the window when in fact I was checking out his book. What young executive geniuses are reading these days roused my curiosity. I picked up that the book’s purpose is to help top leaders in management deal with their role as group leaders. Leaders I read, should hold group meetings, try to get everyone to share ideas, encourage experimentation, enlarge on the collective genius of a group, and so on. It all reminded me of what my developmental psychology teacher imparted as I was preparing to go into teaching about forty years ago. Same lines, different times.

There is also a priest on the plane. It’s comforting to know that last rites are a possibility should something go awry.

The pilot provided a moment of shock and awe when he hit, rather dove into the runway. I cannot recall a landing so hard. When we disembarked and I smelled popcorn right out the gate, I knew we had hit Chicago.






Cozy now on the flight to Rome, we are more than halfway. On an old American Airlines plane, so old it reminds me of the TWA plane I flew in on my first plane ride, a flight from LA to Pittsburgh back in the sixties. The meals skimpy, no snack in the kitchen, thank goodness they are coming out of bankruptcy.

Sorry I forgot to get some melatonin. Impossible to sleep.

April 15, 2014 Tahoma

Tourist or Traveler?

In an earlier blog I said that we can all be tourists, but that we are all travelers. Discernment is in knowing the difference. I’ve been thinking about the difference.

This post is not intended to be about Disneyland, but that seems to be the place to start. I remember the year it opened; I lived a mere twenty-minute car ride away. Growing up in its shadows, a continuous source of entertainment, the fantasy rides when I was young, the rock n rock bands on Friday nights when I was a teen, Disneyland was the place to enjoy myth, fantasy and illusion. Now, several years later it has the largest cumulative attendance of any theme park in the world. In recent years it has hosted over 16 million guests per year. I have not been there for several decades, but soon I will succumb to its magical draw and take my granddaughter.

photo 1

The OC  is no longer known for its rolling orange groves–long gone, but for one of the world’s most famous theme parks. Its long, stretched beaches intermittently broken with hidden nook-like coves for swimming and surfing also draw tourists, and add to its world renown.

What is not so famous, yet OC’s central monumental land-marker visible to all who come to see Disneyland’s Matterhorn, and to those who live behind and beyond the Orange Curtain is Saddle Back Mountain. I grew up in its shadows, too, literally.


It is easy to understand why it is called Saddle Back. Located mid-way along the  Santa Ana Mountains it mimics the front knob, sunken center and raised rump look of an ordinary riding saddle.  Mojeska at 5,496 feet, more northerly and Santiago at 5,689 southerly, are the two peaks that jointly cut a sharp saddle image against a normally azure sky.

People are surprised to learn that OC has a mountain with accessible trails for hiking and biking. Housed in the Cleveland National Forest there are several ways to get to the summit with the sixteen-mile round trip Holy Jim Trail as the most popular. From the top of Santiago due to a conglomeration of microwave and telecommunications antennas that provide radio coverage for most of SoCal, it is impossible to get a 360 view. On must circumnavigate the summit quarter mile by quarter mile for a full-round view.


On a clear day it can be seen from Los Angeles to San Diego. In earlier times, it nurtured migrant workers taking care of the orange orchards that blanketed much of Orange County. Some agriculture remains; most of the OC has given way to development—constructions and freeways. Rising above it all in clear sight the silent patriarch continues to remind the citizens of its presence.


What is it about mountain that draws us unto itself?

For some ancient peoples the earth was like the human body with mountain as backbone and spine. For others mountain was the place where heaven and earth join; home to the gods, it held the space for the meeting place of humans and deities. The indigenous occupants of the oak and chaparal covered hills and valleys around Saddle Back the Serranos, believed in two existences: one above, one below. They were two states that existed together and the rocks, soil, flora and fauna were considered to be the fruits of their union.


The ancient Egyptians routinely revitalized themselves by drawing energy into the body from key sites in natural environments, water bodies, valleys, mountains, moon and stars included, through breath and movement. Mountains were seen as the place to draw in strength.

I learned this simple practice several years ago from a teacher of Egyptian spirituality:

Settle on a place. Point the arms and fingers toward the site. On an exhale and through the tips of the fingers the energy body is sent deeply into the site. The breath is held while the energy body collects energy. On the inhale the galvanized energy body is brought back into the physical body. It is drawn through the curved fingertips, but still pointed in the direction of the site. Finally, the fingertips are placed over the heart and through them the invigorated energy is sent through out the body.

Sound bizarre? Give it a try. I shall never forget the feeling I got from doing the exercise at Sinai in 2003. It felt like Moses and his entire tribe visited upon me!

I have visited several of the sacred mountains of the world, Mt. Shasta, Parnassus, Olympus, Fuji, Rainier, or as the Pacific Northwest Natives call it, Tahoma—the mountain that was God. For some time I had an unfulfilled longing to make the parikrama by circumambulating Mt. Kailash. Recognized through out Asia as the holiest mountain in the world it is regarded as too sacred to climb. Always off in a distant part of my awareness, I used to tell myself I’m not a mountain person, I’m a water person. In spite of my youthful draw to the piscine, the mountain has continued to call me and in growing age I feel more akin to it.

Saddle Back reminds me of not only the cosmic mountain, but of the one spoken of by philosophers and sages, the one within that is eventually climbed by all pilgrims. “So seek the craggy peak in all the dreams on all the maps, through every circled quest, but finally call it by its rightful name…Tahoma.”    (Belden Lane in Landscapes of the Sacred.)


Saddle Back is not Kailash or Fuji, but it is my local mountain and the mountain for the millions who live in the OC. While I may not make it to Kailash in this lifetime, Saddle Back is here and has been for as long as I can remember.

As Ram Dass pointed out many years ago, “Be here now.” Hopefully, I am wiith Saddle Back unbounded by space and time.


April 3, 2014 A Most Unusual Mode of Travel

Another short appointment with the plastic surgeon this week:

“So, today you are playing opera.”

“Yes,” he smiled.

“Today’s choice is much better than the Beethoven. Appeals to and soothes the heart, much better for the doctors office. By the way, I thought about the music of Eric Satie. I think you might like him,” I was about to pontificate, but he stopped me.

“I am not even interested in this,” he countered.

Our connection seemingly dissolving, I grew quiet.

He took out a few stitches then as he cleaned up he surprised me. “What was the name of that musician,” he asked.

“Eric Satie. Google the name, you will find several You Tube videos.”

Pencil and pad in hand he wrote the name down then left the office forgetting to say good-bye.


It made sense that I would have a vision as recounted in the last post, of a universal drum one so large that from the mind’s eye point of view it seemed to fill the heavens. Drums and drumming have been a part of my life for four decades.

The drum is the oldest instrument. For all seasons, times and places, in every culture it has a place. It has been used for ceremony, communication, dance, movement, and travel. Yes, travel, but more about that in a minute.


My first experience with drums happened on a visit to the Taos reservation north of Santa Fe in the mid seventies. While we were making our way around the area I noticed a commercial drum store with various sized frame and ceremonial drums peeking through the windows. At the time a drum seemed the perfect souvenir to take home as a reminder of the New Mexican landscape and its indigenous peoples living along the Rio Grande.I purchased a small ceremonial drum; brought it home knowing intuitively that it should have a place of honor. I could not bring myself to turn it into an end or coffee table as I had seen some do. It sat in my living room silently drumming; I swear I heard it on a regular basis, for the next ten years.

Then, one day a Mohawk shaman walked into my life. During the following year she taught me how the Six Tribe Nation used tobacco in rituals and purification ceremonies, both accompanied by a slow sonorous drumbeat. For her life without a drum was unthinkable. She carried it with her wherever she went. That was when I took to my ceremonial drum, beating slowly, quietly, alone in my living room.


Guyandulas taught me about drumming the heartbeat. Lub-dub, Lub-dub. She explained that when we drum it we develop a feeling of oneness with everything. Everything in the universe from the smallest particle to the largest planet to the stars has a rhythm each thing has a heartbeat. In drumming we become a single being with a single heartbeat. The one note of the heartbeat brings all the discordant notes into harmony and balance.


Later, when studying sound healing I learned about entrainment and how the rhythms of the body can be changed with sound. More powerful rhythmic vibrations of one object can change those less powerful of another object. We know that we can change our brainwaves and heartbeat with sound. Resonance and entrainment are the basis of sound healing. Different brainwave rates correspondence to different states of consciousness based on cycles per second or hertz.

Beta waves…14-20 cycles normal waking

Alpha waves…8-13 daydreaming or meditating Theta waves….

4-7 that is states of deep meditation, sleep and shamanic activity

Delta waves…0.5-3 deep sleep and profound states of meditation and healing.

By changing our brain waves we can induce mystical states. I know this is true from my experiences with drumming. The above also helps to explain why shamans have used drumming as a means of travel through trance for centuries.



The slow steadiness of such a rhythm such as the sound of the heart is the lullaby of the cosmos. Repetive nursery rhymes, Mary Had a Little Lamb that we repeated over and over in our early years mimics the heart’s repetitive sound. Drumming the heartbeat takes us back to the first sound we heard, our mothers heartbeat and it takes us deep into our mother Gaia’s heartbeat. When drumming is done at 72 cycles per minutes for babies, they quiet. As we go deeper into the lub-dub we get in touch with the diastole and the systole, the poetic rhythm of the heart. It opens our consciousness out into enormous, unbounded space and the draws it back into itself.


As the years have passed the walls of my living room became the host for a drum library. The etheric sound is continuous. As said above, the note of the heartbeat brings all the discordant notes into harmony and balance and through vibration it carries from right where I am to the furthest reaches of the universe.



A trip well worth taking.

March 30, 2014 A Windfull

I am having one of those days! Ideas hopping around in my head like jumping beans dancing on a  hot griddle.  The Tibetans would say that my mind is full of wind.

Before I throw myself to that wind, a short follow-up to my session with Dr. Hung the plastic surgeon who removed the brown blotch last week. We had a second encounter this morning at his office in Costa Mesa. I could not help commenting again on the Beethoven playing over the sound system.

“Still listening to the same music.”

“Yes, but next time you come I’ll try to have something to your liking,” he responded.

“How about some Native flute music,” I queried.

“But that’s not what we grow up with,” he responded.

“Right, people might not understand it,” I offered.

“They would tell me that they did not come here for a sweat lodge,” he proffered.

In our extended minute or two, the plastic surgeon, remembering our discussion of the previous week zeroed in on a topic of interest to both of us. We had barely started our dialogue when he had to take his leave for another patient. My wound handled, conversation hanging mid-stream, I felt impelled to reach out to shake his hand, but he was out the door before I could act. Left alone in the cold, silent room I wanted to call him back, invite him to continue over a cup of tea. I had made a connection bordering on friendship.

I felt so healthy as I left the office.

I received two emails yesterday, one from Johnny Jet’s travel blog; the other from the Buddhist Publication, Palpung containing an essay on the Buddhist Eightfold Noble Path. Both offered insights on travel modes–miles apart, one practical, one esoteric.

Johnny offers tips for the more prosaic form of travel. The only travel blog to which I subscribe, he knows his stuff, is an especially good source for someone who is new to or rarely travels, and helpful for the experienced traveler as well. I have been asked to do workshops on travel, ticketing, packing, none of which I have done so far. Instead, I refer people to Johnny Jet.

It was the discussion of wheels that drew me into the essay in the Palpung email. My wheels are my Prius, so I thought. When I need to travel locally I slip into its embrace and off we go. Having accumulated 230,000 miles together we have become very close friends. It takes me anywhere I want to go and I am comfortable with the quiet way it rides not to mention the 48 mpg. My mechanic tells me he has seen the same model with 500,000 miles. So I am hoping that the two of us will make a go of it for the rest of this lifetime – it’s or mine.

When the email from Palpung arrived, I realized that I had several sets of wheels not as tangible as the Prius, but none the less, practical. The author, a Tibetan Buddhist lama, wrote that the Buddha’s teachings are called “the dharma” and that the symbol for the dharma is the wheel. I have seen this symbol on temples and monasteries throughout Southeast Asia. This particular wheel has eight spokes symbolizing what is known as the eightfold way. According to this view each spoke is like a wheel that can take us, not to earthly sites, as does the Prius, but to enlightenment.

My imagination went wild when I thought about it. I love the idea of having wheels that could take me to enlightenment; my Prius has some limitations in this area.

As I reveled in my newfound realization a funny thing happened. The inner wind began to stir along with its concomitant visions. Like a rising sun, an image of a Native American frame drum ascended in the space in front of my minds eye. Round, covered with animal skin, probably deer, several spokes radiated from its center to its outer rim.  Each one held a shimmering neon sign that named what I would now call, a wheel to enlightenment.

Eight-fold Path read one spoke, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali another, St. Ignatius Thirty Days, Mayan Scripts, Gnostic Gospels and those of the four evangelists, Koran, the Medicine Wheel, the Nine Ways of Bon, the I-Ching, there were several—each flashing the name of a practice that if given due diligence, could serve as an aid to enlightenment. In the mind’s eye, the drum, large as the universe embraced several traditions under its umbrella-like head.

While I have been a life-long student of various traditions I had never thought of them as “wheels.” Practices of the traditions as seen within the vision of a simple frame drum created a startling,  “AHA.” The metaphoric image grounded the esoteric modes in the here and now to simple ways and means that if I let them, could turn me to where I needed to go.

As my mind followed the wind and the visions, I understood. All of us can be tourists; all of us are travelers. Discernment is in knowing the difference.

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