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.  

 

meet lucy and practice openness

Three weeks ago openness came to me in the form of a 10 year old 70 pound black labrador retriever named Lucy.   

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Many of you know Scott and I already have two big dogs, Simon and Ollie, pictured below.  Simon is on the right.  Ollie is on the left.  That is a lot of dog.  So, another one?  Yes.    

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Coincidentally or not coincidentally, openness has been something I’ve been struggling with for a few years.  I felt it.  I knew it.  But it is a slippery thing, this openness business.  We set up boundaries to protect ourselves and to control our environments. When I met Lucy, I felt as if I was laying down a sword. It hit me at the gut level.  

Lucy’s owners were no longer able to care for her.  I ran into the situation, well, by accident.  And how did Lucy respond?  She was open to another human caring for her. In a very gentle yet assertive way, she told me she was ready for a new home.  There stood openness staring me in the face.  She has taught me to look at my boundaries, reconsider them, work on them, and challenge myself with turning toward rather than turning away.  

Ok, if some of you are now thinking, “Really, Kelly, really ?  All of this from a chance encounter with a labrador retriever? You are crazy.”  I would understand.  But, let me take you further into how meditation, boundaries, and openness collide.   

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A couple of days into informally fostering her (we’ve now adopted her), I realized the laying down of swords feeds openness.  The openness we cultivate when we whittle away at boundaries that we’ve set over the course of our lives.  When we decide we’ll control our environments a little less and be a little more open.  We cultivate openness through practice and through meditation.   

When I met Lucy, as I mentioned, I had the felt experience of laying down a sword.  I didn’t think about it.  That is simply what I felt.  Isn’t that what a boundary is?  Aren’t boundaries akin to our arsenal of swords we keep at hand to keep life and others in check?  

By practicing meditation, we choose to actively engage in our lives.  We turn toward rather than turning away.  By practicing openness we choose to turn toward.  Boundaries turn us away.  

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Heidi Swanson at www.101cookbooks.com has a fantastic soup on her site posted a few weeks ago. She calls it Immunity Soup.  It is one of the best broths I’ve had in a long time.  Spikes of garlic, ginger and pepper make it sharp while onion, carrot, and celery add mellow notes.  I’d also (and will) use the broth simply as a base for other soups.  It is that good.  

 

 

a seed to change

While watching squash develop from small starter plants (seen in the immediate foreground of the picture on the left) in my plot at a community garden, I’ve been continually reminded of change and growth on a daily basis.  Change happens as plants grow.  Likewise, change happens as people grow. I’ve also had the good fortune to witness change and growth on a community level. When people come together to support a unifying cause, community is born. Whether it be walking to raise funds for breast cancer, painting a yoga studio, or growing a cover crop to enhance soil in a community garden,  I’ve observed first hand the power in community, interdependence, interconnectedness and change.  For this, I am very grateful.   

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Community is beautifully elastic.  Change and growth within groups bends, swells, grows taller and wider.  Some gatherings of people supporting a cause will eventually, naturally die off like the squash plant after it gives its fruit or the ladies coming together for a morning to walk for breast cancer.  But, isn’t that the beauty of growth and change?  It morphs and wiggles never settling for too much time.  

Meditation helps and teaches the practitioner to embrace, soften around and get stronger with change, growth, interconnectedness and interdependence. Our perspectives or long held beliefs we’ve had about any of these topics may shift or be challenged in a positive way with a consistent meditation practice.  

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This apple oat crisp straight out of Martha Stewart Living mag is a Thanksgiving worthy dessert with the added benefit that no crust is involved.  The recipe below is MSL’s.  I changed it up a bit…an 8 x8 baking dish made the dessert a little thicker.  For the topping my changes were:  coconut oil, melted, instead of butter, coconut palm sugar for its earthiness rather than brown sugar, an increase of 1/4 c. of oats (which I ground) gave the resulting dish a little more topping, and a good sprinkling of cinnamon. For the filling I used only apples, raisins and another good sprinkling of cinnamon.  No sugar. Keep an eye on your dessert as it is baking. Mine took a full 15 minutes less to bake than the MSL recipe.  

In the baking mood and want another idea?  Check out Laura’s Sweet Potato Muffins.  

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Apple Oat Crisp

from Martha Stewart Living, November Issue

Topping 

  • 1 c. old -fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/4 c. light brown sugar
  • 1/8 t coarse salt
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted

Filling

  • 2 pounds sweet apples 
  • 1/4 c. light brown sugar 
  • 1/4 c. dried cherries
  • 1/4 t. ground cinnamon 
  1. Topping: Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Pulse 1/2 c. oats in a food processor until coarsely ground.  Transfer to a bowl and add remaining 1/2 c. oats, brown sugar, salt, and butter.  Stir until combined. 
  2. Filling: Toss together filling ingredients in a bowl and transfer to a 9 inch square baking dish.  Sprinkle with topping.  Cover with parchment lined foil and bake 30 minutes.  Remove foil and continue baking until apples are tender and topping is golden brown, about 30 minutes more.  Let cool slightly before serving. 

 

 

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.”  

weeding

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. 

 

 

daily management

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.”  - Emerson.

On Monday of this week, my doctor told me I had abnormal test results. She also told me I need to come in for another procedure.  Not much other information was given.  Nor did I ask many questions.  She was in a hurry. We hung up the phone.  My emotions rally as if assembling in a mass meeting.

So, I am going for a second opinion and consultation with another doctor. We’ll see.

Again, “what lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.”  - Emerson.

In a situation such as the medical one I found myself in this week, my mind comes up with all of the things that could be wrong with me quicker than greyhounds out of a starting gate.  Then, my emotions dovetail on my thoughts until soon enough they are leading me;  and, I have myself in a grave within six months.  No kidding.  The whole process doesn’t take long. I can pull it off within 1 – 2 minutes.  Why in the world don’t I think of everything that is right at that juncture in time?  I do not know.  I can, however, think of much that is right when I remind myself to and when I train myself to.  It takes management.

Daily Management of the Mind.  That is how I’ve come to think of it and what I call it.

Just as we might train our body to run a marathon, we can train our minds. We are able to learn how to calm the fluctuations of the mind.  Many of the same concepts apply in training the mind as training for a marathon.  It takes consistency and discipline.  It takes mindfulness and awareness.

How does one begin?  Spend time for a few moments daily being quiet in whatever form feels natural to you.  There is one caveat.  Tune out information and sound input to the extent that it is possible.  In other words, set the book down and turn off the laptop, TV, and radio.  In the long run this practice equips us to deal with everyday stresses.  It fine tunes the life skills we all need and put into practice everyday.  It leads us to contentment internally, rather than leading us away to find it externally.

Meditation, or sitting quietly, also aids us in recognizing that thoughts, feelings and emotions change with the moment.  If you’d like, you can watch your thoughts and emotions moving through your mind while sitting quietly, by observing them as if you were the witness.  In turn, detachment is created and learned giving you something else to put in your arsenal for managing your life.
 
 
 
 
 
Meanwhile, I’ve been playing around with various vegetarian dishes.  One of my favorites is a combination of beans and tomatoes with a poached egg on top.  The technique for poached egg dishes like this is to create a flavorful bed of ingredients that have already been cooked or sautéed on which the eggs rest.   In the same ovenproof skillet that the tomatoes and beans are cooked, the eggs are poached in the oven until the yolks are slightly set.

 

Poached Eggs with Tomatoes and Cannelini Beans                   Serves 2 -4 

loosely adapted from Bon Appétit

*Cook’s Notes:  If you do not have an ovenproof skillet, simply make the tomato and bean mixture in a skillet on the stove.  Transfer the ingredients to a lightly oiled baking dish and proceed adding cheese and eggs on top of the bean and tomato mixture.  I served the eggs with saltines and chopped tomatoes.

Ingredients 

1/2 medium yellow or sweet onion, diced

2 t. jarred, minced garlic or 1 clove fresh garlic, minced

2 t. paprika

1 t. cumin

1 15 oz can cannelini beans, rinsed and drained

1 15 oz can petite cut diced tomatoes or any stewed tomato of your choice

4 eggs

1/4  - 1/3 of a small log of goat cheese , a good 1″ thick slab, or more to taste

2 – 3 T. fresh parsley, roughly chopped, optional

salt and freshly ground black pepper

extra virgin olive oil

Instructions

Preheat oven to 425°.

  1. In a medium size *ovenproof skillet warm 2 – 3 T. of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat.  Add onion and sauté increasing the heat if necessary 10 minutes or until the veg begins to soften and turn a translucent color.
  2. Add garlic, lowering heat if necessary so as not to burn.  Stir 30 seconds or until garlic is fragrant.
  3. Add beans and diced tomatoes, paprika, cumin, black pepper, salt to taste, bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat and simmer until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes.
  4. Crumble goat cheese over cooked ingredients, add parsley if using, crack 4 eggs on top. Salt and pepper the eggs.  Bake at 425° for 7 – 9 minutes until eggs are set.  Serve hot.  Yield 2 – 4 servings.