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Swedish Solve Clutter with ‘Death cleaning.’ 

If your family doesn’t want your stuff when you’re alive, they sure won’t want it when you’re dead. 

That’s the blunt assessment of yet another self-help author from abroad who is trying to get Americans, who have an addiction to collecting and storage units, to clean up their acts. 

The latest volley in the decluttering business comes from Stockholm, where 80-ish artist Margareta Magnusson has just published a slim yet sage volume, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.” The book will be published in the United States in January. 

While Japanese item-control diva Marie Kondo gave us strict instructions to keep only things that spark joy, Magnusson’s book is straightforward and unsentimental (with a bit of humor). The main message from this mother of five is: Take responsibility for your items and don’t leave them as a burden for family and friends. It’s not fair. Magnusson says you can keep things that evoke good memories; there are no hard-and-fast rules such as folding your remaining T-shirts to stand upright in your drawers, as dictated by the KonMari method. 

The concept of decluttering before you die, a process called “dostadning,” is part of Swedish culture. (It comes from the Swedish words for death and cleaning.) Karin Olofsdotter, 51, the Swedish ambassador to the United States, says her mother and father, who are in their 80s, are in the midst of it back home. 

“My parents and their friends are death cleaning, and we all kind of joke about it,” Olofsdotter says. “It’s almost like a biological thing to do.” Olofsdotter says part of Swedish culture is living independently and never being a burden to anyone. How you keep your home is a statement of that. 

Magnusson, who has moved 17 times, says women often end up doing the death cleaning. After her husband died, she had to declutter their house; it took her almost a year before she could downsize to a two-room apartment. She says that although it felt overwhelming, she is glad she did it herself, as her husband would have wanted to keep everything and her kids would have disagreed about what to keep and what to toss. This way, she made her own decisions. Now she continues to do it on a regular basis. 

Magnusson suggests that age 65 is a good time to start death cleaning, but the process is freeing at any age. 

A few of her tips: Don’t start with your photos, as you’ll get bogged down in your memories and never accomplish anything. Make sure you keep a book of passwords for your heirs. Give away nice things you don’t want as gifts, such as china or table linens or books, as opposed to buying new items. Keep a separate box of things that matter only to you, and label it to be tossed upon your death. It’s okay to keep a beloved stuffed animal or two. 

Magnusson and one of her daughters filmed a video in which she talks about why she decluttered and how it’s not a sad process, but more of a relief. Her daughter asks whether her mom would help her begin death cleaning. They go to a storage locker overflowing with luggage and clothes and blankets topped by a garden gnome. 

“Oh, my God. What are you going to do with all this crap?” her mother says in perfect English, taking a look around. They discuss how long it’s going to take. 

Author Margareta Magnusson. Photographer: Alexander Mahmoud (Alexander Mahmoud) 

“You are never ready with your death cleaning because you don’t know when you are going to die,” Magnusson says. “So it goes on and on.” 

When you are dead, then it stops, they agree. 

“Finally,” Magnusson says.

Can Silence Heal Your Brain? Science Says Yes 

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.” 

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”. 

Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think. 

Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence. 

 A 2013 study on mice  published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice. The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning. 

The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons. 

“We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.” 

In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain. 

The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence 

A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information. 

Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.” 

When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues. 

When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world. 

The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way. 

As Herman Melville once wrote, “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.” 

Silence relieves stress and tension. 

It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones. 

A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

“This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says. 

Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain. 

Silence replenishes our cognitive resources. 

The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving. 

Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills. 

But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise. 

Summation 

Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good. 

What do you think? Will you be practicing silence? Let us know in the comments!

Kids Take on US Governement in Court Battle over the Environment 

In the words of the great novelist, poet, environmentalist and farmer Wendell Berry, we must act as “a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.” 

A group of 20 children, ages 8 – 19, seem to be putting Berry’s words into action. They are currently suing the US government on the assertion that: 

Young people and unborn generations are being discriminated against when it comes to the U.S. propagation of climate change

The children who are currently suing the US government are backed by the environmental advocacy group, Our Children’s Trust. Our Children’s Trust asserts on its website that it is: “Leading the frame changing, youth-driven, global climate recovery campaign to secure the legal right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate.”
 

The case that the group of 20 children have brought before the Federal District Court in Eugene, Oregon (OR), presents a new approach to environmental advocacy that is fighting climate change. 

On April 8th, 2016, US Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin of Eugene's Federal District Court agreed to hear the children’s case. The main points that the children assert in the case include: 

  • The US government has known for decades that CO2 pollution has caused climate change and failed to take necessary actions to curtail fossil fuel emissions. 
  • The actions or lack of action taken by the US Government and its agencies has contributed to increased CO2 pollution through fossil fuel extraction, production, consumption, transportation and exportation. 
  • The actions of the US government have made it extremely difficult for current and future generations of children to protect their vital natural systems and maintain a livable world. 
  • The US government’s actions or lack of action infringes on children’s rights to life and liberty. 

Judge Coffin’s agreement to hear the children’s argument upheld their claims (supported by the 5th and 9th amendments) that our government is denying them protections afforded to previous generations by favoring the short-term economic interests of certain citizens. Furthermore, Judge Coffin upheld the youth plaintiffs’ assertion of violations under the public trust doctrine, ruling that there is a federal public trust, and the plaintiff’s claims deserve acknowledgment.
 

As mentioned above, this case is an unprecedented lawsuit in that it holds the US government accountable for its action, or inaction, that has contributed to global climate change, thereby effecting the current and future generations of children on this planet. While the case has not gone to trial yet, the fact that Judge Coffin has agreed to allow this case to proceed is a significant victory for the plaintiff, and ultimately for the future generations that we are currently borrowing this planet from. 

For more information regarding this case, check out these links: 

Our Children's Trust 
The April 8, 2016 Press Release regarding Judge Coffin's Decision 
Judge Coffin's Legal Brief regarding the Case

Tired of Being Anxious? Try this Simple Strategy to Reduce Stress in Your Daily Life. 

Everywhere you look these days, people seem to be professing the benefits of mindfulness. Yogis have been talking about it for thousands of years, and now Western science is finally starting to catch up with what some sages have known for ages. But what is mindfulness anyway? And why should you care? 

To put it succinctly, Ronald Siegel, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School, states that mindfulness is: "awareness of present experience with acceptance." 

Sounds simple enough, but it can be trickier than you think. 

How often are you really present and aware? 

In this age of social media, cell phones, computers, tablets and smart watches, how often do you pause, disconnect from the media-saturated digital world and connect with the world around you? How often do you wait in line or for the train or bus, for example, and really just wait? Can you do it without listening to music on your iPhone or checking the latest snapchats or emails? 

The iPhone was released when I was in college, and I remember vividly the day when I looked around campus as I was walking to class and thought - Does anyone just walk anymore? I looked around and saw that nearly everyone had headphones on or was talking on the phone. Not many people were simply walking and interacting with the environment around them. With time, I started to get uncomfortable walking across campus without talking on the phone or listening to something on my phone. I noticed that it took a lot of energy and discipline to go against the sudden social tendency to never be fully present and aware. 

After I graduated I got a job, and before I knew it I was attached at the hip to my iPhone and all my work emails and texts. I was never alone - someone could always reach me. I started to resent my phone. I yearned for a simpler time when people had to pick up the phone to reach people, or had to type things on a typewriter rather than answer hundreds of emails and update several spreadsheets a day. 

Did that idyllic time ever exist? 

Probably not.

Regardless of the current technology, humans will always find ways to not be present. We are so often lost in our own thoughts about the future or past, and rarely are we fully aware and present. So I can blame technology if I want, but ultimately, as I realized, the choice to be present is mine and mine alone. 

If any of what you've read so far resonates with you, you might be wondering, "okay, so why should I care? What can a mindfulness practice offer me?" 

While it won't make all your troubles away - it will help change how you respond to daily life and ultimately live in a way that reduces anxiety and worry. 

In simple terms, here are 5 basic principles of mindfulness that, when understood and put into practice, can take you a long way: 

  • Recognize that you are not your thoughts. 
  • Observe your thoughts, but do not judge them. Don't try and suppress them or get rid of them. Just notice your thoughts and allow them to float by without engaging with them. 
  • Practice becoming immersed in the environment around you. Take off your headphones. Turn off your smartphone. Look at the world around you. 
  • Take note of patterns of thoughts that occur often and label them so that when they come up again, you can say, "Oh, there's that thought pattern again..." Acknowledge it, and move on. 
  • Return to your breath - be in your body, and take in the world as it presently is around you.

What's even more important than all of these tips is actually making time for them! We often get wrapped up in the runaway train of our thoughts because we think we don't have enough time. Don't get on that train. Pause. Breathe. Take time for yourself, even if it's just a minute, and see what happens. 

Written by Rajmani Sinclair, 05/17/2016

The Benefits of Mindful Meditation for Children 

It's always exciting when scientific studies start to show what we already know about meditation. A number of studies held in the past five years are now starting to quantify how mindfulness and meditation practices are beneficial for elementary school-aged children. In a recent blog post on the New York Times Wellness Blog, one study showed that meditation over a period of 4 weeks improved children's executive functioning and even improved math grades. Furthermore, a different scientific review published in March concluded that meditation can positively change the structure of the brain to improve academic performance. 

Studies also showed that Meditation can also have the greatest effect on the cognition of the brain if it's done during childhood, due to the plasticity of the brain during that time. Thus, the earlier one meditates, the more effective the impact is on one's brain development.

Some scientists also shared personal examples of how mindfulness practices have supported and improved the lives of their children. For example, one scientist who practices Transcendental Meditation (TM) cited that she's noticed her 9-year-old daughter turning to mindfulness centering techniques of her own volition when she finds herself getting emotional. Thus, her daughter is able to better self-regulate her emotions. 

Another researcher shared a similar observation regarding meditation and her son who has A.D.H.D and bi-polar disorder. She has seen that when he takes a moment to focus on a mindfulness exercise, he is able to resolve his mood swings or anger with more ease.

Ultimately, by teaching children mindfulness meditation - parents and teachers are providing children with the tools to learn how to process emotions better and relate to the world with more focus and self-control. These are tools that will benefit anyone for a lifetime. 

Article written by Rajmani Sinclair, May 11, 2016

A Man Who Lived to be 114 Credited His Health and Long Life to These 5 Foods 


Human longevity has always been a subject of mystery and conjecture. What makes a person live well into their hundreds? Is it genes? Is it exercise? Is there some fountain of youth out there? Or is it just plain luck? 

Well, Bernando LaPallo has some secrets to share with you. Born in 1901, Bernando passed away last year in his home state of Arizona at the staggering age of 114. During his many years on this planet, he traveled the world extensively and saw many of the century's major innovations, that we perhaps take for granted, come into existence. 

But how did LaPallo achieve his incredible lifespan? In short, by maintaining a strict diet (inherited from his father, who was a doctor), keeping a sharp mind by reading and solving crosswords, and, in his words, "living the good life." 

Most importantly, Bernando stressed the important role healthy eating played in his lengthy vitality: Organic foods only, plenty of fruits and veggies, and a disciplined avoidance of red meat, to name a few. 

But there are 5 foods he just couldn't live without, and he cited them as the source of his youthful disposition and impressive lifespan. Some of them may surprise you! 

Watch the video below to find out what they are. 

Bernando's legacy includes a book entitled "Beyond 100: How to Live Well Into your Second Century", recipes, family and friends that loved him dearly, and of course, a healthy serving of inspiration. Learn more about LaPallo's astounding life on his Facebook page or on his website: AgeLessLiveMoreStore.com 

Let us know what you think in the comment section below, and thanks for reading! 

Author: Nate Morgan

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