judgment, a great tool in cultivating awareness

I was saddened this morning.  Returning to our car, my husband and I found this note. 

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This morning Scott and I took our three dogs to the beach.  While we were walking, I was lagging behind my husband by about 20 – 30 feet with dog pick-up bags in my pocket.  After Simon did his business, Scott stood by the spot to wait for me to come to pick up the waste.  We then took our pick-up bags with other trash we had collected from the beach and made our way to the waste receptacle.  Making our way to the car, we found the note above.    

What saddens me is how quickly we are to judge our fellow humans.  Of course, myself included. I, however, do not judge the individual who left this note on our car.  I feel compassion for him or her.  (Although I did feel a little bit of fear because they did seem quite angry and had we met them in the parking lot, I don’t know what their reaction would have been.)  I feel compassion for the individual because one who judges is usually quite critical of themselves.  And, judgment typically reaches forward from a place of fear. 

We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are. – Anais Nin

Meditation is a great tool to use to cultivate awareness of judgment in our lives.  It creates space and distance around those feelings as well as awareness of our thoughts and feelings. If we do notice judgment(s) of ourselves or others, try to simply notice.  Take note.  And then, maybe ask yourself, “How much truth is in this judgment?” “Do I really have an understanding of what is going on in this situation?” Next, allowing an “answer” to arise, if one does, and moving forward through the situation possibly without reacting.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

weeding

And so it goes that this past week has found me thinking about weeding and habits of mind. Maybe I should explain.  

changing habits of mind

In my good friend’s yoga studio, YogaFish @ www.yogafishstuart.com, there is a book in the lobby of a compilation of thoughts from wise minds.  A recent excerpt reads, “The key is changing our habits and, in particular, the habits of our mind.”  

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Habits of mind have many similarities with weeds.  Both take hold quickly and grow even faster.  Once the rain begins to water those weeds they’ll run with it leaving us pulling weeds that are knee high.  Similarly, once gossipy neurons kick in and begin their conversations, a habit of mind is born leaving the person (me) wishing they would have stopped themselves before entering the rabbit hole.  Therefore, it was very fitting that: 

1) We had a rainy week in Stuart, FL to water and nurture weeds.

2) My husband and I have many landscaping beds around our house.

3) My mind was prime for some downward spiral, rabbit hole, type thinking.  

Had I been on my game this past week, I would have kept all of this in mind.  I would have remembered the quote knowing full well how habits of mind work.  Had I been of sound mind (or, at least, sounder mind), I could have talked myself out of my what I call downward spiral, rabbit hole type thinking.  The kind that begins with something like:  a) I’ll never get all of these weeds pulled; continues with b) Oh my gosh, the garage is a mess;  and ends with c) I’ll never achieve my dream of having beautiful pictures on this blog.  Notice how many times I used the word, “never” when I describe my rabbit hole thinking in points a, b, and c.   I don’t see the world in absolutes.  Typically I do not use the word “never.”  But, when my mind holds this type of mindset, overall, negative thinking pops up and populates my thoughts.   

Sound silly? Maybe.  But, take many, many steps back with me and apply that mindset that I’ve just described on a much broader scale.  How would that affect the person with the negative gossipy neurons headed in for a job interview or finishing up their rough draft of a novel?  

As we pull weeds out of our landscaping beds, we can also gently weed our minds.  By weeding our minds, I mean we can uproot those thoughts that no longer serve us and those around us. We have the ability to re-route our neuronal pathways. Reframing and training our minds can be done through the work of meditation. It is a practice. 

 

 

what is living?

The author, Joyce Maynard, says she feels most at home at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.  It is there she engages in those activities that define what living is to her.  And, more importantly, I am surmising she has also found a way of being.

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What is living?  Maynard has prompted me to, once again, think about this question.  I’ve rolled this question around in my mind frequently over the past five years or so.  It has rolled in and out of consciousness.  But, this time around the idea of living has collided with me differently.  Why?  For the first time, I believe I am developing the ability to define what living is to me.  Am I a late bloomer?  Very likely.

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The question deserves to be asked at different stages in life.  Maybe during those times when we feel like we are not doing what we want to do with our lives. Or, a need is perceived to make a significant change regardless of how we feel about the way we are currently choosing to live. Or, maybe you feel a small tug to make just a little change in your world.  Yet, you are not sure what that change should be.

I don’t know about you, but I am always looking for help when I make decisions throughout life.  So, in any form this question is used, if we ask it of ourselves, intentions begin to cultivate and grow.  Even if an audible answer does not arise (lucky you if one does!)  after we whisper to ourselves, “what does living mean to me?” the mind will take note of whatever the felt experience is.  Try not to need or expect an answer.  If you do get one, it does not have to be or need to be verbal.  In fact, I’ve found I do not get any audible answers or thoughts. I get a feeling. If the question brings up confusion, that is ok.  Let it bring up confusion.  It did for me for many years.  And, I am sure it will again in years to come.

(This is not to say I do not have confusion and anxiety with some areas of my life.  I do.  But, I am saying that some aspects of my life have been smoothed out and have lost their rough edges where confusion and indecisiveness used to reside.  I use myself as an example to, hopefully, create a rough guide for someone else who may want to gain a better understanding around their individual way of being.)

Asking the question, “what is living to me?” is similar to setting an intention at the beginning of a yoga class.  It prompts an energy and begins to sketch a blueprint that establishes a framework.  Yes, it is a blueprint that is in pencil because our lives are constantly in flux.  But, nevertheless, it is your blueprint.  This blueprint and framework will create a spaciousness allowing you to make changes, however large or small.  Some past fears may fall away.  It is your awareness that will take you there and shape your life’s path as time moves on just as Joyce Maynard did when she found Guatemala is where she feels most at home. It has become her way of being.

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A vegan treat, Nava Atlas’ sloppy joes.  Here I’ve posted her recipe verbatim.  But, when I made them I took the technique and subbed ingredients.  One addition I added that I’ll throw out there if you’d like to try, add 1 teaspoon each of cinnamon and baking cocoa powder. It really brings a depth of flavor to the dish that I enjoyed.  Another thing I enjoyed was chili sauce rather than tomato sauce.   Either way, these are fun to make and are a really good, substantial dinner.  I dressed the bread with sharp dijon mustard, sweet pickle relish, and refreshing red leaf lettuce.

Nava Atlas’ Pinto Bean and Quinoa Sloppy Joes    

Serves: 4 to 6

  • 1/2 cup raw quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1/2 medium green bell pepper, finely diced
  • 15- to 16-ounce can pinto or red beans,
    drained, rinsed, and coarsely mashed (or 1 1/2 cups cooked)
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 medium tomato, finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 teaspoon agave nectar or natural granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder, or more, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro, plus more for topping, optional
  • Shredded lettuce, baby spinach leaves, or green sprouts
  • 6 whole grain rolls, English muffins, or mini-pitas

Combine the quinoa with 1 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a slow boil, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer until the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add the bell pepper and sauté until both are golden.

Add the remaining ingredients except the last two, and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook over medium-low heat, loosely covered, for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let the skillet stand off the heat for 5 minutes to allow the flavors to mingle further and for the quinoa to absorb the tomatoey flavors.

For each serving, spoon some of the filling onto the bottoms of whole-grain rolls and cover with the tops. Or, you can serve these open-faced.

a gift idea

For the new year, a mental and emotional housecleaning with the aid of recapitulation.  Who’s on board?

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Sally Kempton, author of Meditation for the Love of It, introduced me to a new topic, recapitulation. It is a lovely combination of reflection at year’s end and a mental and emotional housecleaning.  Recapitulation is a ritual of release in which the practitioner writes down his or her emotionally charged events over the past year and releases them.

This practice offers us a chance to sweep out some of those imprints, or samskaras, that have been left in our subconscious.  Whether or not we realize they are hanging around… they are.  Have you ever noticed a reaction you have over and over (and over) to a certain situation? Or, a recurring thought pattern summoned after doing something you feel you “shouldn’t have.”  Those are well imprinted samskaras.

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Once we begin or continue the process of letting go and releasing that which no longer serves us,  we are clearing room for the new.  It is the mental equivalent of getting rid of junk we’ve kept in our house or the garage for years.  By cleaning out old habits and thought patterns, our new intentions and goals may become clearer for the upcoming year; as well as, I’d argue, easier to reach.

In her article, Sally describes the process of recapitulation in four steps, “recalling a charged event, bringing it to consciousness, feeling remorse if appropriate, and then letting it go.”  I used a simple, modified version of what she recommends for this exercise.  From a place of general acceptance, I 1) wrote down my most charged events over the last twelve months, and 2) next to each event, off to the side, I wrote its corresponding feeling or emotion. I found my most emotionally charged events brought up feelings of shame, frustration, anxiety, anger, and fear.  3) I then spent a few minutes setting an intention to change my reactions and do my best if confronted with the same or a similar situation in the future.  Finally, 4) I mindfully cut up and disposed of my sheet of paper repeating a few times as Sally recommends, “May these negative events, feelings, and actions dissolve.”

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Try not to become overwhelmed with the idea of recalling the year’s emotional events.  In other words, try not to over analyze this process.  My sense for this practice is letting those charged events pop into conscious memory when asked and write them down. Then, review the list with the intention of doing what we can differently if we find ourselves in a similar situation.  Finally, letting it all dissolve by disposing of the list.  It can be burned in a fire or torn up.  Most importantly it is an act of release, not a malicious intent of ripping up what we do not want.  Rather, it is a gentle goodbye to that which no longer serves us.

Sally goes on to describe in the article how brain science explains that when we want to change it is important to, “consciously create a different neural pathway.”  The act of recapitulation helps us create different neural pathways because it is a way of physically doing something that demonstrates our desire to change.

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I see this process as one of the best gifts we can give ourselves.  A shot at unloading some old baggage and freeing us up to function in healthier ways.  It doesn’t cost anything.  And, it is something we will most likely benefit from for the rest of our lives.

perspective

Perspectives can be skewed in life. They can be skewed by what another person has told us.  They can be skewed by our own frame of reference, worldview, and sets of beliefs with which we were raised.

One’s perspective and mental constructs seem to go hand in hand.  As humans, we form associations in memory and develop mental constructs around those associations. For example, many of us have probably developed over the years a mental construct of happiness. We believe, whether consciously or subconsciously,  we will only be happy in life if certain things happen. Therefore, we will most likely conduct our life accordingly to fit within those parameters, to the extent we can control it.  In other words, those mental constructs can control our actions and reactions.

What would it be like to live outside of those parameters we’ve set for ourselves?  Or, at least get a glimpse of what it could be like to live outside of one of the constructs each of us has created for ourselves.  Freeing?  Liberating?  I think so.

Most of us may also have some type of mental construct that defines for us what makes a good meal.  The meal below may seem a bit simple and peasant-ish or it could be viewed as a satisfying, hearty meal.

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Inspired by Sarah at In Praise of Leftovers, I put together this meal, tweaked things with what I happened to have on hand.  I thought the outcome was worthy of a spot on the dinner table.

The mashing of the beans combined with broth creates a sauce.  The spiced up sour cream provides a nice, cool counterpoint to the texture of the meal.  A squeeze of fresh lime juice adds a good dose of tart.

Below is a loose recipe.  Adjust the ingredients to your taste.  If you like more bean sauce and less rice, mash another can of beans.  Sounds very un -glamorous, I know.

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Sweet Potatoes, Black Beans and Rice

Serves 3 – 4

4 sweet potatoes, rinsed and sliced
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 c. (uncooked) brown rice, prepare according to package directions, set aside
1/2 c. plus more to taste, chicken or vegetable broth
1 T. + a pinch, chili powder
1 T. + a pinch, paprika
1/4 c. sour cream 
salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil 
lime, sliced, optional 

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2.  Prepare the brown rice according to the package directions.  Set aside.

2.  While the brown rice is cooking, rinse and scrub the sweet potatoes.  Slice them into half – moons.  Pile them onto a cookie sheet.  Drizzle extra virgin olive oil, about 2 – 3 T., over the potatoes.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Toss the mixture until potatoes are evenly coated.  Spread out on cookie sheet until evenly distributed.  Roast in oven 30 minutes or until fork tender.

3,  Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat add the rinsed and drained black beans, 1/2 c. broth, 1 T. each chili powder and paprika.  Fresh ground black pepper to taste.  Stir to combine.  Crush the beans into a soft pulp with a fork or a potato masher.  Once heated through, turn bean mixture to low.  Add additional broth if desired.

4.  Combine the sour cream with a pinch of chili powder and paprika.

5.  Serve the bean mixture ladled over the rice.  Top with sweet potatoes and a dollop of the sour cream mixture.  Add a good squeeze of lime, if desired.

craft in different mediums

Recently, my husband and I saw Hilary Hahn perform.  She was accompanied by pianist, Valentina Lisitsa.  The performance was wonderful.  It left me thinking, can artistry such as that be translated into food?  I think so.  If so, what would it look like?  Possibly a souffle or a panade?  Surely the dish would need a good dose of sophistication, a sprinkle of playfulness, and bring a pleasurable smile to those who eat it.

The craft of making music, seems to me to be light and airy.  Perhaps a dish that is not too heavy, but yet feeds the spirit as well as nourishes the body, would fit the bill.

The making of music is much like any other craft, if one fine tunes and hones the skill, it can create much needed beauty in an otherwise troubled world.  Just as a flower growing through a crack in a sidewalk seems to soften the hardness of the concrete, so too can craft diminish the sufferings of life.

Well then, I think a panade.

Zuni Cafe's Onion and Chard Panade

I was first introduced to this dish through Luisa Weiss.  (Thank you, Luisa!) The panade pictured above is layers of cheese, carmelized onion, chard and bread, as I was assembling it, before it was baked.   I decided to try the recipe Luisa has on her site from Zuni Cafe’s Cookbook.

After reading through the recipe, at first blush one thinks of peasant food made king-ish. (No, king-ish is not a word.  But, it fits.)  This is the type of thing that is fun to make and to eat.  Baked until bubbly and golden brown, it shows well.

There seems to be a bit of confusion in the food world about what exactly is a panade.  In researching this topic, the conclusion I came to is that a panade can be one of two things:  a paste used to bind ingredients or a dish that is something like a gratin.  The latter is probably why, in part, I was drawn to it.  I am a succer for anything casserole-like.

I will say that if you are more of a get in the kitchen and get it done cook, this is not the dish for you.  This is to be made when one has a desire to be in the kitchen for awhile.  The recipe below is verbatim from Zuni Café.  When I made it, I used two pounds of chard rather than one.

Chard and Onion Panade

1 1/2 pounds thinly sliced yellow onions
Up to 1/2 cup mild-tasting olive oil
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Salt
1 pound Swiss chard (thick ribs removed), cut into 1-inch-wide ribbons
10 ounces day-old chewy peasant-style bread cut into rough 1-inch cubes
Up to 4 cups chicken stock
6 ounces Gruyère, coarsely grated

1. Place the onions in a deep 4-quart saucepan and drizzle and toss with oil to coat, about 1/4 cup. Set over medium-high heat and, shimmying the pan occasionally, cook until the bottom layer of onions is slightly golden around the edges, about 3 minutes. Stir and repeat.

2. Once the second layer of onions has colored, reduce the heat to low and stir in the garlic and a few pinches of salt. Stew, stirring occasionally, until the onions are a pale amber color and tender but not mushy, another 20 minutes or so. If at any point the onions look as if they may dry out, cover them to trap some of the moisture in the pan. Taste for salt. You should get about 2 1/4 cups cooked onions.

3. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees (or as low as 250 degrees, if it suits your schedule to stretch the cooking time from about 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours 45 minutes; the slower the bake, the more unctuous and mellow the results).

4. Wilt prepared chard in batches: Place a few handfuls of leaves in a 3-quart saute pan or a 10-to 12-inch skillet with a drizzle of oil, a sprinkling of water (if you’ve just washed the chard, it may have enough on the leaves), and a few pinches of salt. Set the pan over medium heat until the water begins to steam, then reduce the heat and stir and fold leaves until they are just wilted, 3 to 4 minutes. Leaves should be uniformly bright green, the white veins pliable (the veins will blacken later if they are not heated through). Taste. The chard may be slightly metallic-tasting at this point, but make sure it’s salted to your taste. Set aside.

5. Toss and massage the cubed bread with a few tablespoons of olive oil, a generous 1/4 cup of the stock and a few pinches of salt, to taste.

6. Choose a flameproof, 3-quart souffle dish or enameled cast-iron Dutch oven. Assemble the panade in layers, starting with a generous smear of onions, followed by a loose mosaic of bread cubes, a second layer of onions, a wrinkled blanket of chard, and a handful of the cheese. Repeat, starting with bread, the onions and so on, until the dish is brimming. Aim for 2 to 3 layers of each component, then make sure the top layer displays a little of everything. Irregularity in the layers makes the final product more interesting and lovely. Drizzle with any remaining olive oil.

7. Bring the remaining 3 3/4 cups stock to a simmer and taste for salt. Add stock slowly, in doses, around the edge of the dish. For a very juicy, soft panade, best served on its own, like a soup or risotto, add stock nearly to the rim; for a firm but succulent panade, nice as a side dish, fill to about 1 inch below the rim. Wait a minute for stock to be absorbed, then add more to return to the desired depth. The panade may rise a little as the bread swells.

8. Set panade over low heat and bring to a simmer; look for bubbles around the edges (heating it here saves at least 30 minutes of oven time; it also means every panade you bake starts at the same temperature, so you can better predict total cooking times). Cover the top of the panade with parchment paper, then very loosely wrap the top and sides with foil. Place a separate sheet of foil under the panade or on the rack below it, to catch drips.

9. Bake until the panade is piping hot and bubbly. It will rise a little, lifting the foil with it. The top should be pale golden in the center and slightly darker on the edges. This usually takes about 1 1/2 hours, but varies according to shape and material of baking dish and oven. (You can hold the panade for another hour or so; just reduce the temperature to 275 degrees until 20 minutes before serving.)

10. Uncover panade, raise temperature to 375 degrees, and leave until golden brown on top, 10 to 20 minutes. (If you aren’t quite ready when your panade is, re-tent the surface with parchment and foil and reduce the heat to 275 degrees. You can hold it another half hour this way without it overbrowning or drying out.) Slide a knife down the side of the dish and check the consistency of the panade. Beneath the crust, it should be very satiny and it should ooze liquid as you press against it with the blade of the knife. If it seems dry, add a few tablespoons simmering chicken stock and bake for 10 minutes longer.