smoothing the rough edges


Words that take the rough edges off of life, cradling the current moment in a bit more softness than our everyday lives, jump off the page at me.  I don’t run into them often.  Recently, I heard it in Tina Chang’s words.  When discussing the writing she may do in an evening she explained, …”maybe much of it will be discarded, maybe some of it will be saved by the gods.”

What do I hear in that?  I hear silence.  I hear softness. I hear acceptance.  I hear surrender.  What is my reaction to these words?  It makes me want to breathe.  Breathe deeply.  Somehow those words distill the essence of the moment.  Time slows.

To me, Tina’s words are akin to the psychological effects of surrender.  During the process of surrender, time slows, the essence of the moment can become distilled.  “The act of surrender engages, rather than avoids, the process of transformation,” explains Mary Beth G. Moze.  I feel transformation in the words of Tina Chang.  This may be presumptuous of me, but it seems as if Ms. Chang has done the work she has needed and wanted to do, and then let it go.  More importantly, it seems as if she may transmute herself continually by the act of surrender.  If she is doing this, then she is letting go of any perceived control the ego has.  So can we.

Why am I interested in this?  I am fearful.  Fear is, in part, operated by our desire to control.  My fears (if they are strong) tend to lead to obsessive thoughts.  Could surrender be part of the puzzle I was missing in order to deal with this fear ?  I didn’t think so because I practice surrendering regularly.

I’ve learned over the years to welcome any and all thoughts.  Give them an equal place at the table as Rumi tells us to do.  Ok, been there, done that.  But, by welcoming this fear, this time it wasn’t taking an equal place at the table.  It took many seats.

We can employ what I think of as more traditional stress relievers that will help the situation, muscle relaxation, deep breathing, visualization, exercise, and keeping journals.  But, sometimes the stressor that causes the fear is just there.  There are times in life when, for whatever reason, it is not going to go away anytime soon.  What to do?

Recently while making dinner, a quinoa and rice beauty, I was carrying on a conversation in my head about how to explain to a seasoned, trained meditator, my problem, hoping she may have some advice for me with respect to dealing with this fear.  I knew from experience how the act of surrender gives rise to the process of transformation.  But, as I mentioned, I had tried that in the past weeks and it didn’t seem like I was making any progress.  I found myself time and time again coming back to my fears.  Telling myself I just needed to be braver.  Needed to pull up my socks and get done what needs to be done.  In other words, I was starting at point A, and I’d return to point A.  My goal was to get to B, not Z, just B.

While I was thinking about how I would explain my situation to the trained meditator, I realized what I needed to do.  I needed to surrender to the fear, as opposed to simply surrendering to a particular situation.  In my opinion, what I had been doing was trying to control and compartmentalize the fear.   The fear is not going to go away.  (It is a healthy fear, based on a medical situation, not an irrational fear.)  Possibly by my desire to control and compartmentalize it, I may have given it a bit more power.

Recently my husband and I learned the timeframe I would be in an upcoming surgery and a recovery room, my husband smiled and said jokingly, “I have plenty of time for a round of golf.”  His comment smoothed the rough edges.  Comparably, my surrendering to this fear (which is an ongoing act)  has also smoothed the rough edges, if only a bit.  By doing so, maybe I too have framed the current moment in softness.  Even if only for a moment.

One of my goals is to live life, “… from a new way of knowing rather than just seeing it from a different perspective,” as Moze describes when explaining how powerful the act of surrendering can be.  I am not saying I’ll reach that place soon or even in my lifetime.  But, if I can make small, small incremental movements toward that place, I am happy.

I read a recipe in Bon Appétit that got great reviews, but at first glance it did not look exciting to me.  I decided to try it.  My first instinct was wrong.  The dish is really good.  The elements of lemon juice, parsley and cheese contrast nicely with the different grains.  It has become one of our staples.

Cumin-Scented Quinoa and Rice                            6 servings

adapted from Bon Appétit

Cooks Note:  I’ve adapted the recipe and included the ingredients I used.  Although the contrast of colors is pleasant, and we eat with our eyes, you can use what you have on hand for the grains.  The original recipe calls for adding fresh chives and cilantro.  I did not have any on hand.  They would be a nice addition.

1/2 c. short or long grain red rice (sub black or brown)

1 c. black quinoa, rinse well and set aside (sub red or transparent color)

1 bay leaf (optional)

1/4 tsp. salt, more to taste

4 T. extra virgin olive oil, divided

1 small onion, diced

1/2 tsp. jarred minced garlic or 1 garlic clove, minced

2 tsp. ground cumin

3 T. fresh lemon juice

1/4 c. flat-leaf parsley, rinsed and chopped, set aside

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 avocado, peeled, pitted, sliced

1 lemon, cut into wedges

small wedges of ricotta salata cheese or goat cheese, optional

  1. Prepare rice and quinoa according to package directions.  Set aside. (Add bay leaf, if using, to quinoa while cooking.  Remove bay leaf once cooking is done.)
  2. Meanwhile, heat 2 T. oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add onion, pinch of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally until soft, about 8 minutes.  Add garlic and cumin.  Cook, stirring often, for about 1 – 2 minutes until the garlic and cumin are fragrant.  Remove from heat.
  3. Transfer quinoa and rice to a large mixing bowl.  Add onion mixture.  Add remaining oil, lemon juice, parsley and other herbs, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Combine well.
  4. Serve with wedges of avocado and lemon, adding additional herbs if desired.  Crumble cheese over top of each portion, if using.
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