Sharing the Bounty

Lush Valley Food Action Society operates on the power of partnerships to help those in need.

“Once you experience self-healing—once you know what it feels like—it stays deep within you, viagra sale ” says Tom Diamond.

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

When Tom Diamond was 15, pilule he discovered the healing power of meditation first hand.  He’d been a fairly typical high-school student, pharmacy with no particular interest in esoteric practices or alternative healing.  And at first, the flu he caught seemed typical as well, but unlike typical flus, it didn’t go away.  And didn’t go away.  And didn’t go away.  There were doctor visits, tests, hypotheses, but the end result was a medical diagnosis of “mysterious virus” and a shrug in place of a treatment plan.

The situation was miserable: Diamond was unable to go school or do much of anything, feeling lousy all the time, and with no prognosis of improvement.

“I felt helpless,” says Diamond.  After about six months of this, Diamond found meditation on his own, falling into a practice that he made up as he went along, encouraged by the simple fact that it was working.  The first thing that improved was his sleep, and once he was well-rested, he felt like getting up—at that point, a novel and miraculous feeling.  Within a month, he was back to his regular life.  He didn’t, however, forget about meditation.

“Once you experience self-healing—once you know what it feels like—it stays deep within you.  I had such a sense of power!” says Diamond.  He began to read and study about healing, meditation and the science of the mind-body connection… and he hasn’t stopped since.

Now, some 35 years later and living in the Comox Valley, Dr. Diamond is on a mission to “bring meditation to the masses” as founder and teacher of Health Meditating, a user-friendly system that combines ancient wisdom and modern science, offering an approach to meditation expressly designed for the modern western mind.

Over the past few decades, Diamond’s powerful initiation into meditation has been augmented by a MA and PhD psychology, years of professional experience as a clinical psychologist, organizational psychology consultant, researcher and university teacher, and decades of studies in various forms of meditation and alternative healing, including a formative year spent in India and Nepal learning from the masters.

His vision is that meditating, which he likes to call “neuro-fitness,” will become as mainstream as physical fitness.  There are easily as many meditation techniques as there are types of exercise, Diamond points out (in fact, one branch of Buddhism claims to include 84,000 ways to meditate).  Just as it is now the norm for people to go the gym, jog, play sports, or go to fitness classes, he envisions it being the norm for people to meditate regularly.

The result would be better health, longer lives, and happier relationships, says Diamond.  And if you’re thinking that claim sounds just a tad unrealistic, take note: it’s backed up by hard science.

Although rigorous research into the health effects of meditation is still fairly new, the results are making the medical establishment sit up and take notice.  Meditation has been proven to help measurably with a host of medical problems including blood pressure, headaches, thyroid imbalance, arthritis, skin conditions, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, asthma, cancer, depression, anxiety and the common cold.

Diamond can cite specific studies and has a lengthy list of references on his website.  Here’s a smattering of some of his favorite facts: meditation lowers risk of death from heart disease by 77 per cent, reduces early death by 50 per cent, prolongs life by 10 years, and reduces measures of physiological age in seniors by up to 25 years.  It has been proven to improve sports, career and academic performance, and to contribute to the ability to maintain healthy personal relationships.

At its heart, meditation is about something very simple—the creation of a state of profound relaxation.  Relaxation—true, deep relaxation, not just taking it easy in front of the TV—is essential for our well-being.

“Meditation is in fact a natural thing to do,” says Diamond.  “But we in North America don’t value rest and relaxation as much as we should.  We need a way to slow down.  Stress is on the rise throughout the west.  Sleep is on the decline.  Obesity is on the rise.  Diabetes is on the rise.  These are all linked to stress.  In fact, according to the American Medical Association, 60 per cent of all disease is caused by stress in some way.  Meditation is a clear and reasonable antidote.”

Studies of meditators show significant decreases in stress hormones and concurrent increases in hormones and neurotransmitters that help the body heal and restore itself, as well as induce feelings of well-being.

“The body changes when you meditate.  The brain changes; some areas get active, some get calm, some grow.  Meditators actually grow neuronal connections that make staying in silence easy,” says Diamond.

Diamond wants these benefits to be available to everyone, but he’s observed that many traditional meditation approaches don’t lend themselves to the sort of mass appeal he believes is warranted.

“Many [meditation] traditions have overtones of religion and superstition that aren’t necessary from a scientific, medical point of view.  I wanted to take away the clutter and get right to profound relaxation.

“If the spirituality is there for someone, that’s great, but it should never be forced on anyone.  Meditation has such a widespread set of tools that can help anyone with so many of the important things in life—sports, career, love, health, family, wellbeing.  This has to be available to everyone, regardless of their spiritual beliefs.  And spirituality is such a private experience, when you start mixing it with group dynamics and leaders and commerce… it’s not always a good mix.”

At the same time, Diamond has great respect for, and curiosity about, the many ancient meditation and healing traditions.  Indeed, he has studied a number of them in depth, and he weaves their teachings into the blend that creates the foundation of Health Meditating.

“I’m not doing my system in opposition to others,” he says.  “But rather I’m taking the best of different systems to offer something that works for the Western mind.”

In particular, Health Meditating reflects Diamond’s studies of Kundalini Yoga, Buddhism and Yoga Nidra (a yogic deep meditation tradition).  To these ingredients, he adds his psychology background, elements of biofeedback, and his own techniques, which he began developing in his teens.

A Health Meditating session (Diamond offers workshops, courses and private consultations) tends to include a wide variety of practices.  Diamond might begin by explaining, in clear lay terms, the science and physiology of stress, meditation, and the mind-body connection.  He’ll follow this with simple, small-scale yoga movements, gentle warm-up and energy-stimulation exercises, breathing practices, Acupressure, and guided visualisations.

Diamond also brings in technology—there are low tech foot and back massage tools that simply feel good, and also there are biofeedback aids that students can use to measure the effects of different meditative techniques.  Diamond says that most people, in one session, can learn to bring down stress levels in a measurable way (i.e. changing their heart rate, blood pressure, and galvanic skin response) purely through mental practices.  The biofeedback technology makes this immediately visible and provides objective, unbiased information about the effects of the techniques being taught.

Diamond has been teaching a series of workshops and courses at the Comox Recreation Centre, each focusing on a theme he feels is particularly relevant to people today: Better Sleep, Energy and Vitality Booster, Senior Health and Vitality, and Extreme Stress Buster.  More topics are coming soon, such as Healthy Weight and Body Image, and Sports Focus and Performance.  He also offers an “All You Can Meditate” fall pass that gets students into all classes.

This nod to gym culture is deliberate, he says.  “Gyms have been very successful at making fitness a regular part of people’s lives.  This can happen with meditation.  I’d like to see meditation happening in the mall, at conferences and in airports.  I want to make it easy, local and cheap for everyone.

“My vision is not only to make it mainstream, but to have it become a daily practice.  I really struck gold in my life when meditation became a daily part of my life.  It’s more restful than sleep!  In fact, studies have shown that experienced, regular meditators need less sleep.”

While Diamond’s passion for sharing meditation is clearly focused on health and neuro-fitness, on a personal level he also values the less measurable gifts that meditation brings.

“Meditation has brought me some amazing inner experiences.  When I came back from India, my eyes were so open; I saw beauty everywhere I looked.  To me, enlightenment means every minute is beautiful and it’s a joy to be alive,” he says.

If Diamond’s teen discovery of meditation set the seed for the creation of Health Meditating, it was the year-long trip to India and Nepal that prompted that seed to germinate.  But it took another 10 years or so for it to bear fruit.  Diamond was busy with a successful career as a psychologist and academic, and at the same time he was also working out some big, archetypal questions.

“I’d always had two strong bents: I was a scientist, and I was a meditator,” he explains.  “A lot of times those two sides had battled, and a lot of times they had come together.  Basically, it was a split between intuition and rationality.  After India, the battle intensified.  The internal dialogue and the search for a resolution intensified.”

India, he says, provided incredible nourishment for his intuitive side.

“India is so rich in culture and experience.  You can travel 10 feet and hear 10 different languages.  It’s packed with sights and smells and ideas.  There’s a vibrancy to the Indian mind that’s very open.  There’s no sense of guardedness.  You can meet someone new and within minutes you’re having a very deep, very meaningful conversation,” he says.  And while immersed in this very rich, open and transformative culture, he was also studying meditation, travelling to ashrams, visiting gurus and even learning from a traditional wandering yogi.

“It rocked my world,” he says of the experience.  He returned home brimming with energy and life—and the realization that he had to fit himself back into the intellectual and domestic concerns of Western life.  He didn’t want to lose what he’d experienced in India, nor to reject Western values.  Instead, he wanted to integrate all of it.

“It took about a decade to resolve all that,” he says with a bit of a laugh.  “And during that time my interest in my professional life was waning.  It became clear to me that what I really wanted to do involved meditation.  So I thought a lot about how to do that.  I spent a lot of time meditating on meditation!”

The result was the creation of Health Meditating as a unique approach to meditation, and as a business.  For Diamond, it is the perfect blend of science and spirituality, feeling and intellect, intuition and logic.  And both sides of him—his intuition and his intellect—tell him it’s an effective way to bring meditation to the masses, so that everyone can have access to the sort of healing and life-enriching benefits Diamond has experienced.

For more information on Health Meditating and Dr. Tom Diamond call 250-941-5596 or visit





Lush Valley volunteer Julianne Wolfe picks apples at the Filberg Park in Comox as part of the society’s Fruit Tree program. The idea is simple—a person with too much fruit calls Lush Valley and asks them to come and pick the fruit. Volunteers come out, information pills
pick the trees, and the fruit pickers get one third of the picked fruit. The owner gets one third, and the remaining third goes to Lush Valley to redistribute or use in their teaching kitchen.

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

I almost got beaned as I rode my bike to work the other morning.  Not by a car, mind you, but by a plum as it fell from a tree lining the road.  Thankfully I was able to avoid the fruit missile, but immediately I had to swerve through the slippery piles of smashed fruit on the road.  As I carefully continued on my way to work I started to wonder… doesn’t anyone want this fruit?  Doesn’t it seem a shame that so much goes to waste?

Turns out there are others who feel the same, and they’ve been actively doing something about it.

Lush Valley (an acronym for Let Us Share the Harvest) Food Action Society is a fruit tree sharing program that has been around since the 1990s.   I had a chance to speak with two of the core members of Lush Valley, President Bunny Shannon and Jean duGal, at their office on Piercy Road.  Being the harvest season, the office was hopping, but they still took time from their busy day to describe their program and how it began.

Lush Valley has its roots in the 1980s, in a program that asked women to ‘think globally but act locally’ on issues surrounding poverty and food.  “And that was before the word local was such a buzz word,” recalls duGal with a laugh.   She remembers attending a lot of meetings where she got frustrated because she wanted to move from talking to doing.   So she and a small group of like-minded individuals started a program called The Good Food Box.  The program was a way to provide healthy fruits and veggies to needy individuals for just $10 per box.

Though it was popular and successful, eventually the rising cost of food made the program impossible to continue.  “The price of food kept going up and the boxes got smaller and smaller,” she says.    But all was not lost, for from that start they instigated the fruit tree program.

“We heard of two women who started a tree fruit sharing program in the Lower Mainland,” says Shannon.  “It seemed like such a great idea we thought we’d give it a try here in the Comox Valley.”

The concept, adds duGal, was one that people readily accepted.  “From the start, people could easily understand the idea of the fruit tree program because everyone can see that there is fruit going to waste.”

The idea is simple—a person with too much fruit calls Lush Valley and asks them to come and pick the fruit.  Volunteers come out, pick the trees, and the fruit pickers get one third of the picked fruit.  The owner gets one third, and the remaining third is for Lush Valley to redistribute or use in their teaching kitchen.

“Everyone benefits from the program,” explains duGal.  Oftentimes the volunteer fruit pickers are underemployed people who appreciate the fruit they receive.  Other needy individuals benefit from the redistributed food they receive from Lush Valley, and the tree owners benefit because they don’t have to stress about the fruit falling off their trees.

“Besides people who are just too busy to pick their fruit, there’s always an aging population who can benefit from our fruit picking service,” says Shannon.  “They feel good about sharing their fruit, and they’re happy to see the fruit not going to waste.”

And don’t forget the bears—most people would rather see fruit pickers in their trees than bears munching on the fruit.

“We have a lot of people from Cumberland calling us to pick fruit from their trees so they can keep the bears out of their yards!” Shannon adds, laughing.

Though Lush Valley is mainly known as a fruit picking and sharing service, it really has grown into much more.  “We’re ultimately about creating food security for people,” says duGal.  “Our goals are to build self-reliance around food because food touches all aspects of our lives.”

And it’s about cooperation, adds Shannon.  “We believe in what we’re doing here because it’s about people getting together and providing for themselves and others.”

In order to enhance food security, Lush Valley has created an interlinked set of inclusive programs that are geared to help all people provide healthy foods for themselves and their families.  From handing out food and prepared meals to helping teach people to prepare their own, Lush Valley is dedicated to helping people go from being dependent to independent.

How have they done all this?  Shannon says it has only been possible because of the volunteers who help run the programs.

“It’s just such a positive place,” she says.  “People have fun volunteering here.”  She tells of the time, just last week, when a group of ladies came in to volunteer in the community kitchen.  Though the women had never met before, within minutes they were working together and laughing like old friends.  “That’s what happens all the time here,” Shannon says.  “I think it’s because everyone knows they’re here to do good things.”

Lush Valley also benefits regularly from donations.  In fact, Lush Valley is open to any type of food donation at any time.  “Just last week we received about 100 pounds of fresh fish,” Shannon says, laughing.  “But we’ll use it—we always do!”

They also regularly receive food from St. Joseph’s Hospital through what is called the Food Recovery Program.  About once a month Lush Valley gets a call telling them that there are surplus meals available.  They pick up the meals and redistribute them to anyone in need.

Even though they mainly run their program through the work of volunteers and donations, they’ve subsisted on a shoestring budget for many years.  “People are always so amazed at what we do with so little,” says Shannon.  “We’ve survived by the seat of our pants most years, but last year things changed when we finally received federal funding and gaming monies.”

Because of the new financial support, Lush Valley is finally able to implement a few of the programs they’ve always wanted to provide.  “I feel like we’re really on a roll,” Shannon says.  “It’s pretty exciting.”

For example, because of the new government grant Lush Valley now has a Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) certified commercial kitchen.  “We call it an incubator kitchen,” says Shannon with a laugh.  That’s because they see the space as a place where people can use the kitchen to start their food-based business.  For example, one woman started out by using the kitchen to make tamales, which she sold at the Farmer’s Market.  Now she owns and runs her own restaurant.

Lush Valley also uses the kitchen to provide workshops on cooking, preserving, budgeting and Food Safe courses.  One example of these is an after school cooking program for at risk children called The Young Cooks Program.  “The kids love being able to come to their cooking class after school,” says duGal.  “They feel special and it’s also a chance for the kids to get together and talk with other kids who share the same problems.”  The 10 to 14-year-olds come to the Lush Valley kitchen once a week to learn about nutrition and how to cook healthy meals.  After they’re finished with their class they’re able to take their creations home to share with their family.

Though the new kitchen is up and running, there are still areas of the building that are going through major renovations.  “We have some big plans for our space as well as for our programs,” says Shannon.  For example, though they don’t know the exact nuts and bolts of the program yet, they hope to provide a group buying service to charity organizations in the future.

“There are many groups that could benefit from such a service,” Shannon says.  “For example, St. Georges Church provides meals most days for homeless and needy people, but they can’t buy food in bulk because they don’t have the space to store it.  They’d save a lot of money if they could buy in bulk.”  In essence, the group buying club would help other like-minded groups shrink their food costs, stretching their funds so they can ultimately do more.

It’s clear Lush Valley believes in the power of partnerships, as they’ve partnered up with other volunteer-run groups that have the same values.  One such example is a group called the Pepper Mill, which works out of Lush Valley’s kitchen to cook and distribute healthy frozen meals at affordable prices to anyone who needs them.   Lush Valley also shares their space with the Comox Valley Growers and Seed Savers, with Dawn to Dawn Action on Homelessness, and with Food Not Bombs.  Since these other groups are also working toward the ultimate goal of food security for all, it seems logical to those at Lush Valley that they should work collaboratively.

Lush Valley has big plans for the future, but those plans can only come to fruition if they have help from volunteers.

“We’re always looking for new help,” says duGal.  “And with all these renovations we could really use the help of painters and such.  We’ll never turn anyone away—there is always work to be done.”

And the work always gets done, because, as duGal wisely says, “Food always brings people together.”

Lush Valley is located at 1126 Piercy Road in Courtenay.  Their hours are 10 – 3pm Monday to Thursday.  For more information about Lush Valley call 250-331-0152 or visit

‘Season Upon Season’ is a cookbook Lush Valley sells to raise funds.  It’s available for $15 at Zocalo’s, Beyond the Kitchen Door and at the Lush Valley office.

One Response to Sharing the Bounty

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