Merle's Blog

Insights and Outsights

What a Festival! Now what?

Posted by Merle Levin on March 23, 2010

Stanford Valley farm is nestled in the beautiful  Overberg of the Cape. Four years ago it began as a dream and forty of us responded to the idea of living and growing sustainably together (it’s a dream-in-process still as few of us actually live on the farm yet). This past weekend, the third of what has become an annual event, happened on the land. The  Freewheeling Festival – check out the website: . What a weekend it was, for me in ways unexpected and unscripted.

More than 200 people gathered to consider the world we want to live in and how to make it happen.  In the final plenary session, a group of young multicoloured teenagers stood up on stage and sang their prayers for us all.  “Ask us the questions you want to know of us” they sang. “Let us in return, ask you, so that together, old and young we can build this country and our world into all it longs to be” ( this of course is my clumsy take on what was said).  I cried as I watched them with tears of the soul. I cried at their hopes and dreams, their trust in their power to make a difference.  I cried, because I am a grandmother, and I want to be a part of this dream of a world whole and fair.  Here’s the rub though… Read the rest of this entry »

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Can we really prevent aging with our thoughts?

Posted by Merle Levin on February 7, 2010

Prevent Aging with thought

By Abigail Williams

In 1979 psychologist Ellen Langer carried out an experiment to find if changing thought patterns could slow ageing. But the full story of the extraordinary experiment has been hidden until now.

How much control do you have over how you will age? Read the rest of this entry »

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6 Great food Rules by Michael Pollan

Posted by Merle Levin on January 19, 2010

Here are six rules from Michael Pollan’s upcoming book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual“:  You can read the full article at:

#11 Avoid foods you see advertised on television.

Food marketers are ingenious at turning criticisms of their products — and rules like these — into new ways to sell slightly different versions of the same processed foods: They simply reformulate (to be low-fat, have no HFCS or transfats, or to contain fewer ingredients) and then boast about their implied healthfulness, whether the boast is meaningful or not. The best way to escape these marketing ploys is to tune out the marketing itself, by refusing to buy heavily promoted foods. Only the biggest food manufacturers can afford to advertise their products on television: More than two thirds of food advertising is spent promoting processed foods (and alcohol), so if you avoid products with big ad budgets, you’ll automatically be avoiding edible foodlike substances. As for the 5 percent of food ads that promote whole foods (the prune or walnut growers or the beef ranchers), common sense will, one hopes, keep you from tarring them with the same brush — these are the exceptions that prove the rule.

#19 If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.

#36 Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.
This should go without saying. Such cereals are highly processed and full of refined carbohydrates as well as chemical additives.

#39 Eat all the junk food you want — as long as you cook it yourself.
There is nothing wrong with eating sweets, fried foods, pastries, even drinking soda every now and then, but food manufacturers have made eating these formerly expensive and hard-to-make treats so cheap and easy that we’re eating them every day. The french fry did not become America’s most popular vegetable until industry took over the jobs of washing, peeling, cutting, and frying the potatoes — and cleaning up the mess. If you made all the french fries you ate, you would eat them much less often, if only because they’re so much work. The same holds true for fried chicken, chips, cakes, pies, and ice cream. Enjoy these treats as often as you’re willing to prepare them — chances are good it won’t be every day.

#47 Eat when you are hungry, not when you are bored.
For many of us, eating has surprisingly little to do with hunger. We eat out of boredom, for entertainment, to comfort or reward ourselves. Try to be aware of why you’re eating, and ask yourself if you’re really hungry-before you eat and then again along the way. (One old wive’s test: If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you’re not hungry.) Food is a costly antidepressant.

#58 Do all your eating at a table.
No, a desk is not a table. If we eat while we’re working, or while watching TV or driving, we eat mindlessly-and as a result eat a lot more than we would if we were eating at a table, paying attention to what we’re doing. This phenomenon can be tested (and put to good use): Place a child in front of a television set and place a bowl of fresh vegetables in front of him or her. The child will eat everything in the bowl, often even vegetables that he or she doesn’t ordinarily touch, without noticing what’s going on. Which suggests an exception to the rule: When eating somewhere other than at a table, stick to fruits and vegetables.

Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from Food Rules Copyright © Michael Pollan, 2009

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Disconnect and Reconnect

Posted by Merle Levin on January 12, 2010

I love walking on the Sea Point promenade at sunset.  There are throngs of people who jog, walk their doggies, push their babies, stride beside their elderlies.  You see a range of toned derrieres flying past you at a rate or flopping beside you at a snail’s pace.  “how old is your girl?” I asked a larger rath woman, bordering on obese, pushing an equally rather large child in a pram”  “Five” she replied.  “The best gift you could give her is to let her walk” I said, I could not help myself.  I know it was not my place to interfere, but you see, I have been thinking a lot about this issue of weight – in general, and dare I say, in particular.

Dr. Clotaire Rapaille, who I have quoted before, is concerned with the codes in our reptilian brains that drive us to do what we do, to buy what we buy and say what we do not mean.  He says the code for being fat (his honesty is rather refreshingly brutal) is disconnect. Dare I admit this is giving me a thing or two to think about.? I notice that there are many ways in which this plays out in my life.  It feels so good to name this beast.  Leonardo da Vinci said:  Most people eat without tasting, look without seeing, listen without hearing. What is it that causes this disconnect? Read the rest of this entry »

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Beginning my day the Leonardo way

Posted by Merle Levin on January 3, 2010

It is said that Leonardo da Vinci began his day with a list of 100 questions. This theory comes out of the 13,000 pages of manuscript notes he left.  Did he know something about questioning?  Is there a way to question that we can learn from him?  This is what is sitting on the top of my mind as I begin this new year.  2010 – a fresh new morning of time.  I look out on the ships sailing just beyond the deck of my boat ( see previous post on life lessons on living on a boat), and I ask: How to enter this new cycle in a way that will fuel my creativity, my hunger to know more about the mystery of  the journey.

How to question (question mark)  Is there a key to how Leonardo did it, that  fueled the curiosity of his great Renaissance mind (question mark)  Is there a way I can harness some of his genius if I crack this code (nog a question mark)  I try an experiment –  in truth, I have been trying this experiment for the past few years: What if I just sit up and grab my notebook beside my bed and write off the top of my head, 10 questions with no concern for answers.  See what falls out of my dreamspace. See how it effects my day.  See if the answers come rolling out of sky as they are wont to do.  See if it helps me become the next of the great Renaissance thinkers of this century ( ha).

I learned something about questions from the Kalahari San Bushmen years ago as I sat on the hot Kalahari sand with them.  It is I think, one of the things that drove the missionaries and white authorities mad about these last remaining, small, stone-age remnants of our genetic ancestors.  Perhaps they hold a key for our demanding Western way of thinking; our footstamping insistence on answers to questions.  The San Bushmen do not answer a question just because it is asked.  This took me by great surprise and I thought it quite rude that Dawid got up and walked away from me just after I had asked him if I had a Bushman name.  No yes or no, no I’ll think about it, no acknowledgement of my existence.  Just a look into the horizon and a lift of his body from the sand, accompanied by a grand walk-off.  I remember sitting dumbfounded and nursing a sense of not-being-heard nor seen. Hmmm – today I think I might have spent a bit more time thinking about what it stimulated and why.  A familiar pattern probably imprinted in my reptilian brain that most of the time drives me to do what I do, say what I do not mean.  (check out more about this on Dr. Clotaire Rapaille’s website – madly interesting).

The answer came in it’s own time, about a month later, while I was walking to the ablution block of the campsite of the Kalahari Gemsbok Park.  It did not come with any preamble – these people live lean.  !Khali Gous  he said, walking off again.  Wazzat? Eks Kyuuz me…Come again?  It only registered when people began to address me as !Khali Gous rather than Mama, that this might be the answer to a question I had sent out many sunsets before.  Of course I had to wait in patience, to learn more.  Like what this unpronounceable mouthful of clicks and pops meant – minor detail to an inquisitive mind tainted with self-importance.  “Very small child” he said bending his body to imitate, at another right moment I had to be alert to catch.  I think they have a trickster way to tantalize the mind that perhaps the universe knows a thing or two about.  The “Why very small child?” question still lingers for me, and has provided its own answers in wonderful ways.

So Leonardo, my friend and mentor…back to my Rennaisance questions for today.

How do I get honest with myself?  How do I override these programs in my reptile brain that drive me? How do I ask what I mean to ask?  And how do I let go in trust that answers come in the conjunction of right time/right place?

Watch this space…

Beautiful CD recommendation to write to: (thanks Jen Van Pappendorp) Rene Aubry “ Apres la Pluie”

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A new type of wealth: Enlightened Wealth

Posted by Merle Levin on December 31, 2009

A new type of wealth: Enlightened Wealth

From “Cracking the Millionaire Code” by Mark Victor Hansen ( co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul” – largest selling book series in history.)

As you know from the previous posts I have written lately, I am interested in the theory, developed by marketing genius Dr. Clotaire Rapaille,  that we are run by the imprint of codes in our reptilian brain.  These drive us to do what we do without our understanding often, as to why we do what we do. Why we do not say what we really mean.  Why we buy what we buy ( his main interest, not mine).

I am interested to understand who the driver is of my life and how to mediate this process in ways that serve my life purpose: my  Original Medicine – what I bring and what I am here to do.

These days I take note of things that come to me in new ways.  I pay attention.  Last night, as I dropped into bed after listening to the audio series of Dr. Rapaille with a few close friends,  I looked at the bookshelf of the room we are staying in and there was an interesting book, also on the theme of codes: mere coincidence or wake-up coincidence?  It is called “Cracking the Millionaire Code”.  I am not adverse to becoming a millionaire, though it is not something I have invested huge amounts of dreaming into.

This is what the author says about a new type of wealth: Enlightened wealth

“Enlibhtened wealth – hwo you earn it and kepe ti  – si draramtcilly dfifrneet than the ordriarny wlaeth we see, haer, tnihk or raed aobut.  It is whaelh whih a cpatail W.

The game of aqcurniig traditional “small w” watleh is aubot competition, the sruvvail of the fittset, and the fhgit fro the amghlty dollar.

Egtenelihnd Wtelah is a ttolaly new way of lokiong at money and watelh and psropretiy.  For Sstarts it is MCUH MORE ENJONABLYE . AND LTSAS MUHC LNGOER THAN TDAITRINAOL WLATELH.”

So, as I see it, this is wealth to support one’s life purpose, now this sounds like fun.  This is something to think about on the eve of 2010.  And I like reading  legally-dyslectic (his idea not mine) – it’s the way I usually write, only spellcheck helps me out, so most people don’t know this secret side of this writer.  Perhaps part of the cracking of this code is to let down the curtains on the secret sides of myself that I feel embarrassed about.  Mmm nice thought to end this post on.    Wqtch this blog for more…

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without concern for results

Posted by Merle Levin on December 30, 2009

Life lesson for today

Many years ago I wrote scriblets.  Dashed a few words down and sent them off on this new-fangled email that everyone was getting excited about.  I sent these little scriblets off to friends and whoevers and began to receive letters back about them.  Someone read one of my scriblets to her dying father, another translated one into another language and distributed it in her community.  I was amazed at the power of communication.  Then blogs were discovered and I realized I had lost my confidence now that the idea had become so mainstream.

So I am wondering:  will anyone read this blog I have now created?

Perhaps the real question I ask myself is this:  who am I doing this for?  If it is for me, the on I go…

This reminds me of a gift I received from a great spiritual  teacher Uranda.  He wrote, among others, a small book , called “The 7 Steps”.  My seven year old son at that time, taught himself to read from this little book, and stuffed it into his lunchbox along with Oreo cookies and home made brown bread sandwiches ( which he traded).  We both loved the simplicity of this little book.

I have used one of his steps as part of my life compass  and it has served me well in difficult situations.

“Let love radiate without concern for results”

So hey, I am writing this blog without concern for results.  Not without a keenness to see what happens though…

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The unbearable lightness of downsizing

Posted by Merle Levin on December 28, 2009

I am very interested in the work of Dr. Clotaire Rapaille who has developed clear theories as to what really drives us to do what we do an why, most of the time we do not say what we mean.  I find his theory fascinating and will try to write honestly and meaningfully about it in future posts.

As I said in the previous post ( Life lessons on living on a boat), we suddenly decided to dramatically downsize our lives in South Africa.  We spend half the year here (and the rest in Canada, our other home), and we are in the process of moving from a large rambling house in the quiet fishing town of Hout Bay, to a very small flat in the hustle and bustle of Sea Point.   Why? To reduce our carbon footprint and get simple; to live closer to my elderly parents.  I am sure Dr. Rapaille could name other, not so virtuous,  reasons for this seemingly spontaneous act of madness.

I arrived in South Africa a few weeks ahead of my husband, to view the new flat we had rented sight unseen ( affectionately named “the boat”) and somehow turn the space into a semblance of home for him to land into – no easy task in the week before everything shuts down for the Christmas holidays.  Managed to find a guy with a “bakkie” to move the few selected items from Hout Bay home to flat, shopped my buggie to bursting point for newly defined essentials – like verrrry small kitchen gadgets and a diminuitive washing machine ( at 3 times the price of a regular size one).  Picked  up the Hub up from the airport on the 24th. He was travel -fatigued to the gills,  and when I brought him back to his new pad I watched him wander the space in a daze.  This really is smaller than we anticipated.  It’s a room-for-one galley kitchen, a hold your breath bathroom and a very small living room, plus bedroom and small office.  But hey, when you look out of the window at the wide open Atlantic, churning and frothing on the rocks just beyond,  there is space galore.  That’s the key, it’s what’s in front and not at the back that matters.

So, let the fun begin next morning with a Jewish Christmas lunch to prepare in the galley.  Things I never thought about before, suddenly are smack-bang-centre.  Like since there is room for just 2 saucepans, and the oven is diminutive and the kitchen counter is unusable if the washing machine is hooked up to the taps…what to feed the some-vegetarian, some gluten free, famished family about to arrive?  A balcony BarBQ,  salads and puds –  their favorite, that’s what!  Tchik-tchak (Hebrew for instant) happiness.  Not only did we eat ourselves to the full, we gift-gave, and turned the living room into an overnight stay pad for our daughter Joy and her son Kieron after lung-bursting mattress blow-ups.  The party went on all night.

Mom, she said with a hug leaving the disasterified boat behind her in the morning after– “I prefer it here.  The energy sings in this little place”

Snip-snap-Bob’s-your-aunt, I vacuumed the entire place in a jiffie and set the boat straight.   Of course this is just phase 1 of the dismantling of a life in a big house. It still needs to be packed up and disposed of, but all in good time.  In the meantime, I am sitting on the deck of the boat (sea is calm) with time to read, to write to blog  and to thank the universe for the great gift of a roof over my head, and the luxury to choose to be simple.

That’s the operative word – choose.  I probably sound terribly bourgeois with all this goings-on about living small – there are so many people living in tin shacks in this country, so many hungry bellies this Christmas, what is this middle class woman going on about?

I don’t understand why some have and some don’t.  Why my life is so blessed and there is such suffering all around me.  It is a mystery to me.  This I do know though – that I care enough not to take things for granted, and to consciously feel deep gratitude for all that is.  I believe in Karma and cleansing the deep patterns we inherit and create in our lives.  This is what I really want to write about in this blog, the insights and outsights that come upon me.  To share these with my world.  But first, it seems, I have to simplify my life and get real and honest – say what I mean and mean what I say.  No easy task, but I invite you who reads this, to join me in the process and thank you for being in it with me.

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Life Lessons for living on a boat

Posted by Merle Levin on December 22, 2009

Insight #1:  Living on a boat.

I do not live on a boat nor have any desire to.  I am moving to a small flat from a big house.

When I am in need of resourceful thinking, I often turn to my friend Naama.  She has a wild creativity, unbridled passion for life and shares her family name and descendancy with Einstein.  She even looks like him – wild white hair flying in every direction, clear evidence of the curly synapses of  her quantum mind. If anyone could help, I knew she would.

“I’m drowning and I need some tips on living on a boat” I shouted into our broken skype connection.

Being Naama, she did not ask why? (she knows I am not the boat living type).She immediately launched into all she has to offer on the subject of living on a boat, based her love and many years of sailing:

“You have to bring your life down to essentials!” she said with a smile in her voice.

  1. You have to clean up right away.
  2. You have to be able to roll your possessions up into small balls and tuck them into small berths.
  3. You cannot procrastinate
  4. And most important of all:  if you have an argument, you need to resolve it immediately.  There is no place to hide on a boat.

I thanked her and we hung up with no further ado.   I returned to the chaos of my Cape Town house of unpack, repack and don’t-pack, and she to her small farm in the North of Israel, that overlooks the Lebanese border. Read the rest of this entry »

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