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Who Are You?

57 Years Apart- A Boy And a Man Talk About Life
57 Years Apart- A Boy And a Man Talk About Life

It’s long been known that the cells in our body replace themselves every seven to ten years, meaning our body is in a constant state of renewal.  This knowledge brings hope.  It means that we are essentially creating a new body, a new self, every decade.  It means old wounds and sicknesses can be healed and forgotten if we tap into the right processes.

It turns out that it’s not just our cells that renew themselves.  Our personality goes through a similar metamorphosis, with gradual changes accumulating over the years until the person we are in old age is very different from the one we were as a child.

A study that began in Scotland 63 years ago was recently published by the American Psychological Association in Psychology and Aging.  Teachers were asked to evaluate a class of 14 year old students on a number of personality factors, including self-confidence, perseverance, stability of moods, conscientiousness, originality, and a desire to learn.  Decades later, at the age of 77, many of these same students were asked to re-evaluate themselves, and to also nominate a close friend or relative to do the same.  Later, when the results were analyzed, researchers found very little overlap between the two personalities, indicating that our identities can change dramatically throughout our lives. 

Some may find these results eerie and wrong.  Despite an aging body, you may still feel like the same person.  Memories from years past may still provoke the same thoughts and sensations.  Friends and family may recall anecdotes from your past that match up with your current behaviour, showing how little you’ve changed.

But while some traits may remain the same, it turns out that others can change so significantly  that there is little resemblance between what you are now and what you once were.

Buddhists have always claimed that there is no “you” or “me”, that our fixed existence is an illusion.   It turns out, they were right.  Like everything else in the world, our own personalities change, shatter, grow, and expand through the years, depending on the experiences we have had.  There is no point in clinging to a rigid idea of who or what you are because the very essence of “you” is constantly evolving.

For anyone who has lamented their inability to change bad habits, or heal personal neuroses, this is good news.    It is very possible to overcome emotional scars and become a better person.  Keep fighting the good fight.  Change takes time, but this study proves that it does happen.

About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

Pain and Forgiveness


Man in Black:  “Life is pain, highness.  Anyone who tells you differently is selling something”.
~The Princess Bride

Life is painful.  It’s a core tenet of Buddhism, and no other major religion will dispute it.  If you’ve managed to survive on planet Earth for at least a decade, you’ve suffered through at least one major heartbreak and are already en route to another.

How does one deal with this endless cycle of pain?  Most therapists will stress the importance of forgiveness, not for the sake of the person who wounded you, but for yourself.  Holding on to your grudge does no one any good, and is a sure recipe for illness, whether it be physical, or psychological, or both.

Unfortunately, the path to forgiveness can be long and rough.  And like all paths, you can’t really follow the footsteps of someone else; it’s a path you have to chart and blaze on your own.   That being said, there are some clues you can follow, some helpful tips that can be used as a guide.

In Chinese medicine, holding a grudge would be a classic sign of liver stagnation.  The liver is said to ensure the smooth movement of qi and blood throughout the body.  Anything which blocks this movement will create stagnation, and there’s nothing your body hates more.  Many health problems are borne from stagnation in the liver, including digestive difficulties, headaches, woman’s problems, and even cancer.

When pain occurs and your heart hardens, you can actually feel your body closing down.  Your gut contracts, your jaw clenches, your fists tighten.  If you are really wounded, you may even curl into fetal position.   While all these actions are meant to be protective, they can actually prolong the pain because they prevent movement.

So, how do you open yourself up again?  How do you let a ray of light inside so that the healing can begin?  The key, I’ve found, is compassion.  Compassion for yourself first and foremost.  With patience and time, you can gradually expand that compassion to include others, even to those who’ve hurt you.

In Buddhism, the goddess of compassion is known by different names.  Some call her Kuan Yin, others call her Tara.  In Western religious traditions, she is Mary, Mother of God.  I find it interesting that a common colour for Tara is green.  Green is symbolic of growth and movement, and it is also the colour of the liver, which is the organ of movement.  If there is any emotion that causes movement, it’s compassion, and that’s exactly what your liver needs in order to heal.

Compassion opens your heart and eases chest pain.  It also opens your mind because in order to feel it, you have to expand beyond yourself.  Compassion requires a broader view.  And as you begin to enlarge and expand yourself, you’ll find that the pain starts to go away.  Forgiveness becomes possible, and then healing can begin.

When I experience pain and my heart begins to close, I find it helpful to meditate on the goddess Tara, who is endlessly compassionate and has vowed to relieve all sentient beings from suffering.  Through her, my own sympathies begin to enlarge and love comes more easily.   However, Tara doesn’t have to be your guide.  I’m sure it would help to pray daily to any god who is loving and all-forgiving.  Through their  intercessions, may all be healed.

About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

A Death at Christmas? You’re Not Alone


A member of our extended family died suddenly over the Christmas holidays, and until it happens in your own family, you may not notice how common it is.  Apparently, you have a greater chance of dying over the Christmas holidays than at any other time of the year.  This fact was made more obvious this past Christmas by the unusual number of celebrity deaths that joined the ranks.

The reasons this may happen are murky and are not necessarily related to increased stress, as you might think.  David P. Phillips from the sociology department at UC San Diego became intrigued with this statistic and began to investigate it.   He began by looking at Alzheimer’s patients, theorizing that since they are often not even aware of what day it is, they would be immune to the stress of the season.  But he  found that Alzheimer’s patients were also at increased risk of death at this time of year.

Phillips began to search for other possible causes, including colder temperatures, diet, or increased alcohol consumption.  But the uptick in deaths is actually greater in warmer areas in the south of the US rather than in the north, and occurs even in patients who are already hospitalized, whose diets are closely monitored.  Suicide risk is also down during the holidays, even though it’s long been popularly believed to rise during the “merry” month.

Phillips believes that the true reason that death is more likely to occur over the holidays is because of lack of access to medical care.  The number of doctors and nurses working over the holidays is lower, so there are fewer people available to help when an emergency occurs.  People may also put off going to see a doctor at Christmas because their schedules are already busy, or because they prefer to stay and celebrate with their families rather than make a trip to the hospital.  Apparently, your risk of death also increases on weekends when hospital staff is reduced, which further corroborates his theory.

I think it helps to be aware of this fact, and adjust your behavior accordingly when Christmas approaches in another year.  It still makes sense to watch your diet and avoid over-eating heavy, fat-laden foods during the Christmas season which are more likely to cause digestive problems and potential heart attacks.  It would be wrong to prohibit alcohol consumption entirely, but try to keep the amounts small.  Also, be sure to listen closely to elderly family members and if they have any small health complaints, you should take them seriously.

As is often the case, we should also concentrate on listening more to others rather than speaking, and taking their concerns seriously rather than being dismissive or critical.  That in itself may go a long way towards reducing the stress associated with the season as well.



About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

‘Tis the Season of Joy


December 21st, 2013 really was the longest night of the year for many in the Toronto region, and not just because it was the Winter Solstice.   A winter storm that had originated in the southern states of the US finally made its way north into southern Ontario, bringing with it up to 3 cm of ice.  Heavy encrustations weighed down the branches of so many trees in our area, causing them to snap and fall and sever power lines.  The power went out in the early hours of December 22nd, and didn’t come back on again for almost three days.  During those three days, daytime temperatures descended to -10C, or 14F.

There were some families in our neighbourhood who booked hotel stays during those three days.  We were more stoic about the matter, preferring to wait it out, sure that power would come back on soon enough, and not wanting to spend the extra money.  If we’d known how long it would take and how cold it would get, we might have made a different decision and abandoned our home as well.  But we didn’t.   By the time the temperature inside our house neared 10C, (which I have to tell you, feels VERY cold when you are living in it 24 hours a day) we were ready to escape to a hotel room too, but by that time, other desperate Torontonians had booked them all.

It was a difficult time, for sure.  Initially, we cooked what we could out-of-doors on the barbecue.  As time dragged on,  we began going out to eat, if only to be somewhere warm for an hour or two.  Our Christmas tree remained dark and undecorated in the front room.  It seemed so forlorn, sitting there unadorned and unlit in the cold, when normally it would be the focus of the room at this time of year.  By Christmas Eve, there were still no gifts beneath the tree because I refused to wrap them clumsily with my gloves on.  As the minutes and hours of Christmas Eve ticked onward, we realized we may have to change our Christmas plans, as there was no way for us to cook Christmas dinner.

It was easy to feel empty and deprived that year as we sat in our cold, dark house, particularly when other houses in nearby neighbourhoods regained power faster.  We would drive home from the mall and see colourful lights everywhere, hoping as our own neighbourhood drew closer that our lights would be on too.  But as we turned that last corner,  darkness would envelop us.  Coming home was like descending into a black hole.  You don’t realize how dark a winter night can be until you have lost your ability to make light.

I now completely understand why ancient people felt the need to pray for the return of the sun on this night, why there was an emotional need for a child of light, for a ray of hope.  In Eastern thought, this time of year can be equated to the point on the yin-yang symbol when blackness takes up the most space.  But the part about the yin-yang symbol that I’ve always particularly loved, is that ventolin even during this time of peak darkness, there is still that small circle of light in the centre.  No thing, no person, no time of year is ever completely dark, just as nothing  is ever completely light.

There is an old Buddhist story about a farmer and his son.   The farmer loses his horse in the mountains and all the other people in his village sympathize with him about his poor luck.   But then his horse returns and brings ten horses back with it!  The villagers rejoice.  His son tries to train the horses, but falls and breaks his leg.  The villagers sympathize with his misfortune.  But soon afterwards, the Emperor’s men arrive in the village and demand that all young men be conscripted into the army.  The farmer’s son is exempt because of his bad leg, and the villagers come by to congratulate the farmer on his good luck.  It is not easy being a farmer with a bad leg, and the villagers sympathize with the farmer’s young son who will now always walk with a limp.   Yet, when none of the other young men return from the war, the farmer and his son are the only able-bodied men capable of working the village lands and so they make a fortune.  The villagers stop by to congratulate them once again.

Throughout all of these advances and set-backs, the Buddhist farmer is at ease.  His reply to his fellow villagers through each of these situations, is neither to celebrate, nor to become depressed.  At each juncture, he merely says “Who knows? We shall see….”  The farmer understands the concept of yin and yang.  He understands that reality is not static, that the future cannot be controlled.  He sees that good and bad are relative conditions, and can easily morph from one into the other.

During these days of darkness, as we await the birth of new light, of a new year, we would be wise to remember the yin-yang symbol and what it means.  We would be wise if we can remember that any gains we have made this year may be lost in the next, and that this is OK.  We would be wise to remember that any problems we have today may be the seeds for great success in the new year, and that this is OK too.  The story never ends.  Misfortunes and fortunes blend together in a beautiful way to create the lives we have.  Lives that are not always easy, but have their moments of joy as well.

As for that ice storm three years ago, that situation wasn’t all bad either.  It turns out that spending three days in the dark, in a cold house, with no power, can bring a family together like nothing else.   We played endless games of Monopoly and Scrabble in the candlelight.  We spent a lot of time talking since there were no electronic devices available to distract us.  We laughed together, often uproariously.  In some ways, it was the best Christmas ever, even without any light or heat.  It’s something to ponder as the darkness gathers once again and the first snowfall of the year begins its soft descent.


About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

Life as a Roller Coaster

rollercoasters in cities venice frozen over nois7 surreal photos images manipulations R

“Grandma: You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster.
Gil: Oh?
Grandma: Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride!
Gil:  (sarcastically) What a great story.
Grandma: I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.”

I’ve always loved that exchange from the 1989 movie Parenthood, starring  the always funny Steve Martin.   At this point in the movie, Steve Martin is fretting about the fact that his oldest son has developed extreme anxiety issues, and his youngest son, a toddler, soothes himself by regularly ramming his head against the wall.  The problems of parenthood seem to have multiplied overnight, and as a father, Martin is finding it difficult to cope.  His grandmother tries to soothe his fears about his children by comparing life to a roller coaster.

The first time I watched this movie, I was just a teenager myself, and the probability of my ever becoming a mother was more theory than fact.  I remember making a mental note of the grandmother’s attitude here, thinking it should be easy enough to emulate when the time came.  Yet, like most people, I’ve found the actual experience of parenting, and of life itself, to be a wilder ride than I initially expected.  The dips are far scarier, the turns more disorienting, and when the track finally begins climbing again, I question whether my frayed nerves are still capable of handling the next big drop.

Recently, my brothers, my sister-in-law, and my teenaged niece and nephew crammed themselves into a van and made a long-awaited trip to visit us in Toronto.  We went to Canada’s Wonderland, Toronto’s own amusement park, home of rides like The Behemoth, Wild Beast, and the unforgettable Leviathan, one of the biggest and tallest roller coasters in the world.  My husband, my two teen-aged sons, and my niece and nephew couldn’t get enough of those big coasters.  They still enjoy a wild ride.  They love the majestic view from the top of that first hill, the queasiness in their stomachs as they make that steep drop back to the ground, and the compression of their internal organs as they glide through all the twists and turns.  As for me, I’m afraid I’ve lost my taste for it.

Don’t get me wrong:  I don’t eschew roller coasters completely.  However, I have become more circumspect about the rides I choose to go on.  During that special family outing, I still went on a few of the older roller coasters; the ones that were considered high back when I was a teenager.  But my knees become weak as spaghetti noodles  when I look high up into the sky at those new, exceptionally tall coasters.  I don’t think I’m built for the stress of this new millenium!

It’s not just the roller coasters that are higher, or the falls that are steeper.  It’s the clock that seems to move faster, the days that keep getting shorter, the ever-widening array of new technology that’s supposed to make my life easier but only succeeds in making me more stressed.  It’s the uncertain future my children face, the health problems of my parents, the faltering economy.  My nerves get more than enough rough emotional stimulation just from watching the news every day; I don’t need extra artificial stimulation from the rides at an amusement park!

I wasn’t the only adult there whose tolerance for roller coasters had waned over the years.  My younger brother hadn’t been to an amusement park, or ridden on a roller coaster for more than ten years.  After his ride on the Behemoth, he emerged with a reddened face, windswept hair, and eyes that looked wild and slightly unfocused.  “I think that’s the first and the last roller coaster for me today!” he announced in a voice that was just a little louder than it should be.  I knew how he felt.  After my first roller coaster ride of the day, I could feel my blood pulsating unusually strongly through all the veins in my head, and my insides felt slightly bruised.  I hoped nothing important had burst.

Why do we become so inflexible as we age, so much less adaptable to sudden changes in altitude and direction?  In Chinese medicine, this occurs from a gradual decline in “yin” fluids, which keep all of our various tissues moistened so that they can stretch and bend with greater ease.   As we age, we become drier and more brittle.  More likely to break.  As our physical bodies begin to harden, so too do our minds.

How do we keep ourselves flexible and better able to handle whatever life throws at us?  Supplementing with yin tonics will help.  Herbs such as those in our Shou Wu Tea supply the liver and kidneys with moisture and nutrients that can help to rewind the clock a few years.  Doing daily deep breathing and stretching exercises will keep our lungs strong, and prevent tendons and ligaments from shortening.  As we gently stretch out our limbs each day, it allows blood to enter the tissues, enriching them and helping them to stay supple and flexible.  And finally, doing daily meditation can help prevent our minds from falling into an emotional rut, and can also stimulate new synaptic connections in our brains, which may ward against memory problems and age-related dementia.

Even after following all of these suggestions, you may still prefer to avoid extreme roller coasters, or amusement parks in general.  After all, life provides plenty of stimulation on its own!  As for my brother and I, we rested and visited together for a couple of hours, allowing our nerves some time to settle and heal.  And then, we came upon the Dragon Fire and just had to give it a whirl.  Life can be overwhelming at times, and then it’s best to sit it out for awhile.  But as the grandmother in Parenthood said, the roller coaster rides are definitely more thrilling than the merry go round.  If you can remain relaxed, flexible, and engaged with the roller coaster of your own life, you’ll definitely get more out of it!


About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

Our Spirit in the World


By this time next week, as the sun begins to fade in the sky, we will find ourselves sitting near our front doors with a bowl of candy at our sides, eagerly awaiting the arrival of ghoulish monsters, spooky ghosts, and miniature superheroes begging for sugary treats.  I always get caught up in the enthusiasm, particularly that of the little kids, whose costumes are a little over-sized and lop-sided, but whose big, eager smiles shine out of the dark night.

In the past, this night was considered the most magical night of the year, the time when the supernatural world was closest to our own.  Yet the ghosts that walked the streets on this night were not smiling children, but demons who needed appeasement so that they would visit destruction on someone else.  In many Catholic countries, this time of year marks The Day of the Dead, a day when deceased family members, particularly children, are remembered with candles, flowers and food placed at their graves.  Worldwide, it is a night when people stop to reflect on the nearness of death and reaffirm their faith that their souls will live on.

In China, there are also special days of the year when spirits are said to roam the earth, although they don’t occur in October.  The scariest month of the year in China is “Ghost Month”, the seventh lunar month of the year.  During this month, hungry ghosts are thought to travel extensively throughout the country, attacking their enemies, or venting their anger on unsuspecting victims.  Many people deliberately avoid doing any potentially dangerous activities during this month, such as swimming, traveling to visit loved ones, or going out alone at night, as it is thought that a ghost might waylay them and cause a tragic mishap.  On the last day of the seventh lunar month, lanterns are lit and placed in the rivers to peacefully guide the dead back to their places in the spirit world.

Spirits make their appearance in Chinese medicine as well.  Unlike in Western theology, where we have just one spirit, undivided, in Chinese medicine, our spirits were thought to have two parts:  an ethereal part, and a corporeal part.  The ethereal part is called the Hun, and it originates in the liver.  Like the Western version of the spirit, it enters us when we are born, and ascends to the heavens when we die. The corporeal part is called the Po, and it resides in the lungs.  This part of the spirit forms with us as we grow in our mother’s womb, and when we die, it enters the earth with us, gradually dissolving into the ground.

Ideally, we would have a healthy liver where our ethereal spirit is both free to move, but also well grounded.  A strong ethereal spirit grants us creativity, intuition, decisiveness, and fearlessness.  We have the vision to plan our lives and this give us a sense of direction.  We are also better able to  express ourselves in our jobs and personal lives, despite any obstacles, so that we feel fulfilled.   When the liver is healthy, we are strong and brave.  We are also flexible, and have the vision necessary to see both sides of any question.  We are generous, and when we work, it is not just for ourselves, but for the greater good of all.  In this way, we become benevolent.

By contrast, if our liver becomes congested or stagnant, our ethereal spirit will become angry, impatient, agitated, frustrated, annoyed, cowardly, self-centred, conceited, and boastful.  If our liver is deficient, our ethereal spirit will be rootless and lack the ability to plan,  causing us to wander aimlessly through out lives without direction.  We will have difficulty establishing personal boundaries and can allow others to over-step them,  causing us to feel frustrated, resentful, or even enraged.  As peak liver time is during the night, the rootlessness of our ethereal spirit can be particularly expressed during the night, causing insomnia, dream-disturbed sleep, and a feeling of floating just before falling asleep.

As mentioned earlier, the second half of our spirit is the corporeal part, called the Po, which is housed in our lungs and as such is closely related to the breath.  As we breathe deeply and root ourselves in the present moment, our corporeal spirit is strengthened, which gives us the capacity to sense and feel the world around us as it currently is, providing us with clear hearing and sight.  Unlike the ethereal spirit which wanders during the night, the corporeal spirit is most active during the day as we breathe in and experience the world around us.

Just as we allow air into our lungs, and then release it back into the world, so our corporeal soul is connected to our ability to receive and let go of emotions and possessions.  If our lungs are weak, our Po will also be negatively affected, and as a result we can become possessive, miserly, selfish, defensive, envious, or extremely sensitive.  Our lungs are particularly affected by sadness, sorrow, and grief, which blocks the flow of our breath and weakens lung energy.  In fact, all of our emotions affect our breath.  Our breathing changes when we are sad, or crying, or angry, or joyful, or excited, or fearful, which is why the lungs are so sensitive to feeling.

When our lungs are strong, we are able to receive and let go, we are generous, charitable, giving, open, receptive, sensitive, and remember to think of others.  This indicates  a healthy flow of outward energy and a strong sense of worthiness and self-fulfillment.   A strong Po is also reverent, conscientious, ethical, upright, honest, prudent, sensible, honorable, modest, and respectful.    

As another evening of wandering spirits approaches, let us consider the strength of our own spirits: the Hun and the Po.  Are we feeling angry, rootless and directionless?  Do we have difficulty letting go?  We can take steps to strengthen these two parts of our own spirit by strengthening the organs which house them.  This will ensure that as we wander the earth on this most hallowed of eves, we forgo anger and selfishness, and instead leave peacefulness and benevolence in our wake.

About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

Next Time, Why Not Try Herbs?


Just for fun, consider asking a random person in your life what the most common cause of liver injury is.  It could be a co-worker, or a neighbour, or a friend.  Their answers will probably range from excessive alcohol use, to over-consumption of opioid pain killers, or even to the illegal use of street drugs.  Unless this person is very well informed, they would probably be surprised to hear that the leading cause of liver injury in North America is actually due to accidental over-dose of the exceedingly common, mild-mannered acetaminophen.

One reason this occurs so regularly is because considerable amounts of acetaminophen are now included in almost every over-the-counter medication that you can find at your local drug store.  In addition to painkillers, acetaminophen can also be found in cough and cold syrups, as well as allergy medications.  Without even realizing it, many people can exceed the safe daily dosage and end up with severe liver damage.  And while the liver is very good at healing itself, sometimes the damage is just too extensive and nothing but a liver transplant can restore health.

I used to work in an office in a small town in Southern Ontario, for a factory that manufactured car parts for the automotive industry.  Anyone who has worked in one of these third-tier automotive environments knows how stressful it can be.  Deadlines are short and endless.  There is so much competition among different suppliers that even a small delay, or a slight error in your work, can break your contract with a car company, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars.  My husband worked in this industry too, and he actively resisted promotion to a managerial position because of the number of people he knew who had became seriously ill due to the relentless stress.

I remember that one of my co-workers would come to my desk more than once every day to get a few tablets of Tylenol from me.  In addition to being the receptionist and a secretary, I was also the keeper of company medications, and so I knew who was using them and who wasn’t.  This middle-aged man was so stressed that he would take several Tylenol tablets every few hours, and downed them eagerly as if they were candy.  I think now that he was a prime candidate for liver damage and I wonder now if he’s still alive today.

Many cases of severe liver damage from excessive acetaminophen use occur because they are taken along with alcohol, but even children have been known to suffer, and it only takes slightly higher than normal dosages of cold medications over a long period of time.  Loving and concerned parents can unknowingly overdose their children, and in some cases, it can lead to longstanding liver damage.

Given the increased risk from “safe” and standard cough and cold medications, perhaps it’s time to give natural remedies another try, if you haven’t used them already.  Popular Chinese herbs like honeysuckle and chrysanthemum flower have been used for centuries to relieve cold and flu symptoms, and because they are milder in action, they are safer for children and adults as well.  Each of these herbs has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties, so they can be used for both viral or bacterial infections, including urinary tract infections.  Both of these herbs can be purchased from our store.

Combinations of Western herbs, such as lemon balm, chamomile, mint and elderberries also have antiseptic and analgesic properties that can calm headaches and body aches, while also bringing down a fever and speed the healing from a cold or flu virus.  Because these herbs are also helpful for liver functioning, they can ease symptoms of poor digestion, such as bloating and constipation as well.

There are safer ways to treat a cold or a flu that can actually benefit liver functioning.  An acetaminophen-based over-the-counter syrup need not be the first remedy you reach for the next time you feel sick.

About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

The Smell of Fear


“Hey!” shouted my son, as I accidentally let go of the backyard gate, allowing it to slam closed in front of him.   He had been expecting me to hold the gate open for him since he was holding a large, cumbersome bag of yard waste in front of his body.   We had spent the last hour collecting dead leaves from the window wells of our house.   A summer downpour was expected that evening and we didn’t want our basement to flood, as it had a few years before.

I had fully intended to hold the gate open for him, but when I saw what was lying in the next window well, I was so shocked that my hands had flown to my face and I had lost my grip on the door.  I stood in front of the window well for several long seconds, looking downwards and moaning softly.  It was only then that my son looked down too, but he wasn’t sure what he saw, and he was confused by my reaction.

“What is it?” he asked, fumbling for the glasses in his pocket.  He couldn’t see distances very clearly without them, and the window well was fairly deep.

Although I was initially surprised, I recognized the shape almost instantly.  It was a baby skunk.  I suspected that it was the same baby skunk that I had seen wandering around our back yard a week or two ago.  On that evening, I had quickly backed my way back into the house as soon as I had seen it, dragging our dog along with me.  A baby skunk may be small, but it’s spray would still be highly irritating.  I had wondered then where it’s mother was, and whether she would come to fetch him.  It seemed now that she had not, and in looking for her, he had accidentally stumbled into this window well and been unable to climb back out again.

The room behind this window had often smelled of skunk in the last week or two, and now I knew why.  At the time, I had worried that a skunk had somehow found its way into our house.  But now, it looked like the smell had only come from this poor baby skunk.  Most likely  he had either released his spray after death, or, the more pitiable thought, it had released the spray while still alive, desperate to ward of potential predators as it lay trapped and unable to flee.  I knew very well that there were also a lot of raccoons in the area.

As I stood there looking at the baby skunk, I took in it’s small body, its tiny little feet, and I couldn’t help but feel a wave of sympathy.  How frightened it must have been.  Really, the smell of skunk is essentially the smell of fear, because it will only release its smell when it is frightened for its life.  It’s a very alcoholism distinctive acrid, pungent smell.  I wonder sometimes if humans don’t give off a scent that’s somewhat similar.  They say that dogs can smell fear.  Is that what our fear smells like to a dog?

Although we like to pretend that everything is under control, the fact is that we humans feel fear most of the time.  We fear loneliness, we fear embarrassment, we fear boredom, and most of all, we fear the onset of illness or death for ourselves or our loved ones.  Most of our day-time activities are done to distract ourselves from these fears.  Reading books, watching TV, even by eating, we attempt to distract ourselves from what goes on in our heads when we happen to find ourselves alone, still and silent.

I’ve been meditating a lot recently.  I find I get anxious when I don’t, and so I’ve spent a lot of time recently in the company of all of my fears.  I’m learning to sit still and keep breathing when my chest starts to tighten, when my heart begins to harden, and I begin to relive a painful memory that I’d rather forget.  It’s not easy.  But with time, I learning to make friends with my fears.  When I feel that familiar queasiness in the pit of my stomach, I’m learning to accept it, and even to welcome it.  After all, it’s not like my future is going to be devoid of fear.  Fear will be a frequent visitor to us all.  I might as well get comfortable with it.

And so I continued to look at that dead baby skunk for a few long moments, and allowed myself to imagine the fear it must have been feeling as it sat trapped in that window well, desperate for its mother.  How long had the poor thing been there before it died, I wondered?  How many days of fear and hopelessness had it known?

Finally, my son began to grow impatient with my silence and spoke up.  “Well, what are we going to do with it?” he asked.  “Are we going to leave it here?”

Brought abruptly back to the present moment, I shook my head slowly while at the same time replying, “No, we can’t just leave it here.  It’s going to rain tonight and it will be even harder to remove once it gets wet.”

I paused for another minute or two while I considered how the skunk might be lifted out of that confined space and all the difficulties that entailed.  Should I use a shovel?  Would I even be able to maneuver a shovel in that very narrow space?  I shuddered inwardly.  Does that mean I would have to pick it up with my hands?  And then, feeling that familiar tension in my chest, my stomach turning itself around in circles, I said to my son, “Better go inside and get your father.”

I guess my willingness to embrace fear still has its limits.





About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

My Parents and the Benefit of Community


A few weeks ago, my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.   It was a happy day, particularly for my mother, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and has been feeling its negative effects particularly keenly in these last few years.   Struggling daily with difficulty walking, speaking, and even eating, she had been looking forward to this anniversary celebration for more than a year.

My mother was a choir director for most of her life, and so for this anniversary, which also coincided with her 79th birthday, she wanted to organize one last concert.  The participants would be her children, siblings, and other close family members and friends, who would perform any musical or artistic number that they felt comfortable sharing with her.  As her daughter, I can vouch for the increasing level of anxiety we all felt as we struggled to come up with a performance that was worth being seen.

For the last weeks prior to this anniversary concert, my mother agonized over all the little details, such as what kind of food should she serve, and how much?  How many tables needed to be set up in the community hall?  What decorations would be needed, if any?  As the number of days we had to prepare gradually dwindled, my mother, her sisters, and I were all feeling increasingly overwhelmed.  I, for one, wondered if all the anxiety and effort would be worth it.

Now that it is all over, I can say most emphatically that it certainly was.  I had forgotten how a community can come together to support one of its own, despite age and infirmity.  I had forgotten this because my own community has always been so much smaller.

My mother grew up within the Mennonite church community, and her social bonds within that group are strong and long-standing.  When the day of her birthday/anniversary party finally arrived, a big crowd of her old friends and relatives somehow managed to press themselves mans health into the small hall.  They brought gifts, and hugs, and touching memories from the past.  They were unfailingly kind and showed great empathy towards my mother, who sat hunched along the side of the hall, unable to stand up by herself without help.  My father, suffering from his own health complications, sat quietly beside her, craning his neck towards her to better hear her comments or instructions throughout the program.

As I sat amidst this great crowd of well-wishers and looked over at my mother, who looked happier than I had seen her in months, perhaps even years, I appreciated anew the value of a strong community.   My mother has had this all of her life, and has never known a day where she couldn’t share her cares with one of these friends and well-wishers and feel the warmth and protection that a sympathetic ear can bring.

According to numerous studies, being involved in a strong community like this one extends your life expectancy, for reasons that are not yet entirely clear.  However, as I sat within that caring group of people I could feel the emotional bonds between them so strongly, as if there was a network of arms around my mother and father, lifting them, supporting them, and taking away the weight of their cares, if only for this one afternoon.

Researchers speculate that any supportive group environment can provide these kinds of positive health effects; it doesn’t necessarily have to be religious.  If you aren’t yet part of a social group, you would do yourself a lot of good if you can find one.  It could be a dance group, a martial arts group, a yoga group, or a reading group; it really doesn’t matter what reason you use to bring yourselves together.  The only requirement is that you meet regularly, and you learn to care for one another.  The emotional and physical benefits you reap could be enormous.

About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

The Redemption of Simple Card Games


We’ve become so accustomed to our technologically advanced, computer-centric lives, that we now place little value on older and cheaper forms of entertainment, which it turns out can be just as helpful for stroke recovery as computer-based programs.

A new study in the medical journal Lancet Neurology shows that stroke victims need not rely on Nintendo Wii games to stimulate the mending of their damaged neurons.  Older forms of entertainment, such as card games, Jenga, or simply throwing a ball against the wall can also improve strength, dexterity, and the ability to perform regular, daily tasks.

We currently spend so much of our daily lives in front of electronic devices that it’s always refreshing when we are given an excuse to get off of them.  Stroke victims and their caregivers need no longer feel that they must purchase and then spend time playing expensive video games in order to get well.

Excerpt:  “[Lead author Dr. Gustavo] Saposnik said in a statement that even he was surprised by the results, given that previous studies have concluded that virtual reality leisure activities are superior to traditional recreational activities for supplementing conventional rehab.

“We all like technology and have the tendency to think that new technology is better than old-fashioned strategies, but sometimes that’s not the case,” Saposnik said in the statement”.

About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.