what is living?

The author, Joyce Maynard, says she feels most at home at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.  It is there she engages in those activities that define what living is to her.  And, more importantly, I am surmising she has also found a way of being.
Ponte Vedra Beach
What is living?  Maynard has prompted me to, once again, think about this question.  I’ve rolled this question around in my mind frequently over the past five years or so.  It has rolled in and out of consciousness.  But, this time around the idea of living has collided with me differently.  Why?  For the first time, I believe I am developing the ability to define what living is to me.  Am I a late bloomer?  Very likely.
Jasmine

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

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

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

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

Nava Atlas' Vegan Sloppy Joes

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

Nava Atlas’ Pinto Bean and Quinoa Sloppy Joes    

Serves: 4 to 6

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

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

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

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

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

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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?

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:

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

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.  

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…

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.