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23-year-old hasn’t produced any trash in two years

This post by CHELSEA HUANG originally appeared on Aol.com.
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At first glance, Lauren Singer seems like a typical 23-year-old post-graduate living in New York City. Clad in slouchy black slacks, black crop top and leather moto vest, Singer’s style is congruent with her stylish one-bedroom apartment in a South Williamsburg development.

But a closer look beyond the shabby-chic decor and fresh flora revealed something unexpected. A small mason jar filled with a few colorful wrappers and bits of plastic sat behind her atop the pristine, white kitchen counter.

“It’s been two years, and that’s my trash,” she said with a smile.

Singer has barely produced any garbage since she began subscribing to a zero-waste lifestyle two years ago, which meant eliminating anything that will end up in a landfill or can’t be composted from her day-to-day –- a process she’s documented in detail on her blog Trash is for Tossers.

As an environmental studies major at New York University, she felt like a “hypocrite” for promoting sustainability but having an apartment full of plastic packaging. She decided to remove plastic from her life altogether — a drastic choice many might find impossible.

“Quitting plastic wasn’t just reducing the amount I used. It actually meant eliminating a lot of the plastic that I was buying, so not buying things like toothpaste or deodorant packaging,” she said.

That meant finding alternatives to everyday items and making a lot of them herself. Her bathroom is now lined with mason jars of different sizes filled with various homemade products, and her refrigerator is filled with organic, perishable items. She also makes secondhand purchases to avoid any firsthand packaging.
Despite her unique lifestyle, Singer said she hasn’t really changed, even though stigmas might suggest otherwise. She’s just found alternative means to live her existing life.

“You don’t have to be a stereotype of anything to live a sustainable lifestyle. My style is the same. My taste is the same. I enjoy the same things. I just don’t make trash.”

Plus, it’s not a pricy way to live, despite what many people might think.

“It’s so funny how that narrative caught on that living sustainably is like a ‘rich white people thing.’ It’s not the case at all. I spend like $20 to $25 a week now on everything that I need from the farmer’s market,” Singer said.

Don’t expect Singer to get preachy, though.

“Being an environmental studies major you learn quickly that nobody likes being told what to do. I learned really fast to not tell people how to live because they’ll never change or learn from you,” she said.

Instead, Singer started her blog and a newly-launched YouTube channel to present her lifestyle in a way that’s really easy for people to understand, digest and “do on their own time.” But she’s also noticed her own day-to-day behavior spark a dialogue with friends and family.

“Even just by living my values, it’s making a difference and inspiring them to make changes. I have friends who started shopping bulk or going to farmers markets or carry mason jars around,” she said. “But I never asked them to do that.”

She also recalled a recent date in which she ordered a cocktail with “no straw and no napkin,” and her date followed suit.

Although she has already made an impact, the young professional quit her job as a sustainability manager for the New York City Department of Agriculture to “do something more.”

Singer left her position and launched The Simply Co. in October 2014, a sustainable home cleaning goods line inspired by the products she makes and uses in her own home with ingredients and quality she can control.

The idea sparked when friends and family started asking her for recommendations for safe and non-toxic cleaning products. After scouring store shelves and the Web, Singer couldn’t find one product that she felt comfortable recommending because most of them contained toxic, carcinogenic chemicals or were not low-trash.

“People deserve to know what’s in their products that they’re putting in their homes, that are touching their bodies, that are going on their clothes and into the water into the environment,” she said. “I wanted to provide people with the products I make for myself because I think chemicals should have no place in our homes.”

Singer has received a very positive response to her effort to provide clean, safe organic cleaning products for people who want it. Her Kickstarter campaign exceeded her $10,000 goal considerably, reaping $41,000.

The green entrepreneur now has 1,000 orders of natural three-ingredient laundry powder to fill, in addition to laundry balls, the reusable and sustainable equivalent to dryer sheets. Although the goal for any business is to sell units, Singer has a broader outlook.

“It’s not the typical business model, but I kind of wish that everyone would make their products, which is to say that I wish that my business model didn’t have to exist,” she said. “Ultimately, my goal is for people to realize that you don’t need toxic chemicals to clean your home.”

As Singer continues to spread the green message, she acknowledges that diving into a total zero-waste lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but small steps like bringing reusable cutlery to work and carrying a reusable bag can have a big impact.

“It is possible to not produce trash. It’s definitely possible to produce less trash. Living sustainably is so stigmatized in a negative way — but this is everybody’s earth.”

Check out Trash is for Tossers to learn more about your zero-waste options.

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Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s Pregnancy Announcement Shares Honest Truth: Guilt After Miscarriage

This post by  appeared in Yahoo! Health on July 31, 2015.

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Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, on Friday announced that they are expecting a baby girl — and the couple is thrilled.

But it has not been an easy journey to joy.

The Facebook founder and CEO opened up about the pair’s painful process to conceive, including three miscarriages. “You feel so hopeful when you learn you’re going to have a child,” he explained in a Facebook post. “You start imagining who they’ll become and dreaming of hopes for their future. You start making plans, and then they’re gone. It’s a lonely experience. Most people don’t discuss miscarriages because you worry your problems will distance you or reflect upon you — as if you’re defective or did something to cause this. So you struggle on your own.”

These feelings of anguish and guilt are common in couples who miscarry, says counselor and psychologist Karla Ivankovich, an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois, Springfield. “As with any loss, grief is a normal process,” she tells Yahoo Health. “Most individuals will go through the stages of grief and loss, including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.”

But mothers, especially, are vulnerable to feelings of depression, guilt, and inadequacy, says Ivankovich. “Miscarriage happens at a time when women are already emotionally vulnerable as a result of the hormonal shifts taking place within the body during pregnancy,” she explains. “Just because there has been a spontaneous termination of the pregnancy, it doesn’t change the significant hormonal shifts. And the postpartum experience can exacerbate these feelings of sadness and grief and, for many, guilt.”

Would-be mothers often turn over how they might have “done something different” to prevent the loss. “This thinking, that the loss could have been controlled, is what results in a sense of guilt,” says Ivankovich. “She might experience anger with herself, as well. How could she let this happen, because a mother’s body is a safe haven for the growing fetus? She may feel that she was unable to protect her child.”

Ivankovich calls this the “mother bear mentality,” which starts the moment a woman learns she’s pregnant. Really, miscarriage can be a perfect storm for women, and it can touch men, as well. Often, both halves of a couple privately wonder if a genetic abnormality on their part is to blame for the loss, if they aren’t able to conceive — but often men and women just need to know they’re not alone in their loss.

It’s easy to internalize a loss as intimate as an unborn child, but Ivankovich says opening up to friends, family, and your significant other helps in the healing process. “Having a strong support structure in place allows the parents to share their feelings of loss, grief, shame, guilt, and talk even about the future,” she explains. “Communicating about the loss allows the couple to feel heard.”

Zuckerberg and Chan found sanctuary in their inner circle. When they told friends about their struggle with miscarriages, the problem was suddenly a universal one — not so individual. “We realized how frequently this happened,” he writes, “that many people we knew had similar issues and that nearly all had healthy children after all.”

Knowing supportive friends and family members who have walked the path, and are now on the other side, can be huge. “In these situations, individuals can offer empathetic support instead of just sympathetic support,” Ivankovich says. “They can guide the person, or a couple, back to a hopeful state. They can help them feel that life will return to a sense of normalcy.”

There is no timeline for dealing with a miscarriage. Ivankovich says some people move rapidly through the stages of grief, others take a few months. But if you’re struggling to cope with the loss, feel disconnected from others, or can’t function normally day to day, seek help. Individual, couple, or family therapy can all be effective, as well as a blend of psychotherapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Just don’t isolate. Don’t go it alone. Take it from Zuckerberg. “In today’s open and connected world, discussing these issues doesn’t distance us; it brings us together,” he writes. “It creates understanding and tolerance, and it gives us hope.”

Zuckerberg says Chan is far enough along in her pregnancy that the risk of another miscarriage is quite low, so they are feeling more hopeful than ever. Like many couples who have suffered a previous loss, they’re planning to celebrate the birth of a little girl in just several months’ time.

Even in the wake of past sadness, there’s hope and happiness in what’s ahead.

Our Evolving Ethics on Animals

This post by Derek Beres originally appeared in Big Think.
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As did murder. In his cover story for the latest Scientific American, “The Most Invasive Species of All,” Curtis W. Marean discusses the intense cooperation that took place for humans to emerge at the top of the animal kingdom. This involved killing off any animal that didn’t look like us, even those we were close to. He writes,

Neandertals were perceived as a competitor and threat, and invading modern humans exterminated them. It is what they evolved to do.

Ever since, humans have done the same to any threatening species, any that provided food. Somewhere along the way — perhaps it was early on — our ancestors also started killing for sheer pleasure. When the hunt was no longer necessary, we still hunted. The quest for protein became a quest for trophies.

Last week’s outrage over the killing of Cecil was tragic, given how photogenic the lion was — we certainly are in love with pictures — but what it wasn’t was surprising. Trophy hunting has gotten a bad rap recently, though at the same time, (predominantly) white Americans who can afford tens of thousands of dollars to chase down animals with the help of rangers has been going on for decades, if not centuries. I’m never sure why one animal sets off our cultural trigger while thousands of others do not, but such is the case.

Turn the other cheek? Hardly. My social media feed was filled with vitriol and disgust to the point of violence. Many wished the dentist/hunter harm, death, jail, unemployment — his Yelp page has turned up a barrage of negative reviews, which, like it or not, has nothing to do with his dentistry. We take twisted pleasure in seeking justice, even if we never leave our living room to actually do anything about it. Laptop as soapbox.

The story disturbed me as well, the way that the death of any animal for pleasure is troubling. But we have this genetic inheritance for murder that extends far beyond killing our cousins. The Gadhimai temple in southern Nepal, for example, has a twice-a-decade ritual slaughter that in 2009 saw the death of 500,000 buffaloes, chickens, goats, and others. The festival, it was just announced, is done with the killings after its 2014 edition.

While that fete’s demise points to progress, the 10,000 dogs killed each year in Yulin will see no such fortune. Activism has ramped up — man’s best friend tugs at our heartstrings more than chickens and goats — whenever I tell someone about this festival, their disgust is palpable. The growing outrage is part of the understanding that we needn’t kill a sizable portion of the 56 billion land animals that die for our sustenance and kicks each year. At the moment, that equals eight animals for every human (not including sea life).

Yes, most other animals kill for survival, but humans take unique joy in murder that far surpasses evolutionary necessity. There’s a large disparity between taking out the Neandertals to capture land and aiming a gun or bow at a lion so you can put its head on your wall. The “spiritual” argument holds little weight: One ranger on the Cecil hunt stated that it is an honor for an animal to be killed in such a way. Easy to say if you’re not the animal being tracked, slowly dying over 40 hours.

The separation between our reality and the reality of the rest of animal life — the “man given dominion” nonsense — is a façade that’s slowly eroding. Killing other animals for survival is part of our heritage. You can argue whether or not it’s necessary in this day and age — I have my thoughts on it, but that’s not the point — but hunting for a perverse sense of superiority or some weird spiritual connection — I wrote about Christian hunting on this site before — we will hopefully evolve out of.

The signs are pointing in the right direction. The pleas for justice over Cecil’s death are part of a larger movement as we, as a species, move toward a stronger connection with the Earth that birthed us. Climate change has helped us understand that the planet’s resources are not something we can easily lord over without consequence. We’ve played that role atop the animal kingdom for 50,000 years now, and the shift away from it is a most welcome one.

How Airbnb is Broadcasting Kindness

This post appeared on Mindful on July 27, 2015

As a part of their “Is Man Kind?” campaign, Airbnb has debuted an online news series that reports on positive, uplifting stories. The series, called The Daily Kindness Bulletin, aims to highlight the acts of kindness and compassion that happen everyday.

The video series came to be after their survey of Airbnb users showed that people often felt that the news reported on too many negative stories compared to the amount of positive stories. The Airbnb team joined up with Dr. Emiliana Simon-Thomas, the Science Director of the University of Berkeley Greater Good Science Center, to create this short and upbeat newscast.

Humane Clown Posse

This post by Elianna Bar-El appeared in GOOD on 6/30/15

 On a recent visit to Wolfson Medical Center on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, Israel, Yolana Zimmerman (pictured above) is met with audible sighs of relief.

Great! You’re here! We need you,” says a nurse.

Zimmerman is not a medical doctor. In fact, she casts quite a contrast to the typical image of a doctor with her pink leggings, cupcake apron, and eyelet bloomers—not to mention the underwear on her head and the stuffed monkey in her hands. Yolana “Yoyo” Zimmerman is part of a team of medical clowns called Dream Doctors. The pioneering organization started in 2002 with three medical clowns at one hospital and today facilitates the work of more than 110 clowns across 28 hospitals in a country increasingly recognized as the vanguard of medical clowning. After this past April’s devastating earthquake in Nepal, for instance, the Israeli government sent an envoy from Dream Doctors to Kathmandu to work with affected children. As you might expect, the medical community is taking notice of the tiny nation’s zany medical practitioners.

While the clown appears as an archetype throughout history, its societal function has varied. For the ancestors of the indigenous people of northern Australia, clowning was a way to assuage potential feuds among men. For the Tübatulabal people in the Sierra Nevada range of Southern California, clowns served the political role of announcing the need for a new chief. Among the Witoto people of southeastern Columbia and northern Peru, clowning was a strategy for drawing communal attention to individual grievances, Festivus-style. In the scheme of things, medical clowning is a relatively recent addition to this cultural history. Beginning in 1986 in New York City under the umbrella of a program called the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit, the practice can now be found all over the world, perhaps most notably in Israel.

Yoyo directs her attention to a religious man sitting beside his daughter who is sleeping in a hospital bed. He is obviously reading from the Bible. ‘Is that a good book?’ Yoyo asks. ‘I think I’ve heard something about it. … Who wrote it again?’

The freedom under which Israeli medical clowns are able to operate is a rarity in the field and Dream Doctors’ premium on clowning education and training, as well as hands-on involvement with medical staffs, affords it a distinct advantage over forms elsewhere in the world. Its efforts have given way to a range of research, with medical clowning at the forefront of a number of breakthrough techniques and therapeutic approaches. In Israel, clowns aren’t cheerful diversions, but are seamlessly integrated into a broad range of medical practices.

Medical clowning has developed in Israel in a different way than anywhere else in the world,” says Professor Ati Citron, creator and director of University of Haifa’s Medical Clowning program. “Medical clowns were absorbed into the medical system as part of the staff. I’ve seen firsthand how clowns work in the United States. Even after 30 years, they [the clowns] are still not allowed to touch a patient. The fear of malpractice lawsuits dominates the whole system. The doctors are hardly aware that the clowns are even there. In Israel, there is a deep, significant difference, and that has paved the way for avant-garde practices.”

Anyone who has been hospitalized understands the loss of control experienced upon admission: Clothes become a hospital gown, trays of goop replace favorite foods, and the body is poked and prodded as if it were stripped of all humanity. The medical clown’s job is to recalibrate the situation as much as possible. Medical clowns in Israel typically work in 3-4 hour shifts 2-3 times a week. Shifts are an instant reboot that can affect a whole medical ward—nurses, doctors, patients, parents, and visitors included.

Case-in-point: Walking into an adjacent hospital room, without missing a beat, Yoyo directs her attention to a religious man sitting beside his daughter who is sleeping in a hospital bed. He is obviously reading from the Bible. “Is that a good book?” Yoyo asks. “I think I’ve heard something about it. … Who wrote it again?” The father looks up at her, grinning in surprise. In the same moment Yoyo doubles over with genuine laughter, igniting a cacophony of noises from a squeezable rooster in her apron. The rowdiness attracts a gang of kids roaming the normally quiet halls. Yoyo pretends to eat some bubble gum bubbles as we head to the neonatal intensive care unit, where she comforts new moms of preemies and aids doctors while they conduct emergency surgeries.

In Israel, medical clowns are involved in over 40 medical procedures, including accompanying patients to CT scans, X-rays, MRIs, chemotherapy, radiation treatment, physiotherapy, and rehabilitation. Clowns in Israel also work solo to initiate a more interactive, one-on-one relationship with patients. (Elsewhere they work in teams of two or in groups.) Dream Doctors, which works closely with Israel’s Ministry of Health and the University of Haifa (where students can get a bachelor’s degree in Medical Clowning), also hosts monthly workshops for the clowns where medical staff provide them with a range of medical knowledge and training on hygiene, vaccinations, before-and-after procedures for entering a room, role-playing, case studies, and more. The research it has conducted has chronicled the ways that clowning can mitigate stress and anxiety in pediatric patients, lessen the need for sedative agents in pediatric patients undergoing radionuclide scanning, and enhance the outcome for women undergoing in vitro fertilization.

Before a patient even sees a doctor at the Tene Center, medical clowns meet with the abused patient at least one hour before they have to take a forensic exam.

Michael Christensen, a.k.a. “the Godfather of hospital clowning” and founder of the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit, has had extensive experience working with Israeli medical clowns, both in hospitals and at international conferences. “Israeli medical clowns are totally and utterly inspirational,” Christensen tells me via email. “They have the deepest integration of clowning within the medical system [of] any … program I have ever visited—and that integration has pushed all of us as artists to strive for the same kind of unity, collegial respect, service and communication.”

Canada-based Bernie Warren, one of the world’s leading experts on clowning in health care, had a chance to work with Dream Doctors through a Toronto symposium that he co-chaired called “A Healthy Dose of Laughter.” According to Warren, “Israeli clowns have fantastic access and opportunities within the hospital, which require no boardroom meetings or having to get permission from higher ups. … Clowning organizations such as Le Rire Medecin in France, the Humour Foundation in Australia, and the Big Apple Circus in New York work more like theater companies that go to the hospital to perform. Israeli clowns have an entirely different approach.”

No one is more familiar with that approach than Shoshi Ofir, who works at the Tene Center at the Poriah Hospital in northern Israel. The clinic is the only one in the world to incorporate medical clowning as part of the treatment of sexually abused children and adolescents and have clowns work one-on-one with gynecologists, proctologists, and gastroenterologists to administer forensic exams. Organizations from abroad regularly visit the clinic. Last year, the Doctor Clown Association visited from Lyon, France, to shadow Ofir in hopes of applying specific approaches to its own work. “I saw how different the treatment approach is between an abused child and a clown in Israel,” explains French medical clown Blandine Thevenon Nicoli. “Not only are the clown and the doctor physically and mentally in sync, but their partnership is imperative in restoring some of the patient’s integrity.”

Before a patient even sees a doctor at the Tene Center, medical clowns meet with the abused patient at least one hour before they have to take a forensic exam, which will be used as core evidence in court documents. Patients are typically 10 years old and younger, and the procedure often re-traumatizes them. During their solo time together, Ofir thoughtfully works to connect with the patient and gain his or her trust. But pre-teens are extremely sensitive and perceptive: get one word wrong and Ofir will be blocked from gaining their respect. Ofir’s challenge, therefore, is to create a non-threatening environment whereupon the doctor is allowed to enter the room. Using a range of trigger codes, the doctor and Ofir work together throughout the forensic exam, with the clown remaining the patient’s unfaltering ally. If the patient is fearful, distressed, clenching his or her muscles, or uncomfortable in any way, the clown can stop the doctor from proceeding.

At Meir Medical Center in central Israel, medical clown Penny Hanuka works with pediatric patients suffering from idiopathic juvenile arthritis who must undergo corticosteroids injections into their joints. The procedure is as painful as it is stressful, especially since patients can anticipate the pain based on previous experiences. Medical clowns at Meir work with doctors using a method called “the mirror.” The doctor works on one leg while the clown works on the other leg, “mirroring” what the doctor is doing in a mock, playful, painless pantomime. Once the child is fully relaxed, the medical clown cues the doctor to start the injection. Dream Doctors’ research has shown that in these instances, not only do the children get through the procedure easier, but they also require less anesthesia. Last year, Hanuka took part in the Pediatric 2014 Rheumatology Symposium in Orlando, Florida, where she presented the research she has conducted through mirroring.

Christensen of Big Apple Circus says it’s techniques like these that make the Israeli program a global model. “I hope the rest of the world pays attention,” he says. “I want every program to be as deeply integrated as the Israelis are.” 

Photos by Ziv Sade

How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain

This article By Gretchen Reynolds appeared in the NY Times on July 22, 2015.

A walk in the park may soothe the mind and, in the process, change the workings of our brains in ways that improve our mental health, according to an interesting new study of the physical effects on the brain of visiting nature.

Most of us today live in cities and spend far less time outside in green, natural spaces than people did several generations ago.

City dwellers also have a higher risk for anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses than people living outside urban centers, studies show.

These developments seem to be linked to some extent, according to a growing body of research. Various studies have found that urban dwellers with little access to green spaces have a higher incidence of psychological problems than people living near parks and that city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.

But just how a visit to a park or other green space might alter mood has been unclear. Does experiencing nature actually change our brains in some way that affects our emotional health?

That possibility intrigued Gregory Bratman, a graduate student at the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources at Stanford University, who has been studying the psychological effects of urban living. In an earlier study published last month, he and his colleagues found that volunteers who walked briefly through a lush, green portion of the Stanford campus were more attentive and happier afterward than volunteers who strolled for the same amount of time near heavy traffic.

But that study did not examine the neurological mechanisms that might underlie the effects of being outside in nature.

So for the new study, which was published last week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Mr. Bratman and his collaborators decided to closely scrutinize what effect a walk might have on a person’s tendency to brood.

Brooding, which is known among cognitive scientists as morbid rumination, is a mental state familiar to most of us, in which we can’t seem to stop chewing over the ways in which things are wrong with ourselves and our lives. This broken-record fretting is not healthy or helpful. It can be a precursor to depression and is disproportionately common among city dwellers compared with people living outside urban areas, studies show.

Perhaps most interesting for the purposes of Mr. Bratman and his colleagues, however, such rumination also is strongly associated with increased activity in a portion of the brain known as the subgenual prefrontal cortex.

If the researchers could track activity in that part of the brain before and after people visited nature, Mr. Bratman realized, they would have a better idea about whether and to what extent nature changes people’s minds.

Mr. Bratman and his colleagues first gathered 38 healthy, adult city dwellers and asked them to complete a questionnaire to determine their normal level of morbid rumination.

The researchers also checked for brain activity in each volunteer’s subgenual prefrontal cortex, using scans that track blood flow through the brain. Greater blood flow to parts of the brain usually signals more activity in those areas.

Then the scientists randomly assigned half of the volunteers to walk for 90 minutes through a leafy, quiet, parklike portion of the Stanford campus or next to a loud, hectic, multi-lane highway in Palo Alto. The volunteers were not allowed to have companions or listen to music. They were allowed to walk at their own pace.

Immediately after completing their walks, the volunteers returned to the lab and repeated both the questionnaire and the brain scan.

As might have been expected, walking along the highway had not soothed people’s minds. Blood flow to their subgenual prefrontal cortex was still high and their broodiness scores were unchanged.

But the volunteers who had strolled along the quiet, tree-lined paths showed slight but meaningful improvements in their mental health, according to their scores on the questionnaire. They were not dwelling on the negative aspects of their lives as much as they had been before the walk.

They also had less blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex. That portion of their brains were quieter.

These results “strongly suggest that getting out into natural environments” could be an easy and almost immediate way to improve moods for city dwellers, Mr. Bratman said.

But of course many questions remain, he said, including how much time in nature is sufficient or ideal for our mental health, as well as what aspects of the natural world are most soothing. Is it the greenery, quiet, sunniness, loamy smells, all of those, or something else that lifts our moods? Do we need to be walking or otherwise physically active outside to gain the fullest psychological benefits? Should we be alone or could companionship amplify mood enhancements?

“There’s a tremendous amount of study that still needs to be done,” Mr. Bratman said.

But in the meantime, he pointed out, there is little downside to strolling through the nearest park, and some chance that you might beneficially muffle, at least for awhile, your subgenual prefrontal cortex.

The Spirituality of Comedian Jim Breuer

Jim Breuer, used with permission

Breuer has been doing comedy for decades — from his “Goat Boy” and Joe Pesci impersonations on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” to his recent Epix special “Jim Breuer: Comedy Frenzy” — and was named as one of the greatest standup comedians of all time by Comedy Central.

In Breuer’s movie “More Than Me,”Breuer described how he used comedy to cope with different situations including his late father’s declining health. And so while many people know that Breuer can use humor to cope and help others through difficult times, fewer people know that he uses another strategy to understand and manage difficult life situations — a deep sense of spirituality.

For Breuer, this spiritual side is something with which he can connect when he needs to do so. “The faith world to me is like a radio station. It’s there,” he explained. “And if you want to plug in and listen to it, kind of tune into it, it can definitely be helpful. I don’t know if it’s an energy? I don’t know what it is, but it fascinates me.”

“And when I say about the radio station, I mean: ‘Do you want to hear it?’ If you want to hear it, it’s there. Some people say it’s stupid, don’t acknowledge it. That’s OK, whatever journey they’re on. It’s pretty awesome when you tap into it. It’s really awesome.”

Breuer finds that this practice helps him cope with difficult situations. “And I know that the stories I’ve had or the moments that I’ve lived by, where I’ve set aside and I’ve talked to G-d or meditated or begged for guidance. It’s worked 100% of the time,” he said.

“I have bizarre coincidences; I don’t believe they’re coincidences. The bummer talking about it is that people get so turned off. But there’s something. And that’s why I never go, ‘Well I’m this, and I’m that,’ because I hear it from all different types. I just know, whatever it is, I just know the way I say it. I’ll beg, and I’ll say, ‘Please guide me this way. Guide me to help. Just show me what I’m supposed to do. Tell me how I’m supposed to speak. Show me how I’m supposed to act. What can I do to help?’ Always — 100% — I get the answer.”

“And I don’t know what that is. To me, I call it faith, a deep spirituality.”

Breuer’s belief in the power of his faith is consistent with research demonstrating the health benefits of religion and spirituality. In one study of 142 patients, a week prior to heart surgery, results showed that individuals with stronger religious beliefs had fewer subsequent complications and shorter hospital stays. A recently concluded 10-year study of 114 adults found that those who considered religion or spirituality more important to them were significantly less likely to be depressed over time.

For Breuer, his spirituality started with his family. “I could be wrong, but I’m going to say it started at a fairly young age. You know my mom had that. I’d think I’m something, and she’d just belly-laugh in my face and just exploit whatever I was trying to accomplish with my holier-than-thou attitude,” he said. “And you learn through trial and error, and you start realizing you’re not really as in control and as powerful and as almighty as you really think you are as you move along through trials and errors.”

“I think it’s a big growing process. Life just keeps moving.”

What Breuer is describing could be considered humility, which he identifies as an important aspect of his spirituality. Positive psychologists define humility as the ability to view oneself in a non-defensive and open manner. Initial research suggests that people with higher levels of humility have higher levels of self-rated health.

“Humility is one of the key aspects of spirituality, and along with comedy, a key component of healing,” he explained. “We always had comedy and humility. Humility’s really important. If you can’t find that, then you’re really going to have some major issues with yourself and life. I found that at a young age. My whole family’s been that way forever.”

“Vulnerability, humility, relatability — those three are very close and very similar to keep you going. When you’re in conversation with people, and they can relate to you, or you start talking about how vulnerable you are and didn’t expect to be, or you think you’re better than what you think you are, and you’re humbled by it, and you find some humility, it helps you move along. And a lot of people have too much pride and ego to allow that in,” he said.

More, for Breuer, it was a sense of humility that helped facilitate some of his favorite comedic moments in his personal life. “I remember one of the greatest moments in my life was getting a TV show. Couldn’t have been higher — on the cover of TV Guide, the commercials were out. We were spinning off the Tim Allen show,” he explained.

“It was huge. I was going to make half a million to $1 million a year. I was a 25-, 26-year-old kid. And I flew my best friends out for the premiere of this thing. And I remember that about four days before it was supposed to air, they fired me. They let me go. And I remember coming back to the hotel room,” he said. “I was devastated, in shock. I didn’t understand it. We’d already filmed the show. The commercials were still on the air. I didn’t get what was happening. And I just remember my friends; we were blue collar, didn’t have much growing up. A whole village raised a family, everybody looked after each other.”

“I remember coming to my hotel room and I didn’t know what to do, and they go, ‘What happened?’ I said, ‘I got fired.’”

“And it was very awkward. It was the first time they really saw deep pain in me. And I just remember my friend, and he laughed, and he rolled his eyes, and he went ‘Well, I rented a limo for tonight so let’s go out. We’ll stay out all night because you don’t have to get up in the morning because you ain’t got a job!’ and he just belly-laughed.”

“Then we all just started belly-laughing.”

“It was a very humbling moment. I was humiliated. But it was probably the hardest I’ve ever laughed and probably one of the best times I’ve ever felt in my whole life.”

For Breuer, part of the reason that his sense of humility allows him to see the humor in situations is because he is able to put certain life events in perspective. “See, what we do is, we make it like this is the end of the world. To you, this is the end of the world. Nothing could be worse than this. I couldn’t lose this person. They couldn’t have died. I couldn’t have lost this job. Where he made it simple — it’s no different than when you’re 15 years old. Like, ‘Oh, great! What are we doing? What are you complaining about? Now we can go out. We have the whole night ahead of us. Let’s do this,’” he said.

But soon Breuer experienced situations that were truly tragic. Over the course of his life Breuer has dealt with many tragic moments, including the loss of his sister and father, and his wife’s ongoing battle with cancer.

Breuer explained: “I have a deep respect for life in general; just a huge, deep respect for life. And I have definitely grasped onto the fact that every minute, every moment, to be grateful and thankful for. Because we really don’t know what’s two seconds away. We really don’t. It’s so unpredictable. And again I learned that at a young age through death,” he explained.

“You lose someone when you’re young, you realize, ‘Wow, we really are on borrowed time.’ No matter how much we love them or how much we think we’re invincible, that ‘[t]hat could never happen to us,’ it happens. There’s no stopping it.”

For Breuer, his first loss was the loss of a close friend.

“I think the first big one was a friend I had in Florida. The circumstances that led to my personal journey with her was somehow a faith-based, an energy-based thing that was very healing and powerful for me. She was a dear friend of mine, a neighbor; we were best friends,” he recalled.

“We weren’t talking for a couple of weeks, and it was driving me crazy. And I pulled over and asked what I should do. Just go over there and lay it all out there. I remember going over there, and I saw her one night, and that voice that I keep asking the questions to — there she was. I’m going to go over there and start talking to her. And it was one of the greatest conversations we ever had in the time that I knew her. And she was explaining to me how all of these amazing things she was hoping for in life finally happened. And at the end of it — I still cannot describe it to this day — there was a deep soul connection.”

“I can still feel it now when I think about it. It was as close as you can get to being intimate without being intimate. And that was the last time I saw her.”

“And I remember being at the funeral, and it was so sad and so depressing. I’d never seen so many kids crying, parents devastated. And I just thought about her, and I went outside and I literally asked, ‘What do you want? What’s supposed to happen here? What happens? And I just kept hearing ‘Just make everyone laugh!’ I don’t want to see them all like this. Make them laugh.’”

“And that was one of the moments that changed me. And I remember being at the funeral parlor, imitating her, what she’d probably be doing right now. And it was a blind moment — I don’t know how long I went on for. I just remember stopping, and there was just a circle of people around me — a big circle of people around me howling and laughing. And then when I stopped, and I said, ‘We shouldn’t be doing this’ They’re like, ‘No! No! Keep going! Keep going! This is the greatest! This is what it’s supposed to be like.’”

“That was the first moment where I realized —‘Let’s celebrate and keep the spirits high.’ And that was a powerful moment. And I realized how many people I was healing in that moment alone with myself.”

Later on, Breuer felt that his spirituality also helped him cope with his sister’s death. “I still have the texts that I sent to her. She was really down, and she knew she was dying very soon. And she tried not to allow that in. And I knew that no matter what, she was going to be dead soon. There was no way of stopping what she had. She was in complete denial of how much cancer she had; 100 percent denial between her and, I think, some of her family. I knew she knew that. And I knew she knew that I knew it,” he recalled.

“My job then, too — ‘Don’t worry about anything. We’re going to ride this straight out the way we always do.’ Just like coming up to the plate. I’m going to swing really hard at fastballs. Even though you know we’re going to strike out. And you know the season’s over. We’re still going to go up, and we’re still going to swing at those fastballs. I would bust her balls all the way until the end. We’d laugh hard.”

“It’s like ‘Titanic.’Keep playing that song even when you’re wiped away in the ocean. You go down with that instrument in your hand if that’s what makes you happy.”

Interestingly, Breuer’s spirituality can be understood as consistent with his musical preference — heavy metal. Contrary to stereotypes of “metalheads” as being closed minded and even aggressive towards others, research suggests that people who prefer heavy-metal music display personality styles that are more “open to experience.”(link is external)Further, far from making people more aggressive, studies suggest that among people who prefer more aggressive music, listening to metal actually appears to help improve mood and cope with anger. More, a recent study shows that not only were people who were heavy metal fans from the ’80s not dusfunctional as adults, but also they appear to be quite happy in adulthood.

In light of this research, it perhaps makes more sense that Breuer is a heavy metal fan; His sense of humility naturally dictates a tendency to accept rather than avoid negative experience. And Breuer appreciates that heavy metal musicians similarly embrace rather than gloss over the more upsetting parts of life.

He described: “For me, you’re connecting on a deeper level — old Metallica, [Judas] Priest and just metal in general — it would make me think. Especially Metallica. It helped me think about what my dad went through in war,” he said. “Metal is truth for me. And also, there is a deeper awareness. Is ‘War Pigs’ evil? Or is it the only genre that has the ’nads to put it right out there in your face?”

“It’s a truth, a raw truth; And sometimes, people don’t want to acknowledge the raw truth. Sometimes, the truth is dark and ugly and hurts,” he explained. “And that goes with death and everything else. And that music allows you to acknowledge and be aware of it. Because it’s part of everyday life. It’s a part of life where people want to say, ‘That doesn’t exist. I’ll just stick my head in the sand. I know every circle of life. And all of it exists. And sometimes it’s not pretty. Some of it’s just plain evil.”

“That music — it didn’t make me want to be evil. It made me aware of evil. That music would explicitly explain everything and give you warnings and tell you what’s going on. I always thought I had one up on everyone’s thinking patterns because of that music.”

Breuer found his spirituality was so fierce that even when his father challenged Breuer’s spirituality, Breuer stayed very sure of his own spiritual beliefs. “It was interesting, because I remember asking him, like, ‘Dad, what do you think happens to us?’ He says, ‘Nothing. There’s no G-d, there’s no time, you’re gone. People forget about you.’ I couldn’t believe how dead serious he was about that. So, you just die, and you just forget about shit. They pretend that they don’t forget about you, but they do. They forget about you. You’re just gone.’”

“And that was the moment that I said, ‘I don’t know if that will happen to you. Maybe you just don’t remember, or you become something else, or your soul becomes a tree or energy.’ He says, ‘No, that’s stupid. No.’”

“So, although he was completely ‘no,’ I disagreed, and I continued to use spirit and use guidance to make his life better.”

Eileen Fisher’s Bold New Path

This post appeared in Conscious Company Magazine in July 2015.

Eileen Fisher designs from her heart. Long before sustainability really got going as a business movement, this giant of the fashion world created clothes inspired by her love for natural fibers and her desire to make pieces that were timeless and long-lasting. As her company grew, she began educating herself on the environmental impacts of the fashion industry and decided to do more. For over a decade, Eileen and her 1,200 employees have gradually transformed Eileen Fisher Inc. into one of the largest sustainable fashion brands anywhere, yet the company’s frank marketing materials are the first to tell you that more action is needed. Focusing on six key areas – fibers, colors, resources, people, supply chain mapping, and reuse – the company’s Vision 2020 initiative promises that all of its styles will be sustainable by the year 2020, or it won’t sell them.

We had the pleasure of chatting with Eileen for several hours at her home in New York about everything from her personal story to the value that mindful breathing at meetings adds to her company. She also opened up about the struggles and sacrifices required to integrate sustainable practices throughout her company, the tension between minimizing her impact and selling products, and how her search for purpose led to success.

Can you tell us about the conceptualization of the Eileen Fisher brand? Was there a moment that you remember that you actually decided to really go for it?

Eileen Fisher: I started in 1984, so I’m going to say it was 1979 when the idea was forming. I’d been working in design and graphics at that time and actually doing some branding work – logo design and packaging and things like that. I had a Japanese partner and had the opportunity to travel to Japan, and while I was there, I got really excited about the kimono – the whole idea of a garment that they wore in only one shape for a thousand years. The whole idea of timeless clothing intrigued me. The simplicity in the whole Japanese aesthetic just really attracted me. So, this idea began to form and it was just about really simple clothes – simple shapes and natural fibers. I was into cotton and linen and silk at that time. It just had to be natural fibers. That was clear to me.

When I first decided to do it, I
 had a friend who was a jewelry designer. He took me to a boutique show where he showed his jewelry to small stores. I just remember walking around there and seeing these little booths and seeing other designers presenting their work and small companies presenting their wares to little boutiques around the country. I remember looking around going, “Oh, I can do this.” I felt like I could see my idea there and it felt whole. I could picture it.

I’m probably not a good salesperson, so I couldn’t picture going around to stores and standing in line at Bendel’s or Bloomingdale’s to talk to the buyer and then being rejected. That was too disturbing to me, plus I didn’t know if they would understand what I was doing. And I guess I never saw myself doing runway shows – I wasn’t that kind of designer. It was more like I wanted real clothes for me to really wear. It wasn’t about the show or red carpets or anything glitzy. It was simple.

Was there any fear involved in that decision?

EF: I think it was foolish non-fear. 
I really had nothing and so I had nothing to lose. It was coming through me, this idea. It was clear to me. I was sort of uncomfortable and not a confident person, but a shy, introverted person. But this idea was powerful and I was confident about it and I was sure about it. I would talk to people about it with confidence. It was almost like I didn’t recognize myself because I felt so sure of myself in that arena. So I would say I had no fear – maybe foolishly had no fear.

Was it your intention from the get-go to make Eileen Fisher a sustainable brand or was that a gradual awakening?

EF: I would say it was gradual in
 terms of deepening the work around sustainability. In the beginning, it was all about natural fibers, and I was under the impression that natural was biodegradable and natural was safe
 for the environment. What happened over the years is that I drew in a lot
 of people who had similar values 
and cared about natural fibers and probably even understood things that I didn’t. I remember this woman, Sally Fox, who was one of the first organic cotton people. She was growing organic cotton in these subtle, natural colors close to 20 years ago. People like that found us because they knew we were on the same wavelength somehow, even if we weren’t fully understanding organic yet.

I guess you could relate it to food. People who eat healthy just instinctively wouldn’t eat at McDonald’s because it just wouldn’t feel right or they wouldn’t want to 
eat a lot of packaged foods. They would eat real food. To me, it was real clothes. That was where I was coming from without fully understanding the difference between organic cotton and conventional cotton, and not understanding how damaging conventional cotton is to the planet.

So, we hired Amy Hall. We actually hired her to be an assistant at first and then she moved into being Director of Social Consciousness 15 years ago. She became passionate about some of the human rights work in the factories, how we monitored the factories, and how we ensured that our people were treated fairly. That was really how we entered social consciousness. We got involved with Social Accountability International, which does the SA8000 standards 
for operating in factories around the world. Amy is now on the board of directors there.

From there, things would just happen. For example, the first cotton I did, I just didn’t like the finish. The vendors told me there was some kind of chemical finish that they put on the cotton, and I didn’t like the way it felt. I had them not put the chemical finish on it, and I felt that the fabric just came alive. It was much more organic. It was just an intuitive thing that I liked it better.

Another time we got involved with this group in Peru that was doing organic cotton. We just fell in love with the yarn, but their capabilities weren’t great in terms of design. Even though in the beginning we were offering some products from them because we wanted to support this idea, the garments didn’t necessarily sell and they were more expensive. It was probably 30 percent more for the organic cotton at that time and we were troubled by that. Some of our designers got really excited about this yarn and they went down there and they started really designing into the product and working with the people down there to actually create what we wanted and making the product really compelling. Today this is an amazing project. It has some of my favorite pieces that I go to because they’re so beautiful and this cotton is just 
so compelling. People today will pay the price for those pieces, probably because the design value is there. It’s not just funky, hippie clothes. It’s something really beautiful and really special.

I think this whole thing has kind of been a building process over the years. A few years ago, we started doing organic linen and trying to bring in more organic cotton. We’re on a path to try to move more of our products to be more local – back to this country. We’re not there yet. We have a long way to go, but we’re trying.

I think there’s just so much passion and it’s so deep in the company.
 It’s not that we just have a Director of Sustainability or Director of
 Social Consciousness. Now we have somebody mapping the supply chain. That’s her whole job. We have a Director of Human Rights. We have these different positions. What’s actually happening is that throughout the company lots of people are really encouraged to be passionate about these things and are given permission to care. At our company meetings, we do things like talk about the
 water crisis and ask everyone what they might do, and get the company engaged.

“Throughout the company lots of people are really encouraged to be passionate about these things and are given permission to care.”

Was there something that really inspired this shift?

EF: A few years ago, I got involved in the Gross National Happiness project with Otto Scharmer. I ended up going to Bhutan and the Amazon and started really thinking about purpose – my own purpose and the company’s purpose.

It’s interesting because we’re a clothing business, and although we’re not a typical fashion business, we 
are still caught in that thing where the customer wants new – she wants to feel special. We want her to feel great and give her something new, but we also want to create things
 that are timeless and that last a long time. These are weird lines that we’re walking.

I don’t think of myself as leading this company. I never call myself CEO or anything like that. It just feels like it’s such a collective, group effort. And a few years ago, when I started on this project, simultaneously there was work going on in sustainability and there was a whole team building around that asking, “What else can we do? How can we get rid of the plastic hangers? How can we use less paper? How can we ship more by sea rather than by air?” These conversations were happening everywhere and there started to be these large gatherings at off-sites.

So, after I started doing my own purpose work with the Gross National Happiness project, I was on a boat in the Amazon and I met this guy, Marcelo Cardoso, who blew my mind. He was talking about purpose and companies having a larger purpose and individual purpose and how that works together, and personal transformation. I was like, “Yes, I want more of this. How can you help me do this?”

I started bringing him in and we were doing these prototype workshops. One of them was around purpose and I had this really powerful experience. He does these exercises where you just sit in a chair and you embody your purpose. You sort of talk to yourself as your purpose, like, “What are you doing with your life? Why are you doing this? What really matters? Why are you forgetting about me?”

I had this really interesting experience in which I recognized 
that I just needed to be more fully 
me. Actually, I used the stools in my kitchen, and I found that when I would sit in this purpose chair, I was sort of embodying my purpose. I just started to take that into my daily practice of sitting on a stool and feeling that I’m in my purpose rather than just my ordinary me.

A year and a half ago, I had just come back from two back-to-back conferences and I was tired, but there was a company sustainability meeting off-site. You could feel a lot of energy building around all this great work 
that was happening. I was supposed to go. I thought I was going to go for the first few hours and just kind of set it off, give permission, and let everybody know that I supported this whole initiative. I was sitting in my purpose chair that morning and I thought, “I have to do this. I don’t care if I’m tired. This really matters.”

I went upstairs and packed my bag for the whole four days. I went and while I was there it was amazing the work that was happening. This is where the Vision 2020 came out. It was not my idea, but it came up that we should make a radical commitment that we would make all of our clothes sustainable by 2020.

And whoa. I just remember realizing that I could say, “Yes!” My name’s on the door. Even if we don’t get there, saying yes gives people permission. It was just this powerful understanding that there was a place for me to really use my voice and that this was an important area for me to do that. The work was already happening and it was maybe going to happen if I hadn’t said yes, but me saying yes that day was another, deeper layer.

The Pope Just Released A List of 10 Tips for Becoming a Happier Person and They Are Spot On

This post originally appeared on The Higher Learning on July 31, 2014

pope-francis-672x372
In a recent interview with the Argentine publication Viva, Pope Francis issued a list of 10 tips to be a happier person, based on his own life experiences.

The Pope encouraged people to be more positive and generous, to turn off the TV and find healthier forms of leisure, and even to stop trying to convert people to one’s own religion.

But his number one piece of advice came in the form of a somewhat cliche Italian phrase that means, “move forward and let others do the same.” It’s basically the Italian equivalent of, “live and let live.” You can check out the full list below.
The Pope’s 10 Tips for a Happier Life

1. “Live and let live.” Everyone should be guided by this principle, he said, which has a similar expression in Rome with the saying, “Move forward and let others do the same.”

2. “Be giving of yourself to others.” People need to be open and generous toward others, he said, because “if you withdraw into yourself, you run the risk of becoming egocentric. And stagnant water becomes putrid.”

3. “Proceed calmly” in life. The pope, who used to teach high school literature, used an image from an Argentine novel by Ricardo Guiraldes, in which the protagonist — gaucho Don Segundo Sombra — looks back on how he lived his life.

4. A healthy sense of leisure. The Pope said “consumerism has brought us anxiety”, and told parents to set aside time to play with their children and turn of the TV when they sit down to eat.

5. Sundays should be holidays. Workers should have Sundays off because “Sunday is for family,” he said.

6. Find innovative ways to create dignified jobs for young people. “We need to be creative with young people. If they have no opportunities they will get into drugs” and be more vulnerable to suicide, he said.

7. Respect and take care of nature. Environmental degradation “is one of the biggest challenges we have,” he said. “I think a question that we’re not asking ourselves is: ‘Isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature?’”

8. Stop being negative. “Needing to talk badly about others indicates low self-esteem. That means, ‘I feel so low that instead of picking myself up I have to cut others down,’” the Pope said. “Letting go of negative things quickly is healthy.”

9. Don’t proselytise; respect others’ beliefs. “We can inspire others through witness so that one grows together in communicating. But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyses: ‘I am talking with you in order to persuade you,’ No. Each person dialogues, starting with his and her own identity. The church grows by attraction, not proselytising,” the Pope said.

10. Work for peace. “We are living in a time of many wars,” he said, and “the call for peace must be shouted. Peace sometimes gives the impression of being quiet, but it is never quiet, peace is always proactive” and dynamic.

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