The Experiment An independent publisher of practical and narrative nonfiction: healthy eating, creativity, parenting, fitness, memoir, popular science, and more! Mon, 24 Apr 2017 15:06:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 107118242 A Resilient Grieving Guide Mon, 24 Apr 2017 14:40:14 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Whether it be a grief of our own or that of a friend or family member, it is a fact of life that all of us, at some point in our lives, will have to come to terms with grief. In an article for the medicine journal BJM, Collin Murray Parks, a consultant psychiatrist, describes the different kinds of loss we may encounter:  “separations from loved others, incapacitation, bereavement, migration, relocation, job losses, birth of a baby, retirement, and professional loss.” While most might think that such life-changes are the exclusive domain of adults, children are as likely to experience loss too. As the Childhood Bereavement Network points out, in one survey alone 78% of children indicated that they had already suffered a loss of a relative or friend.
Loss is clearly unavoidable at all stages of life, and by extension grief must be too—but of what does grieving consist and how should, or even can, we handle it?

In Resilient Grieving, Lucy Hone, PhD, is here to tell us that we can—not only that, but that there is a way to cope with loss that can empower and encourage us to move forward with strength and, eventually, to embrace life again. It is inspired by not only years of research, but also Hone’s own journey through a devastating loss when, in 2014, her 12-year-old daughter was killed in a car accident.  Discouraged by the prevailing Kübler-Ross model of grief—which tends to focus on types and stages of grief rather than strategies to cope with it—she decided to approach her own devastating loss from the perspective of research she knew the benefits of: resilience science.

At its core, “resilient grieving” defies the prevailing assumption that the grieving process should be incapacitating. Life goes on whether we’re ready or not—from children and partners to our demanding jobs, many people depends on us and require our attention even when tragedy strikes.  As the National Alliance for Grieving Children points out, kids especially need their family in times of distress: “When asked what the most helpful things were after the death of their family member, 55% said spending time with family.” With this in mind, Hone’s mission is to show readers a way to grieve that allows you to be in control of, rather than be controlled by, the process.

In the first half of the book, Hone walks you through the stages of recovery from topics like “Six strategies for coping in the immediate aftermath” to accepting loss­­—even tips for distracting yourself and managing exhaustion through rest and exercise. But it’s the second half of the book that tackles perhaps the hardest part: how to make sense and fully come to terms with your world after its been turned upside down. Hone provides insight into subjects like “Facing the future” and “Post-traumatic growth”—all geared toward helping the aggrieved find ways to slowly, healthily move on in the midst of great sorrow.

What’s more, Hone also has advice for anyone who’s needed to offer comfort to the bereaved and not known how to tactfully do so. Chapter 10: “Relationships (and what friends and family can do to help)” demonstrates Hone’s method of providing advice grounded in personal experience. Here, for example, is a very helpful list of what not to say to the bereaved:

Inappropriate Things to Say to the Bereaved

  •  At least she’s in a better place now. Better? Really? She liked it here, on earth, living with us and all her friends.
  • Are you feeling better yet? It’s not a disease; it’s not something I’m going to “get over” because it’s not temporary.
  • I know how you feel—my dog/hamster died last year. No comment.
  • Everything happens for a reason. “Let me be crystal clear: If you’ve faced a tragedy and someone tells you in any way, shape, or form that your tragedy was meant to be, that it happened for a reason, that it will make you a better person, or that taking responsibility will fix it, you have every right to remove them from your life,” writes blogger Tim Lawrence. For the record, let me also be crystal clear: I also don’t believe everything happens for a reason. I don’t believe I am a better person because I’ve had to change my life as a result of losing Abi; I’m not trying to coerce you into becoming a better person via the strategies in this book either. I merely believe that, faced with circumstances beyond my control, I’ve been forced to take a new life path, to relearn the world. Do I welcome it? No. Has finding new directions helped me get through the pain and emptiness of losing my daughter? Yes.
  • You’ll be united up in heaven. If you’re going to say this, please be sure the person believes this. I (sadly) don’t, so this offers me no comfort at all. Instead, I really have to accept that Abi is gone forever and that I’m not going to see her again. Along the same lines, there’s something profoundly inappropriate and irritating about teenagers’ posts asking “Are you having fun up there in heaven, Abi?” on Instagram or Facebook.
  • It’ll be okay. I kind of know it will, but I don’t want this to be okay.

Non-supportive behaviors:

  • changing the subject
  • talking too much about yourself
  • asking “why” questions
  • preaching or lecturing
  • asking too many questions.

Whether you’re grieving, know someone who is, or want to know how to truly be there for someone when tragedy strikes—Resilient Grieving is a guide for learning how to find strength in the midst of hopelessness from a woman who’s been there and survives to tell her tale so that you may grow in resilience too.

Additional Bereavement Resources:

Bereaved Parents of the USA:
Open to Hope:
Widow’s Hope:

Resilient Grieving is available now wherever books are sold.

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We Are All Scientists Thu, 20 Apr 2017 19:05:14 +0000 Continue reading ]]> This guest blog comes from Mary Ellen Hannibal, author of Citizen Scientist.

Mary Ellen Hannibal is an emerging voice in environmentalism and a sought-after speaker connecting the scientific community to the concerned public. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Esquire, and Elle, among many others. She is an Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellow and a recipient of the National Society of Science Writers’ Science and Society Award.

We Are All Scientists

While many scientists are pledging to March for Science across the country on Earth Day, April 22, some of their colleagues plan to sit this one out. They warn that the very act of identifying their work as a special category of human endeavor could lead to further political fissures and misunderstandings about what science is, how it is done, and what it is for. The science activist community, on the other hand, is encouraging PhDs and those of us without them to get out and “safeguard the scientific community.” But what, exactly, is the scientific community? Credentialed or not, most of us are empowered to contribute to scientific endeavor, and thousands of us do so daily. Moreover, today we are in the midst of an unparalleled environmental crisis that our leaders are determined to pretend doesn’t exist. Our problems with climate change and biodiversity loss necessitate a bigger, more integrated effort to gather, interpret, and apply evidentiary data to protecting imperiled terrestrial and aquatic environments. Despite lack of support from the top down, there is a lot we can do from the bottom up, on our local landscapes. The good news is, we have a widely accessible platform for bridging the divides between ivory tower science, regular people, and ecosystems. It is called citizen science. When we march this weekend it will be not only to support academic research-based science, but to celebrate public participation in amplifying science and applying it to real world situations. Citizen scientists make observations of species that help create aggregate pictures of where they are, in what amounts, and how those metrics are changing.

In addition to the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals currently underway, we are also losing vast numbers of wildlife at the population level. Many of the species in question might not be officially on the brink of extinction, but their ecological functioning is being drastically curtailed. Since 1970 over all bird numbers have declined from 11.5 billion to 10 billion. There’s been a reduction in vertebrate numbers by almost 30 percent. Where, exactly, are we losing these plants and animals, how, and why? We can point to climate change as the culprit in reducing habitat for the polar bear, and outright hunting for decimating populations of African elephants. But more common species are shrinking too, from our own continent, states, counties, and backyards. PhD researchers including Stanford University’s Rodolfo Dirzo and colleagues have coined the term “defaunation” to describe what is happening to planet Earth and warn that such “animal declines will cascade onto ecosystem functioning and human well-being.” Species of plants and animals are the engines upon which the biotic world turns. Dirzo et al. comment that “defaunation remains a largely cryptic phenomenon. It can occur even in large protected habitats and yet, some animal species are able to persist in highly modified habitats, making it difficult to quantify without intense surveys.”

There are not enough scientists on Earth to design and implement the kinds of surveys that are necessary to keep track of how nature is doing. Technological tools, however, make it relatively easy for the public to partner with researchers to inventory and monitor vast areas. Citizen science makes it possible to study biodiversity across scales generally not accessible to individual scientists, and which global change necessitates today.

Consider a species like the monarch butterfly, the populations of which are in precipitous decline. Numbers counted up since 1993 show we are losing 38-44 million monarchs a year. The loss of this iconic creature has instigated a historic, cross-boundary commitment between the United States, Canada, and Mexico to join forces in recovering the monarch – making this arguably the biggest wildlife rescue mission ever undertaken. More than a dozen citizen science projects devoted to making monarch observations are today aggregated under the umbrella MonarchNet. The bug will not be restored without the help of citizen scientists, both in keeping tabs on them and in restoring their habitat so that their numbers can increase. “We enjoin a certain kind of community,” says Dr. Leslie Reis of Georgetown University, who co-runs MonarchNet. “These butterfly people go out, establish a transect, and monitor it. It’s very regional, and it takes management of volunteers.” By networking local and regional projects, Reis and colleagues make is possible to grapple with supporting the monarch’s migration, which occurs over several generations and across national boundaries.

Scott Loarie, co-director of the (free) citizen science platform iNaturalist, says that in order to get a handle on where we are losing species, when, and how, we need a “real-time sensor” of biodiversity. iNaturalist provides the tool by which this sensor is currently being assembled – a sensor comprised of citizen scientists. A photograph of a species of plant or animal using iNaturalist on a smart-phone is assigned the date, the time, the latitude, and the longitude of the observation, thus fixing that species occurrence in space and time. The observation is uploaded to a Facebook style feed under the scrutiny of users all over the world, who help identify the species designation. When there is expert consensus that yes, that spindly stalk is a Plantago erecta, the observation is uploaded into the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), a database in use by scientists and natural resource managers all over the world. Information about where species are when, streaming live on iNaturalist, helps land managers identify the earliest instances of destructive invasive species, helps farmers stop disease and pest infestations before they decimate crops, and can help law enforcement intervene in illegal wildlife trafficking.

Today the iNaturalist community is steadily growing, with more than 300,000 users contributing more than 3.5 million high-quality biodiversity observations to our general knowledge and counting. There are hundreds of projects on iNaturalist, and you don’t need to join one to make observations of taxa from butterflies to frogs to mammals and birds. As more people use iNaturalist, and as those numbers of observations increase in frequency and density, we will be able to get a real time picture of biodiversity, something akin to a Fitbit taking the pulse of the natural world. From this data we will be able to discern the earliest signs of species extinctions so that local conservation efforts can be deployed to intervene.

iNaturalist is much more than an app, it is a global science instrument for conservation made up of its user community, people like you and me. Not only should we all march for our own science on Earth Day, it would be a good idea to take some iNaturalist observations along the way. Even in highly urbanized areas, there is wildlife – and the first step to saving it is seeing it.

Another huge dimension of citizen science is the community we are co-creating. Next May, join us in Minneapolis at the Citizen Science Association Conference. Whether or not you can come, check out the abstracts and presentations — a smorgasbord of great ideas and great projects. We are all scientists and this is our “peer review”!

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CBS’ 60 Minutes to Feature The Himalayan Cataract Project Sun, 16 Apr 2017 14:00:39 +0000 Continue reading ]]> When is the last time you dreamed of a better world? Dr. Sanduk Ruit and Dr. Geoffrey Tabin had the same dream, acted on it, and began giving the gift of sight through the charitable work of the Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP). In Second Sons: Two Trailblazing Doctors and Their Quest to Cure Blindness, One Pair of Eyes at A Time David Oliver Relin charts the journey these two doctors took to begin curing blindness in developing countries. Cataract blindness, though common and curable, is prevalent and often unremedied due to poor medical availability in rural villages in the Himalayas. Drs. Ruit and Tabin travel to areas without access to modern medical care and perform safe, routine cataract removal operations that produce near-miraculous results. Cataract victims quite literally receive the gift of sight. The HCP was just named one of eight semi-finalists in 100&Change, a global competition for a single $100 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.second-suns-3d

This Sunday, April 16th, the work of the Himalayan Cataract Project will be featured through the lens of the CBS News program 60 Minutes, which will join Dr. Ruit and Dr. Sanduk as they conduct a cataract and cornea surgery workshop in Myanmar (Burma) resulting in over 700 successful eye surgeries. The program will air Sunday at 7:00 pm EST on CBS. Read more about 60 Minutes and the Himalayan Cataract Project.

More about the Himalayan Cataract Project and ways to get involved:

Dr. Ruit and Dr. Tabin began their practice in the mountain villages of the Himalayas, but their sight-giving tour has expanded. The Himalayan Cataract Project has reversed blindness in over 4 million people and could help to eliminate cataract and other reversible blindness in the developing world. Even areas without access to electricity or clean water are able to receive first-class care, and the availability of sutureless cataract operations extends to all who are in need, including those without the ability to pay. The HCP strives to ensure sustainable eye care. As the project grew, the HCP began partnering with like-minded organizations to fund and coordinate ophthalmic education and specialized training for eye-care professionals in areas of Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. The self-sustaining eye care centers that have been established through the HCP continue to bring sight to the blind across multiple continents, and you can get involved.

Give directly to their efforts to cure blindness around the world. The HCP invites all donors to review their financials and keep the organization accountable for every donated dollar, so you can be sure that your donation is being received in the form of eye care by the populations that need it.

If your dream to change the world lines up with the efforts of the HCP, you may have found a match! Learn more about how the HCP operates and how you can partner and get involved.

Here at The Experiment, we are donating a portion of all the sales on the new paperback release of Second Suns to the Himalayan Cataract Project in an effort to cure blindness. Purchase your copy here:

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Happy Pub Day to The Happiest Kids in the World! Tue, 04 Apr 2017 14:06:12 +0000 Continue reading ]]> We are so excited to see our newest book The Happiest Kids in the World: How Dutch Parents Help Their Kids (and Themselves) by Doing Less by Rina Mae Acosta and Michele Hutchison making headlines!

Happiest Kids spills the secrets to raising the happiest kids in the world using the proven Dutch model of parenting. Starting today, you, too, can become privy to those secrets! A 2013 UNICEF report rated Dutch children the “happiest in the world,” and Acosta and Hutchison are here to teach you how to parent the Dutch way.

The New York Post says, “… the good news here is that Dutch parents aren’t doing anything crazy, over-the-top or challenging. . . Instead, the secret to their happiness success seems to lie in a combination of factors: routine, regular family meals together and allowing for plenty of independence.”

What a relief! Who’d have thought that the key to great parenting is actually to do less?

In Salon, Rina and Michele wrote that in the Netherlands, “education has a different purpose [than in America]: the route to a child’s well-being and their individual development. . . To get into most college programs, all a student needs is to pass high school exams at the right level. As a result, there is no real pressure to get straight A’s.”

Imagine a childhood unencumbered by academic stress! Without it, children are free to be just that—children.

The New York Times writes that, though “many of the ways those children are being raised today may look old-fashioned, that is more of a conscious choice by contemporary Dutch parents to resurrect old-fashioned family values: fresh air, nature, unsupervised play.”

It goes on to tell tales of neighborhood farms where children can go to be surrounded by, care for, and feed wildlife—all while still too young to attend school. Right away, kids are encouraged to be caretakers and free-thinkers.

Finally, an excerpt from the book – all about the Dutch traditional breakfast treat – hagelslag, or, a piece of bread piled high with unsalted butter and chocolate sprinkles (no wonder Dutch kids are the happiest kids in the world) has been published on Scary Mommy.

So, what are you waiting for? Grab your copy of The Happiest Kids in the World: How Dutch Parents Help Their Kids (and Themselves) by Doing Less by Rina Mae Acosta and Michele Hutchison and start parenting the Dutch way!

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Gluten-Free Coconut-Raspberry Cakes Recipe from Good Veg Thu, 23 Mar 2017 22:58:03 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 9781615192861_3D I like to think I’m a good cook in that I absolutely love to eat. I stand by that I will try (almost) any dish once, so, working with cookbooks is like being a kid in a candy shop for me – there are many instances of gazing lovingly at spreads and photos before books go to print, salivating as I munch on a sad soggy salad at my desk.

I like following recipes. It’s like a game to me, the closest I can get to wizadry. Cooking comes relatively easy to me: This and this make that, abracadaba, put it in the oven or simmer it up with some olive oil and salt and pepper and it should be alright. Cooking is one thing, barring a fire or way too much of one ingredient; you can usually muster something up that is at least somewhat edible. Baking can be hit or miss on the other hand – your mother’s birthday cake that you’re baking an hour before you see her could very well end up in the trash if you forget a smidgeon of baking soda or salt. With baking, you can mess something up pretty darn easily. Just last week, I tried to make gluten free muffins, and the recipe called for lemon zest. I accidentally tripled the amount it called for, and they ended up in the trash. No one likes a bitter muffin, let me tell you.

A few weekends ago, I decided to try a recipe from renowned UK chef Alice Hart‘s gorgeous forthcoming book of recipes, Good Veg: Ebullient Vegetables, Global Flavors – A Modern Vegetarian Cookbook. Good Veg is a very special book. First of all, it’s absolutely gorgeous. The photos are bright and bold and the vegetables that Alice has cooked with such love and craft are full of texture, seem to be bursting with flavor, and look almost too stunning to eat. The book is an elegant, modern revamping of traditional vegetarian cooking for how we eat today: clean, but never deprived—thoughtful, but not overly complex. Delicious and healthy vegetarian recipes are intrinsic to Alice’s cooking (not that the odd indulgence doesn’t feature), and she cooks with colorful and natural ingredients with taste and enjoyment in mind. In Good Veg, Alice shares 200 recipes alongside stunning photographs that surprise and thrill through contrasts: hot and cool, crisp and soft, spicy yet herbal, organized into the following chapters:

Morning • Grazing • Quick • Thrifty • Gatherings • Grains • Raw-ish • Afters • Pantry

One of my personal favorite flavor combinations is coconut-berry. Coconut is such a treat: rich, light, unexpected, tangy in an unexpected way, and is perfectly complimented by strawberry or raspberry. So, when I saw that Alice Hart had a recipe for Coconut-Raspberry Cakes (gluten-free to boot) in the ‘Afters’ section, I knew I wanted to try them out.


Alice writes, “I found this buttery gluten-free sponge for coconut lovers easier to make as individual cakes. They often bake with craggy, at tops, so turning them upside down, then coating the domed sponge with a quick coconut frosting and a hat of toasted coconut flakes solves any aesthetic failings. Substitute firm coconut oil for the dairy butter, if you wish.”

The recipe makes 8 servings (I made around 15 since my muffin tins were shallow), and calls for:

• One 13.5-ounce (400 ml) can coconut milk
• ½ cup (60 g) coconut flour
• 1 ½ sticks (190 g) unsalted butter, soft, plus more for the pan
• ⅔ cup (125 g) coconut sugar or raw cane sugar
• 4 eggs
• 3 tablespoons desiccated coconut
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• Finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
• Large pinch of fine salt
• ⅓ cups (175 g) almond meal
• 2 teaspoons gluten-free baking powder
• 5.5 ounces (about ½ a dry pint/150 g) raspberries
• 3 tablespoons unrefined powdered sugar
• ⅓ cup (25 g) toasted coconut flakes



1. At least 2 hours before you want to make the cakes, chill the coconut milk can thoroughly, being careful not to disturb it too much. Open carefully and spoon out the set, thick coconut cream on top, leaving the thin milk behind. Chill the cream and measure out ⅔ cup (150 ml) of the milk (you won’t need the rest here; pour it into a bowl and save it to add to a curry). Combine the ⅔ cup (150 ml) coconut milk with the coconut our and set aside for 5 minutes; the flour will swell right up to form a spongy paste.


2. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter 8 holes of a large, 12-hole muffin pan. (If your muffin pan has slightly smaller holes, this recipe will make 10 or even 12 cakes.)


3. Beat the butter and sugar together until soft and fluffy. Add the eggs individually, as you continue to beat. Beat in the desiccated coconut, vanilla, lemon zest and salt. Stir in the coconut-milk-and- our mixture, almond meal and baking powder to make a thick batter. Fold in the raspberries and divide between the muffin holes. Bake for 25 minutes or so, until risen, firm and golden brown. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out and cooling on a wire rack.



4. Whisk the solidified coconut cream in a mixing bowl with the powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Put the toasted coconut flakes in a shallow bowl. Smoosh a generous dab of the coconut cream over the curved base of each cake (which will now become the top) and dip straight into the coconut flakes to coat.

They didn’t turn out the prettiest, but they tasted wonderfully: tangy, rich, sweet – but not too sweet. And very coconut-y and moist (sorry.) I brought them in to the office and to an Oscar’s viewing party, and they were a hit. I couldn’t eat more than one since the butter made them incredibly rich – next time, I’d love to instead try these with coconut oil, as Alice writes in her introduction.


Bon appétit!

– Chloe

Can You Solve My Problems? Pi Day Giveaway! Mon, 13 Mar 2017 16:22:15 +0000 Continue reading ]]> It’s the sweetest mathematical day of the year! Pi Day is the celebration of the Greek symbol Π, the symbol used in mathematics to represent a constant—the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter—which is approximately 3.14159… Some celebrate by baking pies in the shape of Π, but here at the Experiment we celebrate by doing a book giveaway!

Image from: MyspaceNYC

Bestselling math author Alex Bellos’ latest book Can You Solve My Problems? is a puzzle lover’s dream with over 125 of the world’s best brainteasers from the last two millennia. In addition to being a casebook for daring puzzlers, Can You Solve My Problems? also tells the story of the puzzle—from ancient China to Victorian England to modern-day Japan.
Can You Solve My Problems_3D
Armed with logic alone, you’ll detect counterfeit coins, navigate river crossings, and untangle family trees. Then—with just a dash of high school math—you’ll tie a rope around the Earth, match wits with a cryptic wizard, and use four 4s to create every number from 1 to 50. (It can be done!)

If you loved Bellos’ two math coloring books, Patterns of the Universe and Visions of the Universe, you will rejoice at his latest book that makes math and logic puzzles fun!

Giveaway Guidelines

To be entered to win one of two signed copies of Can You Solve My Problems? simply visit our Facebook page and share the “Giveaway” post by 11:59 PM on Friday March 17 for your chance to win! The two lucky winners will be notified on Monday, March 20!

Happy Pi Day!

Sample Puzzle:

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Can You Solve My Problems? publishes March 21 and available wherever books are sold.

Celebrate Women’s History Month with In Search of Buddha’s Daughters Fri, 03 Mar 2017 06:50:41 +0000 Continue reading ]]> In Search of Buddha’s Daughters: The Hidden Lives and Fearless Work of Buddhist Nuns chronicles the 60,000 mile journey—both spiritual and physical—undertaken by award-winning journalist Christine Toomey to meet and learn from some of the world’s most incredible and inspiring Buddhist nuns.

In Search of Buddha's Daughters PB_3DWho are these women? What motivates them, and what stands in their way? From Nepal to California, Christine Toomey shares the stories of these unforgettable women who reveal the blessings—and perils—of carrying a 2,500-year tradition into the twenty-first century. Often denied equal status with monks, they are nonetheless devoted—to their faith, and to change.

Now available in paperback, this is perfect book to celebrate the diversity of women’s experience for Women’s History Month. (And for a limited time you can purchase the ebook for only $1.99. Be sure to snag a copy before the deal expires on March 27.)

To celebrate the release of the new paperback and Women’s History Month, here is an interview with author Christine Toomey about the remarkable journey that she undertook.

Question: In Search of Buddha’s Daughters is the culmination of a massive undertaking—you traveled over 60,000 miles in two years, retracing the footsteps of Buddhism’s spread across the world and interviewing a host of incredible and empowering women along the way. What inspired you to start this journey, and at what point did you decide to dedicate so much time and energy to this project?

Christine Toomey: As a foreign correspondent and feature writer for The Sunday Times for more than twenty years, much of my journalism focused on human rights issues in places like Bosnia, Kosovo, Gaza, Iran, Colombia and elsewhere in Latin America. So it was through meeting Tibetan Buddhist nuns, who had been imprisoned and tortured in Chinese jails before fleeing across the Himalayas into exile, that initially inspired me to want to write about the lives of these women.

I first encountered these Tibetan Buddhist nuns in 2011 in Dharamshala, northern India, where I was on a journalistic assignment to mark the Dalai Lama’s historic transfer of temporal power to an elected prime minister. But it was the stories of these women that haunted me long after we parted, and I vowed to return one day to write about their experiences. When I started to research more about Buddhist nuns in other parts of the world, both in the East and the West, I discovered this extraordinary world of female strength and wisdom, and the idea of this book expanded: I felt instinctively that these were women who had a great deal to say to us all.

Initially, I had no ideathat the book I was embarking on would eventually lead me to travel 60,000 miles around the world listening to their remarkable stories— a journey that took me through the Himalayas of Nepal and India, through Burma, Japan, and onwards in the West through California, Washington State, New Mexico and also Europe. But I quickly realised that the women I was encountering were amongst the most extraordinary I was ever likely to meet, and that their stories, as diverse and different as they are from the experiences of most women today, were both utterly unique and enthralling. It was then that I decided to step back from the journalist track I had been on for so long, in order to commit myself wholeheartedly to conveying as much as I possibly could learn about and from these women during a period of two years.

Q: You traveled to an extremely diverse series of locations, ranging from remote Himalayan villages to downtown San Francisco. In your book, you describe the different lives and experiences of the women you encounter in these places—what unifies them?

CT: The most fundamentally unifying characteristics of these women, I would say, are wisdom and compassion. Many of those I met are also very courageous, because it takes courage to follow the path that they have chosen. It’s definitely not an easy life. Many have had to overcome severe hardship and numerous hurdles in order to be able to follow the Buddhist monastic path. In some Buddhist schools nuns have traditionally been thought of as occupying a lower status than monks. There has been resistance, for instance, to them accessing higher levels of Buddhist teachings and to them advancing from the stage of a novice to full ordination. One Burmese nun I write about was sentenced to five years in prison after being effectively accused of “impersonating a monk” because she dared to become fully ordained.

Much of this is beginning to change now, and I write about the huge strides many nuns are making towards equality. My book opens, for instance, in a nunnery outside Kathmandu, where young nuns practice kung fu daily for both physical and spiritual empowerment.

But while some might imagine that the life of a Buddhist nun is one of quiet contemplation, untroubled by everyday concerns, this could not be further than the truth. Many of those I met are deeply engaged with the communities in which they live, and grapple on a daily basis with some of the most profound problems that many of us are likely to ever face. Some work in prisons, for instance, others work with the dying or are engaged in various forms of humanitarian work, and others travel the world teaching. Without the usual means of distraction and entertainment that many of us take for granted, there’s no doubt that these are women utterly dedicated to their chosen vocation. But there’s also a real gentleness and humour in many of the women I spoke with, as well as a typical down-to-earth female approach to life.

Q: Many of the women featured in this book detail personal experiences that have shaped their lives and beliefs. What was the process of talking with these women like? Were they hesitant to share or eager to tell their stories?

CT: Some of those I spoke with were hesitant about sharing their stories or talking about themselves at any length. At first I found this difficult to understand, but, slowly, I came to realize that part of the reason for this was that, from a Buddhist perspective, the constant self-dramas in which most of us wrap our lives are considered so ephemeral as to have little inherent meaning. The nuns were very patient and bore my endless questioning with good grace so that, gradually, their stories, some of them quite extraordinary, emerged.

Sometimes, I also had the impression that some of the women I interviewed, particularly those in the East, struggled to understand the point of some of my questions. Perhaps this was because my questions were inevitably informed by a western perspective on life, which relies heavily on logic, critical analysis, and certain cultural assumptions about individuality and society.

Throughout the time I spent writing this book, I listened to many people’s preconceptions of what sort of women might be drawn to become a nun, Buddhist or otherwise. But I found that the dynamism and determination of the women I met defied many of these assumptions. Though there are those who come to the monastic path following devastating loss or as a means of escaping adversity, I slowly started to see beyond this kind of biographical shorthand. I came to see that the internal shift and deeper sense of need that most of those I talked to feel is both hard for them to articulate, and difficult for another person to understand. I realised it required a deeper kind of listening.

On a purely practical level, the process of meeting and talking with some of the women in my book posed logistical difficulties. In addition to needing the help of interpreters in places like Nepal, India, Burma and Japan, I had to accept that some of those I wanted to meet could not be reached easily by email. In some cases I had to resort to writing letters and waiting quite a while for a reply. In others, I had to wait for those I wanted to interview to emerge from lengthy periods of retreat.

Q: Many of these women have gone to great lengths to practice as Buddhist nuns. Some have even risked their lives and freedom. What was it like meeting such determined woman, and what do you think drives their resolve?

CT: I felt it was a rare privilege to be able to spend time in the company of the women I interviewed for this book. We hear far less about those who come at life from a place of wisdom and bravery rather than hate and self-interest. But I really feel that there’s great strength to be found amongst these women because what drives them is a determination to cultivate a sense of peace, both within themselves and for those whose lives they touch.

These are all women who feel a calling to a larger purpose in life, and in this rapidly changing age that forces many of us to question what is meaningful, the path these women have chosen is not only different, but somehow defiant. Our modern world often disdains the inner life, disparaging it as “navel gazing.” But the journey through life these women have chosen is a journey inwards, rather than outwards in search of material success, security or personal triumph. It’s a journey through a spiritual landscape fraught with hardship but offering great reward.

When I witness the uncertainties of my daughter’s generation and remember those of my own, about role models, career building and what being a successful and happy woman means in a society obsessed with body image and material possessions, exploring the lives of women who are drawn to asking different questions about life, and finding different answers, offers a very refreshing alternative perspective.

Q: As discussed in your book, Buddhist-inspired ideas such as mindfulness continue to gain popularity in the West, even among secular audiences. Do you think that this is just a trend, or does it represent a more fundamental shift in the way Westerners are starting to reflect on their lives?

CT: You could say it’s a trend in the way that mindfulness has taken off and become almost a buzzword in the media. But I believe the reason it has taken off and will continue to gain popularity is because it’s been found to be so effective in so many different settings, not just in the West, but globally. There are now programs in many countries around the world applying the practice of mindfulness in schools and universities, for instance in the military, amongst politicians, performers, those coping with chronic pain and parents wanting to better cope with the challenges of raising children. Inevitably, there are a growing number of mindfulness smartphone apps.

The way that a growing number of businesses have hitched their fortunes to what some see as a mindfulness bandwagon, with promises of increased productivity and reduced stress, has invariably led to concerns about what some dub “McMindfulness,” and raised questions about under-qualified teachers presenting themselves as experts on the subject. This is one of the reasons I trace the origins of mindfulness back to its monastic origins and explore the lives of women who dedicate themselves to this practice in a very profound way, moving beyond the greater awareness and understanding it brings in order to match it with compassion and take it out into the world.

While many mindfulness programs are now taught on a purely secular basis, I think those that link the practice with its Buddhist origins do help to fulfil a spiritual need that many now feel in the West. Especially in this age of information overload, it provides a tool to help those who practice it stand back and reflect on life.

There’s also no doubt that the growing popularity of mindfulness is largely due to the genius of people like Jon Kabat-Zinn, who was able to prove the medical benefits of mindfulness in helping people cope with stress and pain. I think a large part of the appeal of the practice, and the reason it is likely to continue to spread, is due to the fact that it has now been scientifically proven to work.

Q: When you started this journey, what were you looking for? Were you able to find it?

CT: When I first started writing this book, I thought of it as an essentially journalistic undertaking. I felt very strongly that writing about the experiences of Buddhist nuns in different parts of the world would add a valuable voice to the different experiences and challenges faced by women today. In many ways I saw the Buddhist nuns’ journey as a metaphor for the struggles and triumphs of women the world over and throughout time; the alternative way of life they have chosen, a testimony to the way women survive and adapt.

But writing the book quickly took on a far more personal sense of urgency because, in the year I spent planning and setting up interviews before taking to the road, both of my parents died within a few months of each other. My mother, who was a writer, and a large part of why I became a journalist and a writer, passed away quite suddenly just before I set off traveling. This was a huge shock. So by the time I started my journey I was in a different space and found myself asking questions in a different way. As a result, the book that emerged is a far more intimate exploration of the wisdom of the women I met.

Through the hundreds of hours I spent talking with Buddhist nuns all over the world, I found myself not only wanting to share their extraordinary stories, but also in need of time and space to stand back, reflect, and heal. I found great comfort in following some of their practices and hearing the hard-won lessons they have learnt on their own paths to enlightenment.

Christine Toomey photo 12x8cm 300dpiQ: Although this book is not autobiographical, you are also writing about a personal journey. What were you able to learn about yourself on this trip, and how has it changed your perspective on life?

CT: One experience that made a particularly deep impression on me was the time I spent in a Zen training temple in Japan, where, together with Zen Buddhist nuns, I followed a strict regime of meditation called a sesshin. Each day began at 4am, and the practice was to sit crossed legged, facing a bamboo screen, simply observing thoughts and physical sensations without either repressing them or getting carried by them. Just letting them pass. It meant sitting still for long periods and not moving when bones and muscles ached. Despite years of yoga practice and a fairly supple body, in the beginning it was agony.

But paying close attention to what was really going on inside my head during this time was illuminating. With no means of escape or distraction I began to see clearly how even the most distressing thoughts and feelings passed more easily if I simply allowed them to be. I saw how this practice of being aware, rather than constantly reacting to the thinking process of staying mentally present, without thoughts playing out patterns determined by remembered pasts or projected futures, allowed a more peaceful state of mind.

It was a wake-up call to realize how much of our time is spent literally “lost” in thought, blown back and forth by troubling emotions. It was a lesson in being truly present and its effects have stayed with me.

Q: You have been covering foreign affairs at The Sunday Times for quite a while now. Why did you decide to take this journey at the time that you did, and why do you think that it is an especially important time to write this book?

CT: We live in a world numbed by the amount of attention paid to violence and terrorism, and political and religious power struggles. There’s no doubt we need to shine a light into those dark corners of the world, where atrocities of one kind or another are committed. I have many brave journalist colleagues who put their life on the line to do this every day.

But I believe there is a hunger for more signs of hope, a thirst for more attention paid, not to those determined to drive us ever further into the abyss, but to those who master the far more difficult task of fostering peace. The women I write about in my book are masters of this. Their lives are dedicated to cultivating wisdom, peace, and enlightenment.

After so many years spent writing about conflict, I realized that much of it focussed on violence directed towards women and children, and a kind of sadness had settled in my bones. Encountering such female wisdom restored my faith in the ability of the human spirit to flourish, despite sometimes appalling hardship. As one senior Vietnamese nun, exiled from her home country since the Vietnam War, told me, “You have to stop the war inside yourself.” Her words made a deep impression and I meditate daily with this in mind together with many of the other lessons I learnt through the journey of writing this book. This has helped to restore my spirit and energy.

Q: What do you hope readers will be able to learn and takeaway, either about themselves or about the broader world, by reading this book?

CT: On one level I hope readers will enjoy being taken on a journey to discover different countries and ways of life that are both unfamiliar and fascinating. This book opens a door to a rarely glimpsed world of ritual, discipline and enlightenment in places where few visitors go; remote nunneries, hermitages, monasteries and temples as far away as Upper Burma, Japan, the Himalayas of Nepal and India, as well as closer to home in the US and in Europe, for instance in the Highlands of Scotland and the South of France.

On another level I hope readers may also be as inspired as I was by the stories of very different lives transformed. I see this book as an exploration of spirituality in modern times by thoroughly modern women of all ages and from a huge diversity of backgrounds. In the East, for instance, one of those I interviewed had been an anti-terrorist policewoman, another was a princess, and another a very successful novelist and one-time author of erotic fiction. In the West they included a former Washington political aide, a US naval officer, a journalist, a former banker and a one-time advertising executive, as well as former nurses, teachers, and performing artists.

It’s hard to summarize in a few words what I hope readers might learn from the wisdom of the women I interviewed, as I feel that I learnt so much from the time I spent with them. To give just one small example, though: when I asked some of them what lesson from monastic life they would most cherish and carry with them were they ever to return to lay life, more than one said it would be “to constantly let go.” I hope that perhaps, through reading this book and understanding what the women I write about went through in order to be able to continually put this into practice, it might make it easier for the rest of us to do the same.


This interview can be reprinted in part or in its entirety with the following credit line:

Interview with Christine Toomey, author of In Search of Buddha’s Daughters: The Hidden Lives and Fearless Work of Buddhist Nuns (The Experiment, March 2017).

buddha's daughters

Himalayan Cataract Project Semi-Finalist for $100 Million MacArthur Grant Fri, 24 Feb 2017 15:28:17 +0000 Continue reading ]]>
Second Suns tells the true story of the people and history behind the Himalayan Cataract Project
Second Suns by David Oliver Relin tells the story of the invention of a remarkable surgery that cures blindness and of those working to make it available to the world’s neediest through the charitable work of the Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP), a nonprofit that was just named one of eight semi-finalists in 100&Change, a global competition for a single $100 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Second Suns is the story of two doctors, Dr. Geoffrey Tabin and Dr. Sanduk Ruit, who came together to develop a pioneering, 10-minute surgery to treat cataracts—an entirely curable disease and a leading cause of avoidable blindness, afflicting more than 18 million people worldwide—for less than $25 per person. The Experiment has published this remarkable story in paperback for the first time, and, moreover, is donating a portion of the proceeds from every book sold to HCP.

“Reading Second Suns, it’s impossible not to feel that the work of Drs. Ruit and Tabin is among the most important work being done by anyone, anywhere on our planet,” says Matthew Lore, publisher of The Experiment. “Seeing that this new edition gets into the hands of readers everywhere is one way we as the publisher are helping to support the HCP’s far-reaching initiatives to eradicate preventable blindness. But we wanted to do more, hence our deciding to donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of each copy. We are thrilled that The MacArthur Foundation has also recognized the importance of HCP’s work by naming them as a semifinalist for this historic grant.”

The Himalayan Cataract Project has worked since 1995 to develop sustainable solutions for needless blindness throughout Asia and Africa. The organization first developed its systems in Nepal, where the prevalence of blindness has fallen by two-thirds since the early 1990s.

“The 100&Change grant could enable the Himalayan Cataract Project to reach the tipping point to eliminate needless blindness on a global scale,” says Dr. Geoffrey Tabin, the Co-Founder of the Himalayan Cataract Project, and protagonist in Second Suns.

In June 2016, the MacArthur Foundation launched the 100&Change competition, offering a $100 million grant to fund a single project that makes measurable progress towards solving a significant global problem. The winner will be announced later this year.

Second Suns: Two Trailblazing Doctors and Their Quest to Cure Blindness, One Pair of Eyes at a Time is available for sale at all retailers.



Fall in love with tacos this Valentine’s Day Fri, 10 Feb 2017 16:06:30 +0000 Continue reading ]]> There is wisdom in the old saying, “the fastest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” but it’s only half true: the internal digestive system is in fact the quickest way to anyone’s heart, not just men’s. And, beyond that, it is worth mentioning that nothing gets along quite as well as tacos and stomachs.

Whether it’s directed to a sweetheart or yourself, nothing says “I love you” quite like a taco. Valentine’s day is a day to remind your loved ones what they mean to you, but it’s also important to love yourself. In short, it is a day for tacos. They will never hurt you; they will never disappoint you; they will never be anything less than perfect.

We are hopeless romantics here at The Experiment, so we thought we’d give everyone a chance to fall in love all over again: Chocolate-Raspberry Dessert Tacos. This recipe from The Taco Cleanse by Wes Allison, Stephanie Bogdanich, Molly R. Frisinger and Jessica Morris isn’t just a reminder that dessert is allowed on the Taco Cleanse, it’s also the perfect Valentine’s day treat.



Makes 10 tacos

Raspberry preserves:
1 cup (125 g) frozen or fresh raspberries
6 tablespoons (80 g) sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Easy chocolate ganache:
½ cup (88 g) semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons (30 ml) cooking oil

Soft taco shell
1 tablespoon (13 g) sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
¹/3 cup (75 ml) almond milk
1 tablespoon (15 ml) cooking oil
¼ cup (30 g) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¹/8 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cornstarch
Powdered sugar

For the raspberry preserves:
1. Combine all the preserve ingredients in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Stir intermittently until the preserves thicken to the consistency of jam. Allow to cool.

For the chocolate ganache:
1. In a microwave-safe bowl, heat the chocolate chips and oil on high for 90 seconds, or until melted. Stir well to combine.

For the taco shells:
1. Preheat your griddle on high, approximately 350 to 400°F (175 to 200°C). If using a stovetop griddle, heat to medium. A tabletop griddle will work better than a stovetop griddle.
2. Whisk the sugar, vanilla extract, almond milk, and oil together in a medium bowl. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and cornstarch in a separate bowl. Whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, one half at a time. The batter shouldn’t be too thick. Add more almond milk if necessary.
3. Once the griddle has heated up, pour on a tablespoon of batter. Using the back of your tablespoon, smooth out the batter to a circle about 3 inches wide. You should be able to see the griddle through the batter. Let the batter cook on one side for 1 to 3 minutes, until lightly browned. Small bubbles should appear on the uncooked surface and the shell should be fairly thin. Flip using a spatula and allow the other side to cook completely. Transfer to a plate.
4. Fold each taco shell in half, stuff with the raspberry preserves, drizzle with the chocolate ganache, and sprinkle with powdered sugar. You should be able to pick up your taco, but we won’t judge you if you eat it with a fork (poser).
5. Store any leftover jam covered tightly in the refrigerator for about a week.


Wes Allison, Stephanie Bogdanich, Molly R. Frisinger, and Jessica Morris live in Tacotopia (Austin, TX). They introduced the Taco Cleanse at the 2013 Vegan Month of Food by eating tacos for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for 30 days. said, “It should come as no surprise that the newsworthy, tortilla-stockpiling Taco Cleanse . . . not only tops my own list of memories, but everyone else’s.” The crack team of taco scientists are pictured below in full garb, presumably on the verge of presenting some of their paradigm-shifting taco research. You can follow them on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Facebook. Be sure to check out their website for more info!

Stop the Fight! this Valentine’s Day (and don’t miss the ebook sale)! Mon, 06 Feb 2017 21:56:48 +0000 Continue reading ]]> It is a sad reality that often occasions meant for celebrating—birthdays, Valentine’s Day, etc.—actually end up causing fights in our relationships. Maybe one partner didn’t get a gift the other expected, maybe there wasn’t enough fanfare, maybe there was a store-bought cake: no matter the details, it often happens that one partner’s high expectations ends in disappointment and unhappiness, creating strife on both ends.
Michelle Brody, PhD, is the author of Stop the Fight!: An Illustrated Guide for Couples: How to Break Free from the 12 Most Common Arguments and Build a Relationship That Lasts, and an executive coach and clinical psychologist with over 20 years of professional experience as a practicing therapist and a specialist in resolving relational conflict. In her book she tackles the 12 most common fights couples get in using illustrations to help couples see their way out. Among them is “The Birthday Fight.” In the Birthday Fight, one partner is disappointed by the other’s inaction on a special occasion and the other partner tries to avoid failure by exerting less effort.

Although the fight pictured focuses birthdays, it is relevant to any holiday or special occasion that causes just such a fight. Read on if this sounds familiar and Brody’s advice will give you and your partner the best gift ever: a fight-free Valentine’s.

The “birthday fight” occurs when one partner (we’ll call her Sara) loves Valentine’s Day and has high expectations of her partner (we’ll call him Ed) for Valentine’s Day. Every year Sara gets her hopes up and when Ed doesn’t deliver on the special day, she feels like he doesn’t care about her. When Sara gets upset with Ed for disappointing her, he feels like her expectations for Valentine’s Day are controlling and he deals with the pressure by avoiding it altogether.
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Both Sara and Ed feel threatened in this situation. Sara feels a loss of caring and love from Ed and Ed feels criticism and control from Sara. They both revert to Defense Mode Actions: Sara reminds and hints to Ed to do something special for Valentine’s Day and Ed tries to avoid failure and being controlled by not trying as hard.

To solve this fight, both partners need to recognize their own and their partner’s Defense Mode Actions. They also need to remember their partner’s good core and recognize that it is a threat causing their partner to deviate from that core. Sara needs Ed to know that she feels hurt and unloved by his actions, and Ed needs Sara to know that he feels there’s no way for him to succeed.
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In the future, Ed needs to recognize that Sara just wants to feel special and loved and act accordingly and Sara needs to realize that Ed needs to feel like he can avoid failure.
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To help Stop the Fight! this Valentine’s Day, go through the following questions:
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Learn more about how to stop the most common fights by checking out Stop the Fight! and grab the ebook on sale for $1.99 for all of February 2017!

Michelle Brody, PhD, is an executive coach and clinical psychologist with over 20 years of professional experience as a practicing therapist and a specialist in resolving relational conflict. Her background also includes extensive experience in teaching, coaching, and scientific research. She has served for more than a decade as a senior trainer for psychologists and a business consultant, teaching others what will (and won’t) catalyze lasting change. Dr. Brody is the founder of Coaching for Couples, an innovative practice for couples seeking time-efficient change.