Popular Posts

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Surprising Insights from The Humble Play Corner

The front window at Marigold, overlooking the play area.

Have We Forgotten How To Play?

by Rudy The Pharmacist

I have recently viewed two TED talks on the subject of play and they have inspired this piece on how I have to incorporate more playfullness into my daily life. Not for amusement , but as an integral part of a well balanced life scheme. I now realize that 30-30-20-20 rule works out well for me. It goes like this: plan the 30%, be surprised by 30%, ponder the 20% and for the balance...unplan. The humble play corner at Marigold has been a source of this insight. It is one of those things that intuitively felt right, then we did it wrong, then we stood back and it fell into place. We planned then we unplanned.

Two Browns on Play

Tim Brown is the CEO of a design and innovation company and he talks about the seriousness of play. It leads to creativity and looseness and imparts the inadvertent ability to think outside the box. Perfectionism and regimentarianism are the kryptonite of creativity. The only perfect truth is that perfection is an impossible standard; an idea that is untenable. Especially so in a creative environment, which is admittedly, the only environment that spirals upwards and not downwards. Downwards spirals are useful in limited applications, for one, the water as it flushes down the toilet. However, it is what happens when creativity dies. Ask any creative person (actually, ask any person): what have you done today that is creative. If they start reciting a long list of activities, you are talking to a real living individual. Creativity is the oxygen of inventiveness. Here is a link to Tim Browns enjoyable talk.

Tim Brown heads an innovation think tank and studies the role of play in sparking creativity.
Click to see Tim Brown's TED talk:


Another Brown, Dr. Stuart Brown (no relation....but mmm) got intrigued about the subject of play when he was investigating the lives of convicted murderers. He found a link to the absence of childhood play and devoted his career in psychiatry to the subject of play as a behavioural template. According to Brown, play develops our ability to read signals and creates the early modes of conduct. He stresses the importance of play in the workplace as a stress reliever and promoter of a social network. Play can be the effective alternative to social network's evil twin, Facebook and its megalomaniac sister, Twitter. Robert Fulghum wrote a brilliant book called All I Really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten. The lessons are simple: play nice, wait your turn, share, don't hit.

Dr. Stuart Brown , a psychiatrist who noted the absence of play in the childhood of convicted murderers.
Click to See Stuart Brown's TED talk:


The Marigold Play Corner

A few months ago, I was walking by the window of Too Good To Be Threw, which is a fantastic thrift store on 6th Street. It is fantastic because it is right next door to Marigold, plus all the proceeds go to the Transition Society. I saw a beautiful beaded bright green table. I pictured it as child's play table and the next day, we cleared the front area of the store and created a play center. It worked out beautifully. We had all the elements in the store already: the brown carpet, the wooden box, the seats, the fabric for the seats, the benches. By the end of the day it was all set up.

Inspired by a play table, the play center materialized out of things we had already.
Then we eagerly watched what happened. Nothing. The kids did not play. We had to play with them.Since I love playing, that was OK. I would, you know, just get things rolling. However, I could not give up my other "important" duties to be the official  Ronald McMarigold. So short of making balloon animals (which I am really good at by the way), we analyzed what was happening.  One of the staff came up with a brilliant idea. Put the toys at the child's level. We put the toys on the floor and guess what happened? It worked immediately. It turns out children know what to do. It was not what we thought they would do. We had forgotten how to play.

Nancy's beautiful stained glass fills the corner with green and yellow sunbeams. 
 We bought a Connect Four game and challenged the kids to a game. If they beat any of the staff, they get to win a toy from the toy box. I got beat by a nine year old and then I got beat by a ten year old. I made a little girl almost cry when I raised my hands and stood up with a loud YES!!! when I won. It was a pretty brutal unmasking of the ego that lurked within. It was so hilarious, I laughed out hard at my stupidity. We dropped the Connect Four Challenge thing that day.

Play should be removed from gamesmanship...it is enough to promote pure play at its essence. There is no requirement for rules, or trophies of green jackets or yellow jerseys. These just leads to all sorts of trouble. What to do you do with your livestrong bracelet now?

Play without the fear of not winning. Children are naturally good at this. So at the Marigold Play Corner, we needed to let go of planned play. We had to back off, not direct, not guide, not hover.  Soon, we noticed the children inspecting the corner. In time, the children would let go of their parents hands and suss it out. Then they fell into play. It became their space. The play changed from child to child. Always, they invented games and came up with elaborate set ups. Two kids took all of the Jenga blocks and three sets of dominoes and lined them up in a spirally circle  six feet across. This took them two hours to do. Three seconds to knock down.

Some parents (the wise ones who would have creative geniuses giving TED talks one day) will go with the flow and linger in the store or watch from a distance. Some parents (the hurried ones who have places to go, lattes to sip and boots to buy) would cut off the play mid-play and round up the kids like kettlecorn....pop, pop, pop.

Connect Four, which is now free to be  Connect Whatever or Clinking Machine or something else.

Free to Be a Child Play

So, the play corner has freed itself from our ill-conceived plans and attempts at "intelligent" design. It is a really popular corner now and to see a child immersed in self-designed play right in the middle of our store restores the energy of the place like a fog machine of happiness. It has assumed its own intelligence, with little help from us.

Our role is simple: remove poky things, no small bits to swallow, nothing too heavy to crush toes,  no lead in the plastic. Other than that, the rest is up to the children. Everyday, we look over to the play corner and learn lessons on how to play from the children. They always have it right. Its their turf.

Each child creates their own game. Instinctively, they find the joy in freeplay.

Friday, March 22, 2013

World Water Day

Peak Oil VS Peak Water

by Elaine "The Brain"

Elaine is one of our brilliant advisers at Marigold and she is passionate about three things: natural health, permaculture and fabric arts. She describes herself as the original granola-head, having been in the health food industry since its infancy. Elaine lives, breathes, and cares about all things good for your health and the planet's, believing that we co-evolve as symbiotes in a continually changing planet. She has more than 25 years experience in organic gardening and sustainable living. She is a dynamic leader in the valley's Transition Town and has a private consulting practice as a permaculture design consultant and teacher.

We call her Elaine "the Brain" because she is brilliant, caring and well-informed. 
Here is Elaine's first blog.... be prepared to be shaken, stirred and informed.

By now the term ‘peak oil’ has become a regular part of the discourse on environment, economics, and development. The concept that fossil fuel production is going to involve more extreme measures, more elaborate infrastructure, and greater risk to the ecosystems involved, is relatively common. The idea of ‘peak oil’ frames what we perceive as the most important environmental issue of our time.

A less common idea is the concept of ‘peak water’. Although much of the resistance to fossil fuel development and pipeline expansion is due to concerns about ground and surface water contamination, the idea that fresh water could become a limited resource is still not part of our awareness. It’s a difficult concept, especially for those of us living on this soggy rain-coast. Our problems invariably seem to be too much water: dampness and mold abound; indoor allergies and respiratory problems are rampant. However for millions of people in many parts of the world peak water is already the daily reality and the major factor in a bleak and uncertain future. 

Canada is the land of a million lakes. Canada is steward to fully one sixth of the world’s fresh water resources. We are blessed with an abundance of the world’s most precious resource. Unfortunately development of the tar-sands and the practice of fracking for natural gas pose a huge risk to this abundance. The Navigable Waters Act [1882], a major impediment to the proposed Enbridge pipeline, was rescinded in the recent omnibus budget bill C-45 eliminating environmental protection for more than 90% of our fresh waterways.

It takes 80 barrels of water to produce one barrel of oil.
 Even without the pipeline the tar-sands consume and contaminate our fresh water at a phenomenal rate. It takes 80 barrels of clean water to produce one barrel of tar-sands oil. The tailings ‘ponds’ would be more accurately termed tailings seas. They are so huge they can be clearly seen from space. They are so toxic air canon are used to prevent birds from landing on them.

Cancer rates in the communities downstream from the tar-sands are well above national averages and, for the first time in our history, Canadians families have become refugees in their own country abandoning homes in north-western Alberta’s Peace River district that are too toxic to be habitable. Other families in the same community equally aware of the health risks have remained in their homes simply because they have nowhere else to go.

The health benefits of drinking pure clean water cannot be overstated. Good quality water can reduce the risk factors of cancer and other degenerative diseases. Pure water as a support detoxification is essential to maintaining energy, vitality, and immunity. 

Bill C-45 removes environmental protection for 90% of Canada's fresh waterways.

Peak oil or peak water? One is inconvenient, the other is major catastrophe.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Chocolate Peppercorn Popsicle

Hot Peppercorn Chocolate Popsicle: Endorphins on a Stick

Bitter, Sweet, Spicy meets Soft, Smooth and Crunchy

raw cacao , coconut and dates in the center with a kick of cayenne

The Experience:

Here is the perfect treat for everyone who loves raw cacao and all its goodness. It is served on a popsicle stick and is so beautiful you don't want to eat it. But then you do and you are in chocolate heaven.

For the brave, put the whole thing in your mouth and pull the popsicle stick away. Do it without hesitation... you will get the full taste and sensory experience. Do not call your mother in Sointula to ask for permission.

You immediately taste the crystalline sweetness of the beet. It melts as soon as it hits your mouth. Count to three and it gives way to the soft chewy mix of the melting chocolate center. As the chocolate melts, the juice of the goji berries is released and this lingering tart juice is subtle and gentle. The cayenne soon decides to come out and play. The roguish heat has been lingering in the background and you are not sure whether to trust it or not. Your pulse quickens and you are tempted to start chewing the crunchy peppercorn. Should you play it safe and just spit them out? It taunts you to go ahead and do it. You call your friend Alex, The Accountant, and he advises to not do it. So, you do it and there is an explosion. This one, it makes your eyes water with its intensity, but wait.... all the minerals from the dates and cacao cool down this fire and you are left with the lingering joy of the endorphin release.

Happiness ensues all around and life is good. The colors are brighter and the smile on your face is not from medication or boots at 50% off. You are left musing what the hell just happened.

Life is too short. Enjoy the chocolate.

They say that the benefits of endorphin release, from a good laugh or a good healthy dose of peppers, can last up to twelve hours. Twelve hours from a five second jolt of heat. Not a bad return. Imagine if you ate this chocolate treat while watching Rusell Peters. (early Russell, not the recent stuff)

12 hours of benefits from endorphin release.


Popsicle sticks or whittle a hickory stick if you are a purist
10 Dates, not the Adam Sandler movie.  I prefer naturally sun-dried sulfite free dates from Iran
8 tbsp of raw cacao powder. look for fair trade please
3 tbsp of coconut oil
Himalayan Pink Salt , a pinch ( I always use Salt of Life Himalayan Pink Salt)
3 tbsp Goji Berries
1/4 tsp Cayenne Pepper

Put a marble or stone slab in the oven at 200 degrees and use this as a surface. Mash the dates after removing the pits and then mix in coconut oil and roll on the heated slab until it is melted. Add the cacao and using the choku-zuki punch, roll it over and over until the cacao is smooth and firm. Roll it like dough until the slab is cold, as this makes a perfect stretchy chocolate. Make sure everything is bone dry, The chocolate should shine at this point and hold its shape when pressed.

Form balls with your hands and with popsicle stick, impale it like a Hun.

Chocolate Coating:

In a double boiler, melt together:
8 tbsp of cacao powder
4 tbsp of cocoa butter
4 tbsp of coconut oil
dash of salt
dash of chivalry

Take off heat and stir continously until chivalry is dead. The chocolate sauce should be thick and homogenous.

Dip popsicles. three times, letting them harden between coats. On the last coat, dip into a tray of the garnish.


Beet crystals, the best thing on earth that is not a Rudy blog
Pink Peppercorns

Roll the tops of the popsicle in the beet crystals , coating them generously and then sprinkle the pepercorn on the exposed areas. You have to work quickly before the chocolate sets. Immediately throw in the freezer to flash cool and harden.

How to Enjoy:

Invite one person you love, three people you like and one person you abhor. Observe them. The next time, do not invite the person who took the last piece. Repeat for the next five recipes and you will now have a select group that will last forever. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Cooking with Intention: Sattvic food

Sattvic Food: How to Cook with Intention

 What Works Well  for Terrible Cooks

Sattvic food is nutritious and pure.


Sattva in The Kitchen

Sattva in principle is the beginning, preserving and ending with the essence of purity.  To live with this principle assists a mind that is steady, peaceful and at ease. To work with this principle allows work without attachment, because everything has value and nothing has insignificance. At the same time, nothing has significance. It is an ideal state, which is assisted by preparing and consuming food that follows the sattva philosophy: sattvic food.

To cook with sattva is to begin with pure ingredients, cook with intention in a pure environment. Then, it does not matter how terrible a cook you are: the food will turn out fine.
Sattvic food in its entirety is first of all, pure. You might say that it is purely pure. It is pure in terms of ingredients that are unadulterated, unmodified and fresh. There are no harmful additives, flavors and colors. It is prepared in a clean kitchen, with clean utensils, using pure materials. The recipe does not include masking, correction or flavor enhancement. The ingredients are allowed to create their own natural chemistry. When these principles are followed,  it always works.  I have many recipes that have failed for no reason; the ingredients just don’t work together. Maybe I was rushed, maybe I was missing my favorite knife. I have recipes that work in spite of accidents. The joy of sattva is to leave the final result to faith. If you have sattva, you do not have to taste the food. You expect it to be good. Last summer, I made a drink out of goat’s milk, cantaloupe and lemon balm. It was a very strange concept, but it worked well together.

Yams boiled in jaggary: two ingredients, that's it!

 Sattvic foods are without question nutritious and good for the body.  It goes beyond the nutritional profile of the foods, but delves a little bit into the energy of the food. That is why Thanksgiving meals always turn out good. It is the energy of a good mood. The same dish fails when you are in a hurry or a foul mood.

My wife enjoys cooking with her favorite Earth Wind and Fire songs blaring out of the kitchen.  She can cook all day and dishes will all turn out perfect. Why not? It's powered by Earth Wind and Fire!
To drink Matcha Tea is an exercise in elegance, power and serenity.

One example of sattvic food is kale chips. It is simple to prepare, tastes fantastic and is so good for you. Another favorite from my youth is Yams and Jaggary. Organic yams are available most time of the year (I recently bought a bag at Extra Foods) and Jaggary may be ordered by mail or found in the Indian grocers in the city. Another example of sattvic food is Matcha tea. It is simple, exquisite and if prepared properly, just as enjoyable as coffee. It is one of the best known immunity boosters and is rich in cancer fighting polyphenols. Very, very sattvic.

Top Ten Sattvic Cooking Tips

1.       The kitchen starts clean and orderly. Pretend you are in a sanctuary and the floor and counters have to be cleaned before you cook.
2.       Sharpen your knives (Buy one really expensive knife and you will double your cooking skills)
3.       Play music that you like. Turn it up to the neighbors-will-complain setting.
4.       Choose fresh ingredients, organic if possible, from your garden is the best. Otherwise, always buy your ingredients the same day you are cooking.
5.       If ingredients are frozen, they are thawed in water, not in the you-know-what
6.       Pot has to be sparkling.
7.       Choose the best plate. Don't reserve your best china just for your guests. Use them for the really important people in your life. Never use chipped plates or glasses.
8.       Decorate the table with flowers and candles, as often as possible
9.       Try eating in the dark with candles only.
1.       Do not speak during the meal. Eat in silence.

     The Opposite of Sattvic Food 

yuup... it's bacon alright.

This brings me to the interesting part of the article: bacon roses. These are undoubtedly one of the strangest ideas that I have seen in a while. They look like roses and they were very popular for Valentine’s Day. They are made out of bacon! What a strange idea. OK, no big mystery here: this is not sattvic food. 


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Health Lessons From Life of Pi

 Health Lessons from The Life of Pi: 

The Cleverness of It All

By Pharmacist Rudy

Spoiler Alert: Do not read this if you have not seen the movie, but are intending to. I totally give away the plot. The plot in three words: boy, boat, cat.  Don’t let me spoil the movie. See it first.   

Life of Pi: visually stunning, state-of-the-art cinema

On Friday, I saw Ang Lee’s award winning Life of Pi with my wife and son and I walked away moved by this movie. It was exactly as advertised:  very epic, very expensive, and deserving of all the awards. Besides, the book was written by a Canadian.

While I was watching this visual spectacle, I was making notes on some useful health tips. Well, not really. Although I was blown away by all the CG tricks, having read the book, I had this constant reminder that it was a contrived reality.  I had this nagging feeling that the whole time, I was being manipulated. Firstly, shelling out $40 (for the three of us) including extra for the 3D glasses (why do we not buy these things once and keep them for the next 3D movie, I don’t know). Secondly, I wear glasses, so putting the glasses on top of my glasses gives me a headache. Thirdly, the movie is not about boy-boat-tiger at all.  There, I told you so. This blog gets better, promise. It is Ang-Lee-good.

Still, I was entertained and forgot my annoyances by the time the whale jumped.

I am hoping that my accountant will allow me to write off the 3D glasses if I make an argument that this was all research for a blog I was writing on healthy living. Probably not.

Here are five health lessons I picked up form the Life of Pi. Put on your 3D glasses now.

Life of Pi Health Lesson No. 1

Do Not Believe in Everything

When Pi’s father tells him “If you believe in everything, you will end up not believing in anything at all”, I was reminded of the many important lessons that I learned from my parents. Many of them were not delivered as lessons; I never remembered ever being lectured at. These were of the nature of gentle life observations on how to conduct myself. In short, they were at the cellular level.

Pi's Mother: Orange Juice

It was a common practice for my mother to send me at 5:00 PM to the corner store with an empty tin cup to buy rice before supper. I would walk the two blocks with an empty cup in hand and at the store, scoop a cup of rice from the big mound of rice that was just there, fragrant, precious and glistening like a mountain of silver.  I can not remember how much it was, but I do remember paying in coins. I would walk back home with the now filled cup, being careful not to spill a single precious grain. (bad luck) This cup will be cooked right away, soon imparting a fragrance from the kitchen. My sisters, at the same time, would be collecting water spinach from the river, which was a block away. The spinach never tasted the same if it was collected any sooner. The rice and the spinach constituted a simple meal, with a single dried fish per person. Maybe two on a special occasion. 

This was a simple lesson in simplicity (no packaging, no garbage), frugality (no waste, no money tied up in groceries) and freshness (no extra food, no spoilage issues). It is idyllic in my memory. At the time, we were simply poor.

Today in natural health, everyday we are offered new discoveries and the latest big thing. Here is the first lesson from Pi: do not believe everything. We are not supposed to follow all of the health tips from Dr. Oz, Dr. Mercola, Dr Weill, Kevin Trudeau, and Sayer Ji.  There are only so many anti-oxidants and super foods that we can realistically fit into a regimen. When Dr. Oz finds the latest miracle break-through on Monday and another one on Tuesday, he does not mean for you to throw out what you are already doing. What you are already doing may be redundant or just as good, or even better for your own situation.  There are no miracle cures out there. There are many choices to suit your budget and lifestyle. The only truth is that you can not achieve different results if you keep doing the same thing. Pi’s lesson from his father applies to natural supplements: do not take everything.

Except for my advice. (I absolutely detest LOL, so I will absolutely not use it in this space, but it is implied, and since you are so intelligent to even be reading this, I trust that you insert your own, prn)

Life of Pi Health Lesson No. 2

Vegetarians Do Not Die When They Eat Fish

As Pi is starving and is offered the flying fish, he weeps and bows in prayer. This is a fantastic moment in the film and is a reminder for us to always eat with gratitude. Pi thanks Lord Vishnu for appearing in the form of a fish. He eats it raw, full of gratitude. He does not say, “I wish I can have a little bit of wasabi just about now.”

Pi says, "Lord Vishnu, thank you."

I know many vegetarians and I admire them for their discipline and applaud them for their commitment to the planet. The so called Big Mac Effect (the demand for cheap meat) leads to the startling and real destruction of the rainforest. I get that. Cattle rearing accounts for 65% of Nitrous Oxide emissions, mostly from manure. Nitrous Oxide’s effect on global warming is 296 times more than carbon dioxide. The Fart Effect accounts for 37% of the methane emissions, which is 23 times greater than carbon dioxide. OK, I get the fart thing as well. A five year old gets the fart thing.

However, when Pi makes a choice between staying vegetarian or eating to stay alive, he eats the fish.  “Eat the rice with the gravy”, the sailor said. However, there was no rice, and there was no gravy. (Poor sailor, I really liked him.)

There is an account of a real life Richard Parker who was a cabin boy marooned with three others on a boat after the yacht Mignorette sank in 1884.  He met an unfortunate fate. It was not vegetarian at all.

Yann Martel, the Canadian author (Yaay for these clever Canadians!) who published Life of Pi in 2001, was initially criticized for not acknowledging the influence from Marcy Sclera’s book Max and the Cats. Sclera’s book, which was an allegorical book on Nazism, involves a man and a panther together in a boat. In my opinion, Martel has the cleverer allegory: the struggle between man and himself, the vegetarian and the carnivore. A vegetarian zookeeper who spends his life devoted to animals is forced to eat animal flesh or die. Martel’s fascination with this subject is revealed in later writings after the success of Life of Pi. It is not pretty.

In the book, Martel devotes quite a bit of space to the alternate reality. In the movie, this is used by skillful Ang Lee as a clever twist: a subtle, winkish nod at the end of the movie.  The note is so silent, so subtle, that most of the audience (most of who have not read the book), still high from the luminous acrobatic whale, miss it entirely. However, the last five minutes turn the whole movie upside down, inside out. This duplicate reality, in which the zebra is the sailor, Orange Juice is mother, the hyena is the cook and Pi is the tiger, is a contrast of light against dark, humanity against inhumanity, salvation against damnation. The whole movie takes on a different meaning.

The lesson comes back: do not believe everything, including the movie.

Man… Ang Lee is a genius!

Vegetarians and raw fooders have unique nutritional challenges. The four most common ones that I encounter are:

Iron, especially heme iron. Since heme iron is mostly found from meat in the diet, it is a common deficiency. One alternative is to cook vegetables rich in Vitamin C in a cast iron skillet, allowing the Vitamin C to pull iron into the food.

Calcium is another common deficiency for strict vegans who avoid dairy and cheese. Good choices are turnips, collard greens and rhubarb. This is especially important for children as their bones start to grow and as well for the post-menopausal women who are more prone to osteoporosis as a result of hormone changes.

Vitamin B12 is a very common deficiency and is a little trickier to source from plant based food. This is not only a common deficiency in vegetarians, but for the general population as well. Fortunately, this is a simple nutrient which can be delivered in sublingual tablets (methylcobalamin is preferred) or injections if you are so inclined. From food, I would recommend Brewer’s Yeast, Nori, chlorella and my favorite super nutrient: spirulina!

Zinc is another common deficiency and is particularly dangerous for aging men, as it is important for prostate support. It is also very important for young men for prevention of testicular cancer. If you are a young man from Vancouver Island, get your zinc tested. Four out of five islanders test deficient in zinc. For food sources, focus on what germ, lima beans and chard. Otherwise, it is a simple nutrient to get. My favorite form is Zinc Monomethionine.

Life of Pi Health Lesson No 3:

Acidity Will Kill Us and Kill The Planet: But Us First

Cutting to the alternate movie that no one is watching, Pi finds the algae island that is both a lifesaver and a life threat. It is both beautiful and deadly. It is a body innocent and a spirit diabolical. Ang Lee deftly touches on juxtaposed realities and duality of existence.

This was one of the more fascinating aspects of the movie and I think it is actually the main theme of the movie: the duality of life.  Life is not as always as we see it (Do not believe in everything…again).  We should at the same time, have faith in the unseen while questioning what is seen.  At night, the island eats the living things, turning the freshwater pools into deadly vats of acid. It both provides and consumes, nothing unfair about that deal. The earth provides does it not? The earth consumes, will it not?

The real movie starts on the algae island.

There is a non-fictional island off of Naples called Castello Aragones. This killer island actually has pools of corrosive salt water high in carbonic acid in which no life will survive. This natural phenomenon is a result of volcanic vents on the ocean floor through which the sea water absorbs carbon dioxide, becoming more and more acidic. Interestingly, as planetary CO2 emissions increase, the rate of absorption of CO2 by the oceans is slowly acidifying the ocean water, which is normally about 8.2 pH. It is predicted that if the current acidification of the ocean continues, the seawater will be 150% more acidic by the year 2100. In this planet, we are indeed the meerkats. Except, there are no 3D glasses to take off. The danger is real and it is already happening. A plug for Dr. David Suzuki right about here.  

The eye-candy-how-did-they-do-that-spectacle of the movie is a trap: Ang Lee is tricking us with a dazzling display of digital tigers (the tiger is completely computer generated, sorry to tell you that) and then underpinning a darker story of human tragedy. The sleight of hand is very, very clever. Or not. You are given the choice as to what to believe: it is either a pretty story or a disturbing one.

At a pivotal turn in the story, Martel tips his Canadian hand with Pi finding the incredidle floating algae island. The whole island is edible; the water is clear and pristine. It saves Pi’s life. Or does it? In the story, as in health and as in life: things are not as they seem. The island is edible, but it also eats. The pretty story is not the real movie.  Oops. We are the meerkats, falling for the trap. Too late, we have already paid extra for the 3D glasses. We are glued to our seats, and if the theatre was carnivorous, we would be too engrossed and too trapped to run for the exits.

Now, this I am not sure of: is Ang Lee really that clever? Or is he merely good, with his cleverness magnified by our uncleverness? I don’t like to use the word stupid, but there is a general dilution of the brain cells when Gangnam Style (805,000,000 views, probably a few million more per day) is more popular than The Fracking Song (important, but a piddly 70,000 views). ‘nuff said. 

The most downloaded video of all time is not a TED talk.

Life of Pi Health Lesson No. 4:

The Bacteria is Smarter than Us

I wrote recently about how the bacteria in the gut can actually help reduce allergies and asthma symptoms. (read my tweet…I am not going to be redundant. There is just too much stuff to tell you that if I repeat even one, it will create a cascade of redundancy and before you know it, I will be reduced to insignificance). There must be some rule against parenthesizing such a long digression... but, I just write what comes into my head.

Therefore, it seems that we are slaves to the bacteria and for our own good; we have to maintain the balance of good and bad.  This delicate balance in the gut responds significantly to changes in fiber, changes in pH and changes in minerals in our food. The health effects of this balance are multifold: inflammation, pain, immunity, brain function, serotonin levels, testosterone recycling, just to name a few off the top of my meerkat head. Multiply this by an infinite number of times as to what is happening in the soil, the soil we usually disturb and pave over to create a parking lot for Target. We disturb the balance when we deplete the minerals by mono-cropping, fertilizing and clear-cutting. OK, let’s just throw in the F word here: fracking.  How about disturbing the balance at a global level?

What the frack?

Vibrio fischeri, bioluminescent bacteria that clings on to the glowing whale.

In the movie, there is a magnificent display of bioluminescent bacteria in the water. This amazing ability is present in 90% of bacteria in the ocean and is a very accurate determinant of the balance between a healthy ocean and a sick planet. As the ocean becomes more polluted, the luminescent bacteria die off. No argument at all: killing luminescent bacteria just feels instantly bad.

Dr Edith Widder is a prominent marine biologist who is using bioluminescence as a measure of the effects of heavy metals and pollution from nitrogen and phosphorus in the water. Using the bioluminescent bacterium Vibrio fischeri, she uses light sensitive equipment to measure how toxins in the water decrease bacteria populations. This shifts lead to algae blooms which further deplete the amount of oxygen. By measuring these small changes at the bacteria level, she is able to predict larger scale of environmental damage. As Dr Widder says, “It’s my belief if we can make pollution visible, and let people know what small things they are doing are actually making an improvement in this incredible environment, I think it could make a huge difference. It can be a game-changer.”

I would not worry about the bacteria. They will be fine, I think.

I would worry about us.

Life of Pi Health Lesson Number 5:

Learn To Co-Exist With Disease

Pi learns to live with Richard Parker, but only after running out of options. First, he fashions a raft on which he stores all his necessities and niceties: his biscuits and his canned water. However, this leads to disaster as the raft is overturned during a storm and he is forced to co-exist with his enemy.

Often we see disease as the enemy. Our very own Richard Parker. So we build our raft and on it we put all our essentials: our supplements, our prescriptions, our yoga classes. Then a storm comes around and turns this all upside down and we are forced to deal with our Richard Parker. Until we do so, we are just negotiating and compromising. For example: we are in pain from gout, but we do not want to give up the red wine. We have acid reflux, but the coffee is just soo good.  We can not turn the mind off, but we have no time for meditation.

A common conversation sounds like this:

Me: Well, it looks like you are too acidic; your rosacea may improve if you are alkaline.

You: It’s only a problem when I ski all day.

Me: What did you have for breakfast today?

You: Today was not a typical day. Don’t pick today.

Me: OK, what did you have for breakfast yesterday?

You: Steel cut oats which is organic, Greek yogurt, organic, frozen strawberries, two slices of multigrain toast, a banana, and coffee, free trade.

Me:  What was in the coffee?

You: It was a double double.

Me: They serve Greek Yogurt at Timmy’s now?

You: No, that was later. I had coffee at home and then again at the drive thru.

Me: Then you went skiing.

You: Yes, then I went skiing.

Me: Everything you ate and drank were acidic. All.

You: Did I say the yogurt is organic?

I am not picking on skiers and I am not picking on Timmy’s fans. Coffee is perfectly fine. However, you are on the raft and Richard Parker is still on the boat. At some point we need to come face to face with Richard Parker.

In case I have meandered out of reach, Richard Parker is disease and to achieve health, we have to overcome our fear of disease. The body signals its ability in fighting disease in the strangest ways: pain, inflammation, swelling, heat, and fever. It is hard to accept that these are “good” signs…because it shows that your body is fighting for you and you are feeling sick while geting better. It is backwards,  like Richard Parker scaring Pi into being braver.

I like it when I get a stomach ache in the middle of the night because it reminds me that I should not have had the greasy plate of pasta at 10:00. If I eat well, I will still get sick, but not as sick. If I eat, like, not-well, I will get sick a lot more often and with more severity.

I have to learn to co-exist with disease, as Pi with Richard Parker. Remember when Pi devised a way of training Richard Parker with his whistle? He first studied. Then he planned. Then he acted. This approach can be followed when we deal with disease: study, plan, and act.

Universal Individuation: the planet is us and we are the planet.

Pi and Richard Parker are after all, the same. The movie demonstrates Pi’s struggle of individuation: how he finds his true self. The tiger is his animas, his unconscious, to which he is connected, but first, in conflict. Individuation is the result of harmony between the two. In health, we have our conscious health and our unconscious health and the two have to be in harmony. Disease can be contained, just as health can be maintained. The two exist in perfect harmony. They co-exist: just as if they were in their own lifeboat (our bodies), at the mercy of the ocean (our environment) and in this fragile vessel, we balance health (Pi) and disease (the tiger). 

That is why in the end, Richard Parker disappears into the forest. He is no longer needed , because truly, Him and Pi are one. He is Pi and Pi is him. Once we are one with our own Richard Parker, we are truly in harmony. Dis-ease becomes ease. 

Then we can enjoy the beautiful movie that is balanced health. Without fear and without regret.


According to the Lindemann-Weierstrass Theorem, pi is a tanscendental number. It is irrational. Computers thus far have been able to measure up to 10 trillion decimals. It is accepted that it is an infinite number. It signifies the unity of the circle and the square.. which is as illusive and tanscendental  as the universe.

This was a very enjoyable blog to write, as it crystallized some important concepts for me. I hope you enjoyed it. Man… Ang Lee is a genius. Martel… call your mom and tell her you love her.