Thanksgiving in Sihanoukville with Penny Sisto

Moonwalker by Penny Sisto


The original title of this post was, “Penny Sisto: My Bestest Friend”.

“God knows where that title came from, but it stuck” were the first words I wrote yesterday when I started this post. The answer came a few hours later. This is what happened:

Whenever I have a medical question I can’t find an answer to, I email my dear friend Penny Sisto and she always has an answer for me. Yesterday I had a question about a chronic ailment my wife Sopheak is suffering from. Penny replied promptly and thoroughly, as always, and also mentioned that she had completed 58 quilts last year.

I checked out her website, and was inspired to write an article about her latest collection. I promise, “My Bestest” anything is not a title I would come up with on my own; it’s just not my style. Nevertheless, I sent a reply to Penny: “Tentative title is ‘Penny Sisto: My Bestest Friend.’ Just popped into my head”, I wrote, feeling a little embarrassed about my silly sounding title.

Not long afterwards, I received another email from Penny. “It struck me as you wrote the word Bestest because today is the death anniversary of . . . my bestest woman friend in this Incarnation. . . . Anyway I called Her Bestest as a nickname, so thank you for giving me that gift on her Death anniversary.”

White Buffalo by Penny Sisto
White Buffalo

This “coincidence” defines my relationship with Penny better than any other example I could give. I’ve had the huge privilege of knowing Penny since the late sixties and although it’s been decades since I last saw her, there’s still an element of “magic” to it.

Penny deeply influenced my life in many ways. For one thing, she gave truth to the rather insipid sounding rumour that “magic happens.” More importantly, she was the first person I had ever met who was genuinely and deeply compassionate. I sometimes think if I hadn’t met her, I wouldn’t really know the meaning of the word. Hers wasn’t the pseudo-compassion of the pseudo-spiritual sixties, either. She simply could not and would not say no to someone in need.

Penny makes her living and expresses herself creatively as a quilt artist. She has had her works displayed in major galleries throughout the United States and as you can see, she’s no ordinary artist. Her quilts seem to be infused with the souls of her subjects and convey all the strength of their spirits. The quilts shown here are from her latest collection, “Heartbeat 2011″, which bears the subtitle, “We live on Stolen Land.”

I will fight no more by penny sisto
I will fight no more

What would be a more appropriate subject for my Thanksgiving blog? I intended to write a rant about the hypocrisy of an American holiday that remembers the kindness of the indigenous Americans who met the first settlers and forgets the genocide that follows. Rather than burden you with words, just take a close look at these quilts and see what we have lost as a result of that genocide.

Penny hand-stitched this 58 quilt collection in a single year. That’s more than one per week. Take a close look at the detailing on ‘Shade’ (below) – the little crinkles around the sun, for instance – and then look at it from a distance. Now try and imagine doing all that, including finding just the right bits and pieces of cloth, in less than a week. Now imagine having atrocious eyesight and yet still creating a work of art with such rich detail that can be appreciated from any distance. Finally, top it off with an equally busy daily life on a rural Kentucky farm. How does she do it?

I could go on and on, but I’ll let Penny’s work speak for her. Visit her website, and treat your eyes and heart to a Thanksgiving/Christmas season treat.

Shade, by Penny Sisto

My Interview with Neil Slade

All it takes is a magic feather's touch
All it takes is a magic feather's touch

Tickle the feather with your mouse to visit Neil Slade's Amazing Brain


I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Neil Slade the other day. “What?” I hear you say, “Neil Slade interviewed you? Why?” You’re right. It makes no sense that he would interview me rather than the other way around, but this is Neil Slade we’re talking about.

To answer your question, Neil has been interviewing a bunch of “seasoned” amygdala ticklers. He is working on a new book in which he is going to try yet again to get the word out about brain self control and I for one hope he pulls off his grand ambition to make amygdala tickling a fad.

Rather than give you a detailed account of our interview, I’ll just give you the basics as I related them to Neil:

I  discovered Neil Slade’s Amazing Brain website in around 2002 or 2003. At that time, I was going through the absolute worst phase of my working life. I had been abruptly fired from one job in a really ruthless way and had to take the first job I could find, which was for a boat builder who manufactured multi-million dollar yachts. Conditions in his factory were so bad that kids on the dole who were required to take any job they were able to get were excused from taking this one. The cavernous facility was always either freezing cold or stifling hot, the smell of chemicals vied for space with the fog of fibreglass dust while fresh air was pushed mercilessly outdoors. It was a dead end job with no future. Everyone knew that once the $20 million dollar yacht we were working on was finished, the boss was going to declare bankruptcy in order to avoid taxes and responsibility, lay low for a couple of years and then do it all over again under another name.

At that point in my life I was chronically if not clinically depressed. I saw myself as an utter failure with no future to look forward to. I had let myself down and, more importantly, I had let my family down.

I was contemplating these grim facts as I drove to work one freezing cold morning when I decided to give amygdala clicking (as Neil described it then) another try. I had stumbled across Neil’s website about a month previously and had been playing around with the technique. The reason why I had stuck with it was because it seemed to occasionally offer some mild relief from my misery. On this particular morning it gave me much more than that. As I gave first my left amygdala a tickle and then the right, a wave of indescribable bliss rolled over me. And then another

and another

and another

By the time I got to work I was on such a high, I was thanking Jesus, Buddha, Krishna and every other deity who seemed to be paying me a visit for my fantastic good fortune. How many people had the opportunity to experience a really shitty job firsthand and find a way to accept and even enjoy it? How many others were so blessed as to have discovered perfect happiness for absolutely no reason whatsoever?

Neil was most impressed with the fact that my dramatic consciousness shift had nothing to do with my external circumstances and everything to do with amygdala tickling. I went on to tell him that after that initial “brain pop,” my external life went from bad to worse, but my attitude remained largely positive and life affirming. This, in my opinion and I think his as well, is the most important contribution I have to make to Neil’s “cause”: happiness has little or nothing to do with what happens outwardly and everything to do with what happens inwardly. In the age of “abundance gurus,” Americans in particular and American influenced cultures in general somehow managed to equate “enlightenment” with worldly success. That is, in a word, nonsense. Jesus, for one, was a complete loser, but I’ll leave that rant for later and get back to my story before you get bored.

There have been more than a few hiccoughs since then and I’ve had my share of “clicking backwards” into reptilian consciousness experiences along the way, but amygdala clicking, more than any other single technique I’ve learned, has given me a clear roadmap to higher consciousness.

We ended up talking for nearly an hour and I for one would have been happy to have gone on talking much longer, but duty called and I had to cut the call short. Interestingly, Neil’s voice sounded exactly as I imagined it would and his personality, too, matched that of my imaginary Neil Slade.

This morning as I lay in bed quietly tickling away, my thoughts kept wandering towards this post, which was the first “assignment” on my list today. I wanted to convey our interview in words as best I could, but words were failing me. Then out of nowhere an old song popped into my head. The Fool on the Hill was written by Paul McCartney and was included in the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour album, which came out in 1967. Enjoy:

Natural Healing in Cambodia

When I came to Cambodia in 2006, it was hot on the heels of having discovered that things like energy healing and herbal medicine work. Since then, I’ve become so convinced of their efficacy, they no longer seem any more “miraculous” to me than my morning caffeine fix does.  Last week I wrote about a Cambodian Natural Cancer Cure. I’m happy to report that Sopheak’s auntie came over the other day smiling and happy and looking even better than she had the week before. Her skin was a little pale, but not yellow and her eyes were sparkling.

Some time ago, I reposted a story from an old blog on my Sihanoukville Journal. Called Surrealistic Pillow, it is the story of how a cousin was cured of multiple personality disorder or spirit possession (depending on your point of view). After having witnessed the incidents, I’m inclined to think the latter was a more accurate description of her condition. The young woman is fine now. She recently held a job at our local supermarket after having spent 2 years working in Malaysia as a nanny, where she learned to speak English. Previous to her “exorcism”, she had always been plagued by bouts of possession and had never been able to hold down a job.

The traditional healer at work

A few years ago, a young girl we took to the beach broke her arm when she fell off a coconut palm. At that time, we didn’t have a doctor in town who could set bones, so we anticipated a long trip to Phnom Penh. Someone had a better idea, though. They knew of a Thai natural healer who lived in the country outside of Sihanoukville. We drove there and within an hour, he had set the bone, wrapped her arm in a herbal mixture that relieved her pain and fashioned a splint. Her arm healed in record time.

Patient smiling minutes after having her broken arm set by traditional healer

Even I have had some success as an energy healing “practitioner.” One day I bought a strong chemical floor cleaner, which my wife’s mother enthusiastically applied to the floors. She got a horrible allergic reaction to it – so bad her eyes were swollen shut. I did a meridian tapping sequence that was meant for allergies and a little other “voodoo” and lo and behold, it worked! I repeated the sequence 3 times and each time the swelling and redness were incrementally lessened.

About a year ago a small packet of Oreos caught my eye in a local market. I took them home and sat down and enjoyed them with a cup of tea. About 15 minutes late, I got a horrendous case of stomach cramps followed by several severe bouts of diarrhoea. Instead of rushing me to the doctor, Sopheak rushed down the street and pulled some bark off a tree. She boiled the bark in water, carefully boiling down the liquid from 3 tall glasses to 1. I watched some of the process in agony and then had to prolong my agony while I waited for it to cool enough to drink. Dubious about its efficacy or taste, I finally took a tentative sip. It didn’t taste bad, so I took a long swallow. The instant the liquid hit my stomach, I felt relief. By the time I finished the glass, the stomach cramps and diarrhoea were gone. She made me drink two more glasses that evening and just before bed. Even though I felt fine, she said I had to get all the bad out of my stomach. Although I think the reason for the terrible reaction was probably because the Oreos were long out of date, I nearly puke when I see them now, which is probably a good thing.

I stopped riding my bike or even walking for about six months because it caused so much pain in my right knee. A doctor had convinced me that the only cure was to go to Vietnam and get surgery. I should have been suspicious, because some herbal tablets I had taken earlier worked “miraculously”, but unfortunately I was unable to replace them and the pain gradually worsened. Finally, about 3 months ago, I got a second opinion. I went to CT clinic and got an xray and blood tests done. The doctor said it was arthritis and asked me if I wanted to take a pharmaceutical medication. When I said no, he suggested I try glucosamine. My knee felt better within 3 days and I am back on my bike again.

I believe we have been conned by the medical establishment and the pharmaceutical industry our entire lives. I’m sure there are natural healing con artists out there, too, but the first thing we need to do is see through the more pervasive con of what some call the medical mafia. I recommend subscribing to the Health Ranger newsletter and reading some of Mike Adams’ articles. They are real eye openers.

A Cambodian Natural Cancer Cure?

On October 5, I wrote Steve Jobs’ Death and the Spectre of Cancer in Cambodia. At the time, I was saddened by the “news” that Sopheak’s aunt had died of cancer and we were sending her body back to Svay Renh for burial. As it turned out, that was a little premature. What my wife was trying to convey to me was that her aunt was dying of cancer and wanted to return to her home village to die.

It was several days before I learned this subtle distinction. Sometimes verb tenses can make a big difference! One day I went downstairs to make a cup of coffee and was surprised to see her lying down on our living room couch. She was alive, but just barely. It was pissing down with rain and we didn’t want to pack her into a car and send her on her way when there was a danger of flooding, so we put her up in our doctor’s clinic for the weekend, so she could be more comfortable and could be on a fluid drip, since she had stopped eating.

Our doctor recommended sending her first to a Russian hospital in Phnom Penh. He was sure she was dying, but thought a biopsy was in order and she could get one for free there. On Monday, October 10, Sopheak took her to the hospital. It was an incredibly stressful trip because when she arrived, Sopheak learned that while her aunt could get a biopsy for free, she first had to provide the hospital with papers and a doctor referral. Sopheak put her and her husband up in a hotel, returned home, got up at dawn the next morning and spent half the day gathering the necessary paperwork before returning to Phnom Penh in the evening.

The next day everything went smoothly. As my first paragraphs show, details get lost in the translation, but according to Sopheak, “Doctor say if have 1-5, can give medicine. If more, maybe not work. He say she have 10. Take medicine will kill sure.” The medicine he was referring to was chemotherapy.

I was relieved to hear this, because I had already become all but convinced that chemotherapy was essentially a con. Although we believed that both the biopsy and the treatment were free, if she accepted the treatment, I felt like I would be partially responsible for her death, since she would never have gone to the hospital without my assistance. As it turned out, the medication was not free, but the doctor told Sopheak it would be a waste of money and she would probably die before she reached Svay Renh. He said the best course to take would be to send her home to die and that’s what Sopheak did.

The next thing I heard was that Sopheak’s aunt was so weak, the relatives in Svay Renh decided to build a funeral pyre for her. Because of the flooding in Svay Renh, they had to build an elevated platform. At one point, Sopheak received a call telling her that she had died, but they called back a few hours later and said they had made a mistake. Her pulse had been undetectable and there was no sign of breathing, but she then came to.

That was about 3 weeks ago. Until yesterday, I heard nothing more except that relatives had found a “Cambodia doctor” (meaning a traditional practitioner). Then, out of the blue, yesterday Sopheak informed me that her aunt was feeling much better and was coming back to Sihanoukville.

I got up this morning to find her washing our clothes. I tried to stop her, but she insisted on working, telling me through Sopheak that it was her way of thanking us for our help and that she was feeling much better. I have no idea what the “medicine” is that she is taking. Sopheak tells me it is a plant that grows in Picnel (sp?), a hilly region about halfway between Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh.

Sopheak’s aunt isn’t exactly the picture of health. Her skin is yellow and she is still very thin, but she’s smiling, eating and working a little. As soon as I get a chance I’m going to take some photos and try to find out more about her medicine.

I have to close now, but just for the record, while this drama was unfolding, I signed up to listen to a series of talks by alternative cancer treatment specialists. They were free to listen to live, but in order to get them to keep, you had to pay. I listened to a few of them and they were fascinating. This morning I finally paid for the whole series and downloaded them. I figured serendipity was at work. I’ll get back to you with info as I get time to review the audio files and read the PDF transcripts.

The Genesis of My Consciousness Cookbook

I can’t remember the exact date, but it must have been somewhere in the first half of 2008 when the idea for A Cookbook of Consciousness came to me. It happened like this:

Cookbook of Consciousness Preface on handmade paper

Click image to view full size

I got an email from a friend of mine asking me to try a meridian tapping sequence. I’ll have to look for the email to find the exact part of the brain this was meant to activate and you’ll have to wait for the details, since I want to get this published this morning (look for an update soon). I tried it and the first words that popped into my mind were “A Cookbook of Consciousness.” I’ve been tempted to change that to “Consciousness Cookbook”, but have decided against it because it seems like whenever I try to change the wording, the inspiration dries up.

Those were the first words that popped into my mind, but what followed was a flurry of mental activity. At the time, I was still involved with a Cambodian charitable organisation. We had recently started a paper making project for the people who lived on the Sihanoukville dumpsite, hoping to give them an alternative means of self-employment. My personal GRAND PLAN was to write and publish my Cookbook and a partial biography of my wife, Sopheak, who lived alone in the jungles of Cambodia for several years when she was a girl. I was going to have these books printed on handmade paper and sell them in bookshops in Cambodia and online.

An interpretation of the chakras

Click image to view full size

Unfortunately, both the NGO and the papermaking project folded and I had to start to find a way to make a living, since I was flat broke – a scary proposition here in Cambodia, where there’s no safety net of any description. The dream is still alive , though, as is the dream of opening some sort of holistic healing centre.

I did manage to print up a couple of sample pages on handmade paper. I thought I’d lost them until I stumbled across them the other day. I want to comment on them in a later post, but until then, you’re welcome to have a look. Click on the images to see them full size.

One quick comment on the second page. I didn’t think then and don’t think now that this is an accurate interpretation of the chakras. It is based on David Hawkins’ Map of Consciousness and I have serious issues with both Hawkins and his map. In my next post I’ll elaborate on that. Have to go now. I’m getting my bicycle repaired today and then going for a ride. Sitting in front of a computer 7 days a week is not good for one’s health.