swimming with vulnerability

Sign

Image courtesy of Abigail Lenz

It sneaks up on me unannounced.  I imagine it to be a swirl of blue color, shades of the ocean, weaving, flowing like a silk scarf moving noiselessly through day and time in and out of rooms as it follows me around the house.  Eventually it catches me and settles in at quite unexpected times.  I imagine it brings a thermos of hot coffee and a snack as if to say, “Hey, I’ll be here for awhile.”  Doggedly I recognize it and turn my attention to other things only to find it waving to me from across the room.  I turn my attention to feeding my dogs and making dinner.  It is still there.  I turn my attention to taking out the trash and recycling.  It is still constantly, slowly moving around me.  The thick consistency of its movement tells me it is not going anywhere. I know this.  

The It, is vulnerability.  Vulnerability looks like the sign in the picture above.  A sign on which all manners of various locations and directions are posted indicating different routes (or journeys) we can take in life.  Note the top arrow in the picture says, “Go Fish.” Yep.  Such is vulnerability.

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Image taken at Shadowood Farm 

I’ve noticed this feeling tends to swoop into my life when one of the following two things happen:

1) When I am grasping for something to be as it was. So, maybe that “something” was a particularly fun weekend spent with my husband or seeing all three of my dogs swim and play at the beach with an incredible amount of free spirit.  Not that these things cannot happen again, they will.  But, vulnerability, for me, tends to blossom out of my desire to stop time.  To grasp, reach, and keep a particular situation as it is all the while knowing this is not the way things work, nor should they.  

2) The second way in which vulnerability leans the most heavily on me is when I am feeling purposeless.  For me, lack of purpose feels like what I am doing does not matter or does not make a difference in the big picture of life.  

When I find myself in one of these two situations, I try to swim in its essence.  Swim in the essence of vulnerability.  It is the equivalent of Rumi coaching us to welcome all of our emotions to the table.  However, I envision myself literally swimming surrounded by the essence of vulnerability.  Surrounded by what vulnerability means to me at its very core.  In other words, I cannot let myself sugar coat how deeply this emotion can cut.  That is only skimming the surface.  

While sitting in meditation, I can let this blue emotion settle around me, engulf me. (By engulfed, I mean I am fully present – or try to be- and aware of this feeling.) Then, and only then, am I able to pick myself up, dust myself off, and get on with life.  If I try to cut corners and, say, welcome it with a wave and a hello, it visits me again relatively quickly.  If I try to turn my attention to other things (I have a lot of experience with this!), as I mentioned, it noiselessly, gently follows me.  It goes without saying, I need a lot of practice, most likely a lifetime of practice with this emotion.  

Meditation can get us through and help us with many things in life.  Vulnerability tends to be one of my more difficult feelings to deal with.  My energy and thoughts are inclined to gather around and stick to this feeling more easily than others.  If you have a particularly difficult emotion, maybe give sitting with it in meditation a try, or pick a less powerful feeling to begin with if you are new to the practice.  Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche teaches meditators to be fully present and aware of these emotions while not identifying with them.  Rather, as these significant feelings come up, we will watch them pass through our field of awareness, as Rinpoche teaches, just like clouds pass through the sky.  

 

beauty and blight

Week nine in our garden has brought beauty and blight.  The beauty is seen in the photo below of the left side of our garden. Plants look healthy, green, and vibrant. Hidden from this photo are the two squash plants I removed that succumbed to fungus. Typical of south Florida gardening especially when heat and humidity hang on into the growing season.  Blight (an airborne bacteria that destroys plants) is beginning to take over the tomato plants so carefully grown from seed.  The photo on the right shows a young tomato plant in the foreground I began with a starter plant in the early weeks of planting.

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Growing season begins around October 1st in this climate zone.  The garden started slowly in the first few weeks while I planted seeds and starter plants.  While there are fungal issues and blight spreading, that does not detract from the many vegetables that are growing well.  Scallions, lettuces, kale photo copy 4, cucumbers, radishes, carrots, beets, and romanesco, to name a few, are growing well.  (Resembling cauliflower, romanesco is an edible flower and part of the cruciferous family.)  

Planted yesterday, the carrot seeds will start to show bright, frothy tops in about four weeks.  The photo on the lower right shows carrots started from seed after five weeks.  

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 Below is a photo of one of our prettiest plants beginning to bear fruit.  

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It is a large, gangly tomato plant standing around six to seven feet tall at its highest point.  We’ll see if it survives the blight.  I suspect it will.  

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If you have vegetables sitting in your crisper and are not sure what to do with them, try sautéing them lightly in olive oil, add salt and pepper to taste, maybe a squeeze of lemon and a small pinch of red pepper flakes for heat.  If root vegetables are on hand, try roasting them.  Cutting each vegetable into roughly the same size, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper on a large baking sheet.  Roast until tender in an oven 350 to 400 degrees.  Roasted vegetables can easily be made into a comforting soup.  Blend the roasted veggies with a little broth.  Season to taste.  Make it a meal and garnish with croutons, drizzle with oil.

Any meal preparation can be done with mindfulness, no matter how simple or how complicated.  Try breathing diaphragmatically (deeply into the belly.)  Our breath is a gateway to mindfulness.  

 

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. 

 

 

where the butterfly flew

 
 

Black sooty mold covering much of our property on the north side of our house results in anger?  Well, yes.  Or, maybe. Wait a minute, I am not so sure.  But, I am sure that anger wraps itself around a victim and squeezes tightly.  (As it did to me for a few days.) It is the python of human emotions.

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While I was finishing cutting off numerous palm fronds and tree branches sticky with a white, sugary substance (called honeydew) and slick with black sooty mold the rugose spiraling whitefly leaves behind, again I contemplated this anger I had. Really?  Could I really be this angry at a whitefly (even if the South Florida press does call it an insect tsunami) that is feeding on much of our landscaping? At its root, the anger seemed misguided. But, surely there must be somewhere or something to whom, at whom, I can point the finger for this grave injustice.

 

Meanwhile, this anger found me outside cutting back foliage surrounded by the tiny white creature flying about madly as I removed their food source.  Spontaneously, I found myself asking the flies (while swatting them away from my head) if we could find a peaceful way to coexist.  Say, possibly, a bit of a more balanced approach than black soot covering the north side of our property.  Then, just as quickly and without conscious thought, I asked myself if I could find a bit of a more balanced approach when dealing with myself.  Without making this too confusing, in other words, I discovered I was angry at myself.

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As soon as I had made that realization, everything softened.  It all kinda drooped into a deflated acceptance.  As the anger with myself melted, I was no longer angry with mother nature.  Annoyed, perhaps, at still having to deal with this new insect wanting to feed on many of our plants, but the anger that squeezes tightly was gone.

I continued working, yet the work was different.  Yes, I still needed to remove the heavily infested fronds from one plant in particular.  But, I now did so at a slower pace.  I, once again, tuned into what was going on in nature around me.  (While in my angry state, I was just whacking away at fronds not available emotionally to listen to the wind or the birds.) As I was finishing up, a large black and yellow butterfly came to rest on our viburnum hedge an arm’s length from me.  It rested for a beat or two – longer than I’ve witnessed before.  It seemed to be acknowledging my acceptance of anger at myself.  At the same time, I acknowledged the presence of peace.

Here is a summery creamy dressing to use on salads, stir into grains, or as a sandwich spread.
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Creamy Avocado Dressing
Megan Gordon’s recipe


1 ripe avocado, pitted and peeled
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup Greek yogurt

Combine all ingredients except for the yogurt in a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Process until smooth.  Add yogurt.  Give it one more whirl or two to combine. Taste and adjust for salt.

 
 

informing our behavior

Like a blinking yellow light pulsing hypnotically on a stop light, our storylines hum through our minds continuously informing our behavior and our way of being in the world.  Living without gently tapping into that tape, or storyline, is akin to walking around with heavy chains wrapped around our waists.  The chains drag us down and keep us in familiarity.  Yet, we are human.  The familiar tapes playing in our minds are a part of each of us.

By nature, we are drawn to familiarity and routine.  Much of what we do routinely is life giving.  A habit of waking at 6:30 a.m., going for a jog, and eating a healthy breakfast; or, rising early to sit quietly either meditating, praying, or simply centering before the day begins, are all life giving activities.  However, when we have a sense that our habits or routines are not conducive to our overall well-being, or when they are no longer serving us, possibly it is time to simply observe and become aware of what our storylines are saying.

For example, heeding my aversion to writing is not in my best interest;  nor, I would argue, in the best interest of those around me.  (The process of writing does something for me that makes me a happier person if I engage in the act.  So, I can be a more pleasant person to be around if I have written on a given day.)  Though I am drawn to writing, I am disinclined to do it.  So, I can easily hypnotically avoid it.  Drawing awareness to this aversion has helped. As with many areas of my life, I’ve allowed the hum of my tape to direct my behavior.  As I’ve mentioned before, it is when I sit down to write that many of my storylines come home to roost.
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Barging in the front door and taking their places at the table without even a thoughtful knock, each of them tries to outdo the other to be heard.  With an offbeat party favor in hand, some of them wave the red flags that I must be handing out as they enter yelling “pick me! pick me! I’ll tell you how you feel about writing,” as they sit at the dining room table each wanting a chance to speak.  My usual is to let them all speak at once. One of them quips “you can’t do this, you can’t write.”  Or, “this is too hard.  It is not worth the time.”  Followed up by the guest with the biggest flag sitting in the center seat, “whoa… good thing you don’t need to earn a living being a writer because no one would have food to eat!”

While I am fully aware of my complicity, I feel powerless at times.  Powerless when I buy into what they are saying.  Again and again they tell me who I am.  They define me.  They guide my decisions.  And, I listen.  But, we are not powerless.  I think each of us knows this.

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While it is normal that I’ve not (yet) created another pathway for those well-grooved thoughts slipping seamlessly through my neural pathways, if I decide to stop writing that day because of those thoughts, I have listened to what they have to say and taken their advice.  My error is not in listening to them, (although there are varying opinions on this), my error comes when I act based on what the storylines are saying.

 

I heed Rumi’s advice.  I believe all emotions, thoughts, and feelings deserve time on the playing field of our minds.  In other words, they should not be dismissively pushed away or repressed because this can result in making them stronger.  Those that are recurring purely based on emotion (not steeped in reality), or those that are simply ruminating thoughts should be acknowledged, then set aside or transcended so that our actions or reactions are not based on thoughts that do not serve us.

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I share my powerless feelings and negative thoughts for two reasons:  1) There is liberation after awareness.  And, 2) negative low-humming tapes can be difficult to detect.  Usually we have to get really quiet and listen.  My desire is that possibly, by reading this, you have a sense that you are not crazy or abnormal if you have a bunch of negative thoughts running through your head.  It has been my experience that is quite normal and widespread.  It is simply part and parcel of being human.  And, my hope is we (I) keep in mind there is liberation after awareness of the negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions.  The chains do loosen and can be removed.  We can stop watching the yellow light blinking at the stop light.

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Freedom from storylines can come in many forms. Years ago my desire to cook and bake was stymied by the thoughts and emotions I experienced while in the kitchen.  (They directed my behavior.) Among other things, the low hum moving through my mind said I should expect perfection with anything I made.  Coupled with my thoughts, my emotions while in the kitchen seemed almost insurmountable.  I would instantly (seemingly instantly, there are small gaps between thought, feeling, and behavior) become frustrated, anxious, and irritable when making much more than toast or oatmeal.

 

But, as I mention in my “About” page, I had the feeling that somewhere between the frustration and irritability was a lesson I needed to learn.  A lesson I wanted to learn.  Now, I no longer carry those negative thoughts into the kitchen with me. I did it by getting quiet and listening, really listening to the storyline that played when I entered the kitchen.  I developed an awareness of what my mind was telling me.  I then challenged those thoughts based on reality.

What would it be like to live with a more direct experience of reality?  What would it be like to quiet, even if only for a breath or two, the continual tape that runs through our minds? What happens when we bring awareness into our daily lives?  When we bring awareness into our daily lives, the storylines quiet, the blinking yellow light has less control over our behavior, and we experience reality more directly.

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I frequently make what I think of as everyday cakes.  My definition of an everyday cake is that it uses very little or no sugar, no butter, and it has a substantial fruit or vegetable component. This banana cake adapted from Green Kitchen Stories meets those criteria.   It is loaded with flavor and it is healthy.

 

Baker’s Notes:  Although this is a gluten free cake, for those of you who would rather bake with wheat flour, a combination of whole wheat, whole wheat pastry flour, and/or white whole wheat flours would do very well.

 

Vegan and Gluten Free Banana Cake 

  • 1 cup brown rice flour (or superfine brown rice flour)
  • 1 cup quinoa flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • big pinch of salt
  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed, set aside
  • 1 cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • 1/2 cup soymilk (unsweetened)
  • 3 T olive oil
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup seeds or nuts, chopped, if necessary (I used raw pumpkin seeds)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Grease and flour a 10″x4″ loaf pan or a 9″ round cake pan. Set aside.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour through salt.
  3. In a small bowl, mash the bananas with a fork or potato masher, then add apple sauce, milk, vanilla, and nuts. Stir to combine.  Combine the wet ingredients with the dry.
  4. Pour into prepared baking dish. Baking times will vary according to the size pan chosen.  About 50 minutes to 1  hour for the loaf pan and 35 – 40 minutes for the 9″ round cake pan.   Check for doneness with a toothpick inserted in the center.  The cake will develop a slight golden brown color around the edges.  Once baked, cool on a wire rack before turning out.  Ready to serve once cooled.  Store the remainder in fridge.
 
 
 

to tend or to dog paddle

I am dog paddling.  A softer way to put it may be to say I am running in place. Either way, I can attribute it to two things when I start to feel like this:

1) Charged emotion is present.

2) Most likely, fear is involved.

As I mentioned in December’s post, identifying charged events can be helpful in releasing some of the power within them.  Similarly, identifying the charged emotion(s) beneath those events is also helpful in loosening up the stronghold emotion sometimes seems to have in our lives.

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Of course, emotions are a part of being human.  Though some may be more difficult than others to handle, both positive and negative emotions can lead us to areas of our life that may need a little tending, if you will.  They need a little care and thought.

I’ve come to think of those aspects of my life simply as being a bit neglected.  Neglected because unprocessed emotions will typically stick around.  And, they are, in effect, neglected because had they been tended to they most likely wouldn’t be sticking around weighing on us, causing us to repeat behavior patterns that we just can’t seem to shake.

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I very well may be making this too simplistic, but I think of a main character in a children’s book, a girl about eight years old.  Perhaps this little girl is a sullen friendless child moping around from day to day.  She sees other children playing outside and gets very angry that she does not have a friend.  She experiences jealousy while peering out her bedroom window at the trio of girls playing hopscotch in front of her home.  This goes on for months.

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But, soon she begins to venture out of her home.  She introduces herself to the group of hopscotcher’s and befriends them.

This little girl was running in place as she moped around from day to day in her home.  She was feeling charged emotion and, possibly, fear was present.  Acknowledging the desire for change, she stepped outside to introduce herself to the group of girls playing outside her home.  Now, she no longer feels anger or jealousy when she sees a group of kids playing together.  She (inadvertently) tended to her emotions.   Seeing the same situation now draws a different response from her.

We too can dissolve tightly held emotions around certain situations in our lives and begin to experience the same situations differently.  Where charged emotion is present if we bring time and attention to it, rather then busy ourselves with whatever method we use for distraction, it may loosen up and begin to dissolve.  The edges of those emotions may begin to soften.

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A friend of mine often reminds me to look under and around emotion.  To soften, loosen up, and eventually dissolve strong emotional reactions, we may ask ourselves what underlies a particular event or situation?  If we are angry, why are we angry?  Might fear be hiding under that anger?  If it is fear, what are we afraid of and is it a realistic fear?

These are just some simple ways to address charged emotion in our lives.  I know I have areas in my life I’d like to tend to a bit more.  If I can, I’ll gently bring time and attention to them.  Maybe, then, the future will find me dog paddling just a little bit less.

Some of my favorite dishes lately have involved curry, coconut milk, and coconut oil.  I found combining many of these traditional curry elements with sweet potatoes, quinoa, and black beans makes for an enjoyable, substantial meal.  The potatoes lend sweetness, the curry is pleasantly pungent, and the quinoa soaks up all of the flavors of the sauce.

Black Bean, Quinoa, and Sweet Potato Curry

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, rinsed, cut into bite-sized pieces, and roasted
  • 1 c. quinoa (white or “regular”), rinsed, cooked according to package directions, set aside
  • 1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed, drained, set aside
  • 1 15 oz. can pinto beans, rinsed, drained, set aside
  • 2 T. coconut oil
  • 1 thick slice (about 1/2″ thick) yellow or sweet onion, diced
  • 2 scallions, rinsed, diced, reserving a handful of green tops for garnish, if desired
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1″ knob fresh ginger, skin removed, minced or 1 T. jarred minced ginger
  • 1/2 c. full-fat coconut milk, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 c. dry white wine or good quality *vegetable broth
  • 1 T. curry powder
  • 1 1/2 t. turmeric
  • 1/2 t. coriander
  • salt

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Clean and cut the sweet potatoes (leaving the skin on) into bite-size pieces.  On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the sweet potatoes with salt, pepper, and extra virgin olive oil.  Bake until they are fork tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the quinoa according to the package directions.  Cook until the translucent ring around the seed becomes visible, about 15 minutes.  Set aside.

In a large skillet, add 2 T. coconut oil, warm gently over medium heat, add onion and scallions with a pinch of salt, cook until soft, 3 – 5 min.

Add the spices, stirring constantly until fragrant, about one minute.  Add the garlic and ginger stirring constantly until fragrant, about one minute.

Add the wine or broth.  Deglaze the pan and stir to incorporate the ingredients.  Add the coconut milk, black beans, 1/2 of the cooked quinoa, and a pinch of salt.  Stir and warm through for a few minutes.

Add the roasted sweet potatoes and the pinto beans to desired bean to grain ratio (I used almost all of the pintos.) If desired, add more quinoa.  Taste and adjust seasonings. Add more coconut milk for a looser consistency.

Once warmed through, about 3 – 5 minutes, serve.  To reheat, add a splash or two of coconut milk before warming.

Serves 2 – 3 generously.

coaxing the unfamiliar into the familiar

There is a tree I can see from my backyard.  Its showy blossoms are as pink as a newborn baby girl’s knit cap.  Having withstood many hurricanes, it stands solidly upright.  This tree with its solidity, showiness, and color stands in the background behind unsightly power lines.  It is not in anyone’s front yard.  It is not showcased along the road. It is in a neighbor’s side yard surrounded by scrub, weeds, and grass.  One has to look to see it.

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Could this be so with our true selves?  I think so.  Our true selves typically do not stand in the foreground or showcase themselves in our lives.  They sit in the background.  Guiding us when we allow it.  Our true selves are showy in their own way, but not outwardly so.  They are showy in their steadfast, solid natures that we will experience if we choose to get to know them.

Recently driving from Florida to South Carolina, I had an uneasy feeling.  Not knowing what it was and not having a desire to define it at that moment, I wrote down on the back of a receipt the thought that was bumping around in my head, “Can I make the unfamiliar, familiar?”

Over the course of a week, before returning home, I kept coming back to that question.  I wasn’t focused on it.  It was simply something that would pop into my mind while I was doing other things.  I did think at the time that I wanted to do whatever this feeling was telling me.  But, I didn’t know what the feeling was.  It was a little bit like sitting down in a restaurant and opening a menu that is four pages long and having no idea what you want to eat.  Although you are hungry, nothing sounds good.   

Just as the diner hopes something eventually appeals to her to eat, I was hoping something would ring true for whatever this thing was that was tugging at me.  On the return trip from South Carolina to Florida, I asked myself a couple questions.  Was my desire to become more adaptable in relatively unfamiliar territory – that which is outside of my hometown?  That didn’t strike a chord with me.  I thought about it and shrugged my shoulders.  Or, was it a deeper question?  Do I want more familiarity with myself?  Do I want to be able to access my steadfast, solid nature that emanantes from our true selves more readily?  The bell sounded, ding-ding-ding!   (If anyone has a more convincing way of writing the sound of a bell, please let me know.)  That thought rang true.  Well, ok, so the bell is sounding.  What do I do now? Sure, meditation is always an option and a great one at that.  It brings us home to ourselves.  But, what else can we do?

The day after I returned home to Florida from South Carolina, I attended a yoga conference called “Yoga of the Subtle Body,” given by Christopher Baxter based on the teachings of Tsoknyi Rinpoche and a book he has written, Open Heart, Open Mind.  In short, the conference was about understanding our subtle bodies and their influences on our thoughts, actions, and emotions.  At the end of the workshop, Mr. Baxter introduced us to Vase Breathing.  (The “vase” is the area about two inches below the navel.)   By breathing into this space, it gives the practitioner a sense of coming home (ding-ding-ding!) and introduces us to our now (becoming) more familiar steadfast selves.  

So, maybe in the near future look for that solid, steadfast tree that has been standing tall for decades.  And, maybe take a few minutes to breath into the area just below your navel.   While doing so, notice if you have a sensation of solidity and coming home.  Notice if you begin to feel a little more familiar with yourself.

If we are lucky diners, baked pumpkin steel cut oatmeal will be on the menu.  This is a delicious breakfast treat that can be made the night before and eaten throughout the week.  Another one of Faith’s great ideas, the chewy oats combined with creamy pumpkin and spices make this a fun way to liven up an oatmeal breakfast.  (The only changes I’ve made when making this dish were to increase the spices a tad and sub soymilk for dairy, neither of which are reflected below.)

Baked Pumpkin Steel Cut Oatmeal

recipe adapted from Faith Durand at The Kitchn
serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 1/2 cups steel cut oats
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups milk
2 1/2 cups warm water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt

  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a large oven-proof saucepan with lid or Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium-high heat.  Add the oats and toast them, stirring frequently.  Adjusting the heat as necessary.
  2. Push the oats over to the side of the pan, and add the second tablespoon of butter in the cleared area of the pan. Add the pumpkin, sugar, and spices cooking the rawness out of the pumpkin about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir frequently.
  3. Add the milk.  Stir to combine.  Add the water, vanilla and salt.  Stir to combine.
  4. Put a lid on the pan and bake for about 35 minutes.  (Be very careful when removing lid.  Steam burns!)  Stir the oatmeal. It will thicken as it cools. Serve immediately or refrigerate for the week ahead.

 

spaciousness or slurry

Recently, I was grooming our two pups.  We were outside.  It was at least 90 degrees with 85% humidity.  Mosquitoes were using us as their breakfast.  Ollie was wiggling.  Simon wanted nothing to do with any kind of grooming tool being placed on his body.  Hair, sweat, and fur were combined in a slurry on my face.  (Oh yeah, there may have also been some blood in the slurry due to the mosquito that bit me on the forehead.)

Did I have a feeling of spaciousness in these moments?  Ah, no.  In fact, I didn’t have a feeling of anything other than… oh my goodness, let’s get this done!  Between those thoughts and trying to keep the fur out of my mouth, I became sucked into the process.  I did not maintain presence of mind; and, I didn’t realize it until I got them both inside and got myself cleaned up.  Isn’t that how living in today’s world is?  Modern society sucks us into it’s process of being.  And, dare I say, we allow it to happen.

Well, ok. So this is not new news.  Modern life is busy.  But, how do we deal with it in relation to spaciousness?  Do our minds have an openness such that we can rest in the midst of everything?  What about our ability (my dwindling ability) to reside on an open platform with fewer encumbrances? Don’t we want that?

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When I think of spaciousness, I see myself physically pushing away life’s stuff.  Gently clearing a room with one sweep of the arm.  Why?  Because the external qualities of openness to me look and feel like an empty room with beautifully colored walls and gracefully arched doorways.  (To another, it may be the vastness of a mountain range.)  It is inviting. It draws me in. It’s space is silent.  It has no expectations.  It has no agenda. It is just there, open and waiting.

 

The internal qualities of spaciousness are quite similar.  Within this space, the fluctuations of our minds are calmed.  We drop our discordant selves.  The mind rests.  Even if only for a moment or two, it rests.  My sense for it is during that pause, we become suspended in awareness.  Simple momentary awareness.

 

How do we hit the pause button in everyday life?  Try sitting quietly for a few minutes each day and breathe.  We may notice our breath or the airplane that is flying overhead.  Notice and breathe.  This gracious space awaits all of us and is always accessible.  I’ll keep trying.  I’ll keep trying to bring my mind back to a resting place for a breath or two, choosing a little bit of spaciousness over slurry.

 
 

Before we reach enlightenment, we need to eat.  Below are a few ideas for a meal and side dishes followed by a recipe for Fig + Date Bread:

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Laura Calder introduced me to the idea that cauliflower, sliced olives, and julienne cut sun-dried tomatoes are a very nice combination indeed.

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Inspired by Giada DeLaurentiis, I made a dish combining cooked lentils and rice, corn, sun-dried tomatoes, onions, celery, carrot, garlic, topped with tomato slices, italian style panko bread crumbs and cheese.  In the oven at 350° for about 20 – 30 minutes melds the flavors and bakes the top layer of tomatoes and cheese.  

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My twist on a  raw mushroom salad.  It may not be for everyone, but if you like mushrooms it is interesting to try.  Thinly sliced mushrooms and green summer squash, tossed with a vinaigrette of lemon juice and zest, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Finish the salad with chopped parsley. 

Fig + Date Bread 

I was trolling Heidi Swanson’s site and came upon a recipe by Melissa Clark, Lemony Olive Oil Banana Bread.  The bread looked wonderful.  It had huge chunks of chocolate, lots of bananas, and a glaze.  But, I wanted something different.  I love sweetening foods with dates lately, and I had figs in the frig.  So, I adapted Melissa’s recipe…

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Fig + Date Bread 

8 oz., fresh mission figs, rinsed, stems removed, and quartered, set aside

10 dried and pitted dates, thinly sliced, set aside

1 ripe banana, mashed, set aside

Dry Ingredients

2 c. whole wheat flour (spelt flour would also work well)

1/2 c. brown sugar

3/4 t. baking soda

pinch of salt

Wet Ingredients 

2 eggs

1/2 c. low-fat plain yogurt

1/3 c. vegetable or canola oil

1 T. lemon juice, (juice from 1/2 lemon)

zest of one lemon

1 t. vanilla

Instructions 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350º.  Butter a standard size loaf pan.  Set aside.  Prepare banana, dates, and figs.  Set aside.
  2. Combine and mix dry ingredients.
  3. Combine and mix wet ingredients.  Add the mashed banana to the wet. Mix well.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir just until combined.  Gently fold in the dates and figs.
  5. Pour batter into the prepared loaf pan.  Bake 40 – 50 minutes or until loaf becomes golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let loaf rest on a wire rack 15 minutes before turning out.

feeling guilty?

I volunteer at a preschool reading to a group of children.  Lately, I haven’t been enjoying it.  When I say lately, I mean for the past year.  (Yes, I know. I am a fast reactor.) But, I feel like I should continue to do it.  I’d feel guilty if I stop.  My husband says that is classic liberal guilt.  I don’t know what to call it.

I suspected a negative thought pattern lurking in this situation.  Although, as I understand it, some rational forms of guilt are healthy.  It can drive our desire to empathize with others.  It helps us keep ourselves in check, such as when your spouse is outside in the 95 degree heat pulling grass out of a planting bed that had grown into it from the lawn.  He shouldn’t really be the only one doing that, should he?

But, irrational thinking leading to guilt is something we’d do better dispelling. In many instances our guilt is driven by something conditioned in us.  And, typically, it is attached to judgment.  In the case of the preschool, I am judging myself.

So, out of my July activity jar, amidst the “figure out how to preserve mangos,” and “attend yoga class,”  I pulled, “how to dispel guilt.” Hmmm.  How did I get so lucky?

I started with two baselines:  1) guilt as a negative emotion, and 2) circumstances are neutral until we label them.  I would perceive myself as a selfish person if I stop reading to the kids. And, I’ve labeled the situation as “bad.” (Negative emotion and labeling of circumstance.)

Byron Katie wrote a book titled, “Who Would You Be Without Your Story?”  In this book, Katie outlines five steps to help us question negative thinking, or automatic negative thoughts.  I preface these five steps with we must first be aware of them.  It seems a little silly.  But, it is common, especially with automatic negative thoughts, for thoughts to come and go largely unnoticed by our conscious.  We react to them. But, we may not be aware of them.   Awareness can be developed by quieting the fluctuations of the mind.

The five steps to question negative thinking Katie recommends are:

  1. Is this thought/idea true?
  2. Do I know absolutely that it is true?
  3. Pay attention to how you are reacting physically when you have the thought(s)… is there worry, concern, anger?
  4. Who would you be without that thought?
  5. Turn the thought around.  List five reasons why the reverse of your thoughts could be true.
I found step #5 to be the most powerful.  If one is handling irrational thoughts, leading to guilt or otherwise, it can put those to rest; or, at least, challenge them.

I am always on the lookout for what I think of as an “everyday” cake.  A cake that does not require eggs and butter to come to room temperature.  A cake I can substitute oil for butter.  A cake I can make with a combination of whole wheat flour and spelt flour and reduce the sugar by half.  A dessert I can pack loads of fruit into.  About a year ago, I happened upon a cranberry cake recipe in Bon Appétit.  Subsequently, I’ve overhauled it to incorporate those things I want.  Swapping out different fruits with the seasons.

Since I make this dessert to withstand alot of fruit, it has more of a scone texture than it’s softer counterpart and it is not as sweet.  Sometimes we eat it topped with honey. Recently, I made two versions of this dessert, Mango Banana Cake and  Olive Oil Cake with Mango. Neither one of these sweets will make you feel guilty eating it.

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Peaches would be a good substitute for the mangos.  Maybe peaches and blueberries?

Before we get on to the baking recipes, a couple ideas for everyday dinners.  First, an enchilada of sorts.  Sauté onions and baby bella mushrooms, add prepared quinoa and black beans.  Season mixture to your liking.  Fill tortillas with the bean mixture, add a sprinkling of cheese on top, and roll.  Bake at 350 degrees until warmed through and tortillas begin to brown just a touch.  Top with corn salsa and sour cream or plain yogurt and parsley.

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A summer pasta idea.  Grilled vegetables, your choice, tossed with prepared pasta. (I prefer bronze plated pasta.)  Mix grilled vegetables with prepared pasta, make a sauce out of room temperature goat cheese, plain yogurt, lemon zest and juice, black pepper, and turmeric for it’s anti-inflammatory properties.  Combine the sauce ingredients and warm through.  Stir into pasta mixture.  Serve warm.

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Mango Banana Cake

2 1/2 c. mangos, about 2 – 3 large, rinsed, skins removed, cubed, set aside

2 ripe bananas, mashed, set aside

Dry Ingredients

1 1/2 c. flour, (I used equal parts whole wheat and spelt), all-purpose white is fine

pinch of salt

1/2 t. cinnamon

1/2 t. cardamom (optional)

1 t. baking powder

1/2 t. baking soda

Wet Ingredients

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 c. canola oil

2 eggs

1 t. vanilla

Instructions 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.  Butter  a 9″ round cake pan.  Set aside.
  2. Prepare the fruit.
  3. In a medium size mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients.  In another medium size mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar and oil.  Beat the eggs and vanilla into the sugar mixture.
  4. Combine the flour mixture to the wet in thirds.  (I’ve done this backwards many times. It seems to work.  But those who know baking much better than I say to always add the dry to the wet.)  Do not over mix batter.  Stir just until incorporated.  Gently fold in fruit.
  5. Pour prepared mixture into cake pan.  Bake until light golden brown and a knife inserted into middle of cake comes out clean, about 40 – 50 minutes.  Let rest for 15 minutes.  Then, after running a knife around the edge, turn out cake onto a rack to avoid it becoming soggy.  Flip cake right side up to cool. Serve drizzled with honey, if desired.
 
The wet ingredients are changed a bit in the next recipe.
 
 
 
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Olive Oil Cake with Mango 

2 1/2 c. mangos, about 2 – 3 large, rinsed, skins removed, cubed, set aside

Dry Ingredients

1 1/2 c. flour, (I used equal parts whole wheat and spelt), all-purpose white is fine

pinch of salt

1/2 t. cinnamon

1/2 t. cardamom (optional)

1 t. baking powder

1/2 t. baking soda

Wet Ingredients

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil

2 eggs

1 t. vanilla

1/2 c. plain yogurt

Instructions 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.  Butter  a 9″ round cake pan.  Set aside.
  2. Prepare the fruit.
  3. In a medium size mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients.  In another medium size mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar and oil.  Beat the eggs and vanilla into the sugar mixture.
  4. Combine the flour mixture to the wet in thirds.  Do not over mix batter.  Stir just until incorporated.  Gently fold in fruit.
  5. Pour prepared mixture into cake pan.  Bake until light golden brown and a knife inserted into middle of cake comes out clean, about 40 – 50 minutes.  Let rest for 15 minutes.  Then, after running a knife around the edge, turn out cake onto a rack to avoid it becoming soggy.  Flip cake right side up to cool.  Serve drizzled with honey, if desired.

obstacles be gone!

If I could just get out of my my own way, I may get somewhere.  But, that would also mean I need to remove my obstacles, my psychological obstacles. Ugh. Obstacles that I’ve created.  Double ugh.  I wish I could say that removing self-imposed obstacles can be done by squeezing our eyes shut as intensely as only a four year-old can, waving a magic wand, and…pouf ! we would open our eyes and immediately feel lighter, happier, and brighter.

But, removal of obstacles is a little bit like Butternut Squash Lasagne and “The Little Engine That Could.”  The former takes time.  Time to make and bake.  The latter uses more mind power.   Removal of obstacles takes both.  It takes time and mind power.  Well then, let’s get to it.

It is said that emotional wounds prevent us from manifesting our true happiness.  If this is the case, it seems to me our wounds, wounds that we have not yet healed,  may be co-owner of creating many of our obstacles.  If psychological wounds lead to obstacles, then, by recognizing the wounds and obstacles are there, accepting them, and believing we won’t let them define us, we should find ourselves mentally healthier and happier.

Addressing both psychological elements of wounds and removal of obstacles are big concepts to handle in a small space.  Maybe someday we can drill down deeper into it.  But, I think simply developing an awareness of wounds and obstacles in our lives is quite helpful, quite healing in and of itself.  As a good friend of Scott’s says, “Just showing up is 80% of the job.”  The same rings true for beginning to identify these two elements in our lives.  Because once we simply begin to notice them, I believe we’ve come a long way.

So, where do we start?  How do we do this work?

A good place to start is by becoming mindful of obstacles we’ve put squarely in our paths of something we want to accomplish.  Ask yourself,  have I set a goal but find myself doing everything except those things that enable me to progress toward it?  Or, do you want to accomplish something, but find yourself running around doing everything but that one thing you want done?  If so, don’t judge it.  Just be mindful of it.  Realize that it is there.  Recognize any wounds that may or may not accompany that particular obstacle.  Ask yourself, do I have a wound associated with this obstacle that needs to be healed?  Give yourself a few quiet moments and see where your attention is directed in your body.  Just feel what comes up.

Here is an example from my life. I wanted to learn how to cook.  But, I didn’t want to go through the process of making it happen.  Why?  Because I had obstacles I didn’t want to deal with.  Exasperation and frustration were standing squarely in my way of achieving enjoyment being in the kitchen. They stood there appearing unmovable with their arms crossed.

I had an undercurrent of thoughts that started rolling as soon as I entered the kitchen.  Yet, the thoughts happened so quickly that 1) they were barely perceptible, and 2) the exasperation and frustration were almost instantaneous when I began to make a meal.  As Yongey Minygur Rinpoche, a renowned Tibetan Buddhist master, points out, it is very easy to not notice our thoughts. Early on in his undertaking of meditation practice, he describes his experience of noticing his thoughts as, “The chatter was going on alongside everything else I was thinking and feeling, though so faintly I hadn’t recognized it.”

We may feel the thoughts first because our central nervous system will react to them whether or not we realize what we’ve been thinking.  That can also be a clue to our undercurrent of thoughts.  We may feel something before we notice them.

Turns out, my frustration got its’ power from a bit of perfectionism I expected of myself, a perceived lack of time, and self-doubt at my skills in the kitchen.  The CEO of Lululemon Athletica says when we set goals, we should expect to fail 50% of the time.  Now, if a crisp or crumble I make has too much topping and not enough fruit as it did a few nights ago, I don’t blink an eye.  I just think to myself, “Ok, I’ll do it differently next time. ”

 

A recipe for healing seems to be in order … this is how I think of it:

Step 1:  Notice how you feel (recognition of wounds and obstacles.) Ask yourself if there may be one wound or obstacle you’d like healed or removed.  Give yourself a few quiet moments to listen for a response.

Another clue in identifying obstacles is looking for areas in our lives where we make continual excuses about not doing something.  Or, maybe we need to forgive ourselves for a past action to remove an obstacle.  Pay attention to areas of your life where you simply have a feeling needs work.

Step 2:  Be mindful of the response you receive in step#1, if there is one, and gentle with a feeling, if one comes up.

This exercise is not meant to be used to chastise ourselves.  It is meant to treat your feelings with gentleness and respect.  Accept and acknowledge the thought or feeling, if there is one.  Whether negative or positive, give that thought or feeling a place at the table.  It is a part of you.  Don’t push it away.  But, at some point, you may tell it it is no longer going to take a front seat anymore.  It is time for another, healthier emotion to take the front seat.

Step 3:  Excavate.  Look into that emotion or thought.  What is beneath it and in it?  Tell it you are sorry for what happened (healing wounds.)  But, things happen and you are ready to move on.

Step 4:  Rest. Repeat.

Being mindful and developing awareness can be done while driving to school to pick up your child, or while unloading the dishwasher.  They can be and are meant to be woven into our everyday lives.  Ohby the way, I don’t see any harm in squeezing our eyes shut and waving a magic wand when we feel like it.  I, for one, have tried it and I am pretty sure a little fairy dust came my way.

For another recipe, how about trying a Butternut Squash Lasagne?  The typical flavor profile of a lasagne is changed using the squash.  It is slightly sweeter with a different texture.  I added spinach because I love something green in almost any dish.  The result is a healthy, not too involved, lasagne.

Years ago while making a butternut squash casserole, I found squash pairs well with nutmeg, sauteéd onion, and bread crumbs.  Continuing that theme, I added those elements to this recipe.

Butternut Squash Lasagne

1/2 medium sweet onion, diced, sauteéd in olive oil, set aside

1 12 oz. frozen package of butternut squash package, thawed, set aside

1 12 oz. frozen package of chopped spinach, thawed, drained well of moisture, set aside

1 15 oz. whole milk or part-skim ricotta cheese

1 egg

1/4 t. nutmeg

1/4 c. (scant) panko bread crumbs

handful of basil leaves, rinsed, chopped (optional)

freshly ground black pepper

1 32 oz. jar marinara sauce

9 no-bake lasagne noodles

1 c. or so shredded mozzarella

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven according to the pasta instructions.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the sauteéd onion through the basil.  Add black pepper to taste.
  3. In a 10″ x 8 ” baking dish( if you do not have a 10″x8″, try a 9″x9″ baking dish), evenly layer 1/3 of the sauce, 3 pasta sheets, 1/3 of the squash filling.  Repeat twice until the final dish has three layers of sauce, pasta and squash filling.
  4. Top the lasagne with cheese.
  5. Place baking dish on a baking sheet to avoid spillage in the oven.  Tent with foil.  Bake for 1 hour and ten minutes or until sauce is bubbling up around edges.  Remove foil for the last ten minutes of baking time.  Let lasagne rest for at least 15 minutes, preferably 30, before cutting. Serve warm.