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.

IMGP4430Barging 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.

IMGP4433While 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.

since when is dependency…good?

Dependency is good, when it is interdependence.  When we are connected by a need that two parties fulfill, such as in the relationship between farmer and consumer, interdependence can shine.  Whether is it the government buying surplus crop from a farmer or a woman purchasing corn from a produce stand to feed her family, consumer and farmer are dependent upon each other.  This links us together.  In this example, we are connected by a need for nourishment and sustenance. Interdependence is a link of unending dependence.

In the past several months, I’ve circled the idea of mutual dependency like a wolf circling its prey.  It was both intriguing and confusing to me.  It was intriguing because I didn’t actively embrace mutual reliances.  (Yes, this is foolish.)  It is not necessarily that I shun being dependent upon others, but my off-handed reaction was driven more by an uneducated indifference and a lack of awareness.  My confusion was driven by its application in some meditation traditions.

When I think of dependency, my mind immediately bounces as quickly as a tennis ball bounces off of a racquet to codependency.  Without skipping a beat, emotionally I begin to back away.  So, I had to put in the time to retrain my mind that dependency can be something that is to be welcomed.

Now, I understand the vibe of mutual reliance can be virtuous.  Going forward, I hope that I think more often of the farmer’s hands who planted all of the root vegetables in the soup my husband and I enjoy.  Hands stained black with dirt and hard work as I saw at a dinner I recently attended honoring food and cooking.  Or, I hope I remember that my favorite plant in the front yard was started by Rick in his nursery.  Had he not started the plant from seed, I would not be able to enjoy looking at it everyday.

So, when is dependency good?  It is good when a link of unending dependence answers mutual needs.  If you are interested in reading more about this topic, as a starting point I suggest visiting The Interdependence Project at theidproject.org.

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Parsnips and Beans

I keep coming back to this soup.  I’ve made it at least twice in the past week.  I’ve eaten it for dinner and lunch.  While it is not pretty or fancy, it is just the sort of thing I crave in a soup.  Tender, chunky vegetables that have retained a bit of bite.  A good dose of onion, lots of beans, a grain, and a little bit of seasoning to pull it all together.

Cook’s Notes:  *Vidalia green onions are typically found in markets the months of February, March, and early April.  They have a large white bulb and are the length of leeks. I love them and use them for the months they are available in place of sweet onions.  (If you cannot find them, simply substitute a sweet onion. I would not substitute the smaller, thinner green onion.)

Chunky Parsnip and Bean Soup

  • 2 lg. or 3 small carrots, rinsed, diced, (peel on)
  • 2 lg. or 3 small parsnips, rinsed, diced, (peel on)
  • 2 lg. *Vidalia spring onions with green tops, rinsed, slice thinly including the green tops
  • or 1 medium sweet onion
  • 1 to 2 t. ground thyme
  • 2 t. oregano
  • 2 – 3 T. tomato paste
  • 1 15 oz. can cannelini beans, rinsed, and drained
  • 1 15 oz. can pinto beans, rinsed, and drained
  • 4 + c. vegetable broth, preferably low-sodium and water as desired
  • 2 + c. cooked brown rice
  • salt to taste
  1. In a medium saucepan, cook 1 c. brown rice according to package directions.  Set aside.
  2. In a large stockpot or dutch oven, heat 1 – 2 T. extra virgin olive oil over medium heat.  Add the diced carrots and parsnips with a pinch of salt.  Cook the vegetables, stirring frequently as they begin to soften, about 8 or so minutes.  Add the onion and continue to cook over medium heat about another 8 minutes, reducing the heat if necessary.
  3. When the vegetables are fork tender and the onion has become translucent, push the veg to the side and add 2 or 3 T. of tomato paste.  Stir continuously as the paste loses its raw flavor, about 1 – 2 minutes.
  4. Add the spices.  Stir continuously about 1 – 2 minutes to bloom the spices.  Add 3 c. of broth, half of each dish of drained and rinsed beans, and half of the rice.  Stir to combine.  Now add the remaining broth, rice, and beans to your liking.  Substitute 1 c. water for broth, if desired.  (I ended up using about 2/3 of each can of beans, 2 1/2 c. of broth, 1c. of water, and 2 1/2 c. of the cooked rice.)  Simmer for 5 or so minutes until the flavors begin to come together.  Serve hot.  Dress each bowl of soup with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, if desired.

the sweetness of allowing

Do you have a situation(s) in your life you’d like to change? The past several months have found me wrestling and wrangling with circumstances in my life I wanted to learn how to approach differently.  I simply couldn’t find a way to do it, until recently.  About a week ago, I came up with an idea I thought may help.  I would try to be with these situations differently; and, I would try to allow them.

My first attempts in handling these aspects of my life were to work on changing my reactions to them.  While not altogether a bad idea, I wasn’t making any headway.  It became a battle.  Perhaps I developed an expectation that I had to alter my responses. I don’t know.  But, I subscribe to Aristotle’s theory “we are what we repeatedly do.”  So, my thinking was if I could modify my responses to these circumstances, I’d step off of the circular mental train track I was on.  Even though I would find myself back on the same track at times, once I had the opportunity to get off the track, I was pretty confident I could do it more and more often.  Yet, something about it wasn’t a fit for me with these situations.

One morning while doing household tasks, I had a feeling. Not a thought, but a feeling that I could be with these aspects of my life differently.  I could allow them.  I could allow them to be as they are.  In doing so, my presence around each circumstance changed.  (If that makes sense.) With this change, I was afforded the opportunity of approaching the situations with less emotion. In turn, equipping myself to more readily allow them.

I can’t emphasize enough the significance around my changed presence in each situation.  For me, that seemed to be a key.  Not for solving a problem or fixing it, but for being with it.

Possibly this led to a change in reaction as well?  I don’t think it did.  My reactions, although softened, are about the same.  But in modifying my presence around each circumstance, I’ve been granted space.  Breathing room.

Approaching and allowing the situations rather than changing my reactions reminds me of the difference between a Meyer lemon and a regular lemon. While both are lemons, the Meyer lemon is sweeter and less acidic than a standard lemon.  It has less bite.  Less zing. In like manner, I noticed less bite and zing when approaching each situation and allowing it.

Most likely, we could all use a little less bite and zing in our lives.  Maybe by changing our presence around a difficult situation, a little more sweetness can emerge out of the most challenging areas of our lives.  I hope so.  And, for the record, I think it can.  Scratch that.  I know it can.
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How about a dinner idea for a substantial vegan meal? Chunks of roasted butternut squash combined with coconut milk soaked quinoa and garbanzo beans brightened with wilted baby spinach leaves.  This is a good meal to use the proportions of vegetable, grain (although quinoa is technically a seed, any whole grain could be substituted), and bean you enjoy.  The following is a blueprint to follow.
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Here’s how I did it:
  • I medium butternut squash, cubed and *roasted at 350 degrees until softened and lightly browned, about 35 – 40 minutes
  • 1 c. or so white or red quinoa, or combo, cooked, set aside
  • 1 14 oz. can garbanzo beans, drained, rinsed, set aside
  • 1/2 med. yellow or sweet onion, diced, sautéed in large skillet with coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil and large pinch salt
  • 2 t. curry powder
  • 1 t. each, turmeric and coriander
  • 1/2 c. or so full fat or lite coconut milk
  • 2 – 3 c. baby spinach, rinsed and drained
  • salt to taste
  1. Once squash and quinoa are prepared and the onion has softened, add beans and spices to the skillet.  Bloom the spices by allowing them to heat while stirring constantly, about 1- 2 minutes.
  2. Add the coconut milk and the spinach, stir to combine, put the lid on and steam the spinach over medium heat to medium low heat until it wilts, about 3 – 5 minutes.
  3. After the spinach is wilted, stir in the amounts of quinoa and squash you’d prefer.  Adjust with more coconut milk if necessary.  Salt to taste.  Warm through and serve.

Cook’s Notes:  Many cooks prefer full-fat coconut milk for the flavor and texture.  Although I do use it, sometimes it tends to be a bit too heavy for me.  I found in this recipe the light coconut milk lends enough of a subtle coconut flavor so the full-fat is not needed.  It is purely preference.

Roasted Squash:  Remove the tough outer skin of the squash by halving the squash.  Then, with two shorter pieces to work with, slice off the bulb of each piece where it narrows resulting in a stable cutting surface.  Next, cut straight down the side of the squash with your hand on the top of the vegetable stabilizing it.  Scrape out the seeds as necessary.  Cut the vegetable into bite-size cubes.  On a large baking sheet, toss the squash with salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil.  Spread into an even layer.  Roast at 350 degrees for 35- 40 minutes until the squash is soft and barely beginning to brown.

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With a hue the color of a lemon just finishing its metamorphosis from green to yellow, the pies my maternal grandmother used to make took center stage on our dining room table. The lightly browned peaks on the lemon meringue pies crested over the soft yellow interior tumbling from one side to another.

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“Grandma! Grandma! Can I have some pie?” I would inevitably ask as soon as I returned home from elementary school. But, the carefully prepared dessert was reserved for after dinner.  I knew as much, yet I could not keep myself from asking.

If it had been a hot day, the meringue might be slightly speckled and glistening, the air bubbles whipped into the egg whites having a bit of a hard time withstanding the heat.

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Yesterday I returned home from visiting her.  She lived independently until age ninety-four; and, although she has suffered a chain of events in the last six weeks that would not allow her to stand in a kitchen and make a pie, I know she would remember those grand desserts.

It wouldn’t surprise me if she kicks this pneumonia stuff and transitions into assisted living soon.  Maybe I should bake a pie in her honor and have it sitting prominently in the room when she moves in.

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Visiting a care facility, we see the fragile part of life.  In a park about a half mile from the nursing home, I saw vibrant life.  I saw green things growing with bugs, birds, and beetles moving about.  I went to that park after each visit to help me further accept the cycle of birth, life, and death. While I cannot say I am further along accepting those bigger life issues, I can say I envision a grand dessert sitting atop a picnic table with a little boy or girl just waiting for dinner to be done, and a grandmother smiling.

 

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.

January Orchid

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.

January Orchids

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.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Curry

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.

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.

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.

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.