Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Goals 2008



The Sacred Journey Daily Journal has been my daily companion since 2005. It sits on the arm of my chair and I write in it every single day. I tailor to my specific needs; it is very adaptable. I use it to set goals for the year, write affirmations, goals, etc, for each month, take note of blessings as they occur, make monthly collages of images from the month (ticket stubs, photos, quotations that people have said to me, all sorts of things), track my exercise, weight, meditation practice, as well as more mundane things like doctors appointments and my work schedule. I highly recommend it.

Anyway, on to the topic at hand. My goals for the year.'Precise goals produce clear results. Once we become specific, the actions we need to take will be clearer, and our goals will begin to manifest.' This has always been my experience: the more specific the goal, the more likely that it will be achieved. The key is to 'find a balance between pursuing goal-oriented ambitions and engaging in the flow of life, free from preconceived ideas about how our life must be.' So, remaining open to changing goals if my life takes me in unexpected directions, here are my goals for 2008:

1. Practise regular sitting and walking meditation. (Daily 7.30 AM and 8.00 PM)
2. Find a Buddhist practice centre. (Contact one per quarter)
3. Engage more with the community through exploring interest groups to get involved. (Attend at least one meeting per quarter)
4. Increase ISA savings to set amount. (No need to post online!)
5. In addition to ISA contributions, set aside 10% gross in separate savings account.
6. If I dip into ISA or savings, pay self back in addition to regular savings/ISA contributions within set amount of time. Put unexpected extra cash (like that pops up very often!) straight into savings.
7. By end of 2008, have an investment plan and retirement/estate plan. (No need for detail online).
8. Apply for at least one new job each quarter or make note of why not.
9. Weight training 3 times a week, cardio 1-2 times per week, yoga 3 times per week.
10. Eat raw food as part of every meal and as one snack each day. (We eat too much cooked food).
11. Go somewhere fun during annual leave, but don't think you have to travel somewhere every time you have a day off! It's okay to stay home sometimes. :)
12. Get that stupid drivers licence before the end of the year.

There they are. They may not sound like much, but I have been working on these goals for the last three weeks. My journal for 2008 is all set up and ready to go. Roll on New Year!

In light of these goals, I'd also like to add a note about the present moment. It's so easy to get caught up in regretting the past and planning for the future that we forget to be aware of the present moment. The present moment is the only true reality. It is the only thing that we can truly depend on. So on the title page of my journal, I have set my mantra for the year. It is a little gatha by Thich Nhat Hanh, and is something I meditate on, but intend to incorporate more fully into my daily life in 2008:

I have arrived, I am home
In the here, in the now
I am solid, I am free
In the ultimate I dwell.


Say this while meditating. Say 'I have arrived' on the in breath, 'I am home' on the out breath. 'In the here' in breath, 'in the now' out breath. 'I am solid' in breath, 'I am free' out breath. 'In the ultimate' in breath, 'I dwell' out breath. And as you breathe in and out, think deeply about it.

Our true home (our only home) is in the here and now. No past, no future. It is possible to live happily in the present moment--it is the only moment we have. The conditions of happiness already exist. The wave does not have to look for the water. It is the water. 'I have arrived. I am home.' I am not running anymore. I have run all my life; now I am determined to stop running and to really live my life.

I face reality. I accept old age, illness and death, I accept separation from things I cherish, I accept the inescapable consequences of my actions of deed, thought and word. I do not pretend they do not exist, that they won't happen. Achieving my goals won't prevent suffering. Working toward my goals won't make me happy. Happiness is something that is already inside me; it is something that I already am. Like the wave is already water, whether she allows herself to know it or not.

May all beings be at ease.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Lords of Kobol, hear my prayer




We've spent the last three days immersed in the 'reimagining' of Battlestar Galactica, and I like it, I like it!

I like:

1. Dr. Gaius Baltar. Poor thing. He is continuously tormented by Virtual 6, his mental Cylon companion. She seems to be completely sexually obsessed with him and is always trying to get into his pants, which makes for some strange situations when other people (who of course can't see No. 6 writing around with him) walk in or past him while he's in flagrante delicto. Funny stuff. Plus he's just a funny, wild-eyed little thing. Very appealing.

2. The religious thing. Matters of religion and philosophy fascinate me, and I love that religion plays such a huge role in this series. All the characters are affected by it and they talk about it a lot. I think it's an interesting twist that the humans are polytheistic while the Cylons are monotheistic. I hope more detail is shed on this as the show progresses, because I really find it captivating. People are so driven by their personal beliefs, and it's nice to see it reflected like this.

3. No camp 70s crap. I only vaguely remember the original Battlestar Galactica as something that I avoided in the 70s. I can't stand that camp 70s sci-fi style and am so glad this new version is played completely straight.

4. Starbuck is a woman, but she is still allowed to be female. She can do a lot of push-ups and she smokes cigars, but so what. Her motivation for becoming a pilot is not because she's trying to be a man (ie, Daddy never had a son so she's trying to win his love and respect) but because she has a gift for it. I'm curious about this relationship she had with her mother. It was hinted at when she was interrogating a Cylon that she had been abused as a child by her mother, who was something of a religious zealot or fanatic. I wonder what we'll find out about that, and what will become of the strangely intense bond with the Cylon model they ejected from the ship in that episode (Leobold?)

5. President Roslin has a soft-spoken wisdom and toughness and a deeply soulful face. Mary McDonnell, the actress who portrays her, has done such an excellent job creating this character. She doesn't get to say or do much, but she doesn't need to. Her face speaks volumes. She shows incredible strength and insight--she's a steel magnolia!

That's my top 5 for now!

May all beings be at ease.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Two analogies from Thay

I've been reading Thich Nhat Hanh's 'No Death, No Fear.' I'm only just starting it, but already have read so many things I'd like to share. Here are two:


When you have a match, you have the condition to make fire. If the flame you make with the match lasts long enough, it will also burn up the match. The match gives rise to the fire, but the fire itself burns up the match; the teaching of impermanence is the same.

We have to go beyond the idea of permanence, but we have to go beyond the idea of impermanence as well. Then we can be in touch with nirvana. The same is true of no self. No self is the match; it helps give rise to the fire of the insight of no self. It is the awakened understanding of no self that will burn up the match of no self.

To practise is not to store up a lot of ideas about no self, impermanence, nirvana, or anything else; that is just the work of a cassette recorder. To speak about and distribute ideas is not the study or practice of Buddhism. We can go to a university to study Buddhism, but we will learn only theories and ideas. We want to go beyond ideas to have real insight, which will burn up all our ideas and help us to be free.


So, who feels like a cassette recorder? I have a blog here with a Buddhist focus, I have an altar in my bedroom and a mala in a box, I have a shelf of books and a head full of ideas. But what else do I have? Old concepts that won't go away, striving for permanence and narrow-minded love and worry for self, which I continue to experience as something entirely separate and unique and unchanging. My Buddhist practice is like sitting and striking match after match. Ooh, idea. Idea! Idea! When am I going to let the match burn itself away?


Waves are at the same time water. A wave may like to seek its own true nature. The wave might suffer from fear, from complexes. A wave might say, 'I am not as big as the other waves,' 'I am oppressed,' 'I am not as beautiful as the other waves,' 'I have been born and I have to die.' The wave may suffer from these things, these ideas. But if the wave bends down and touches her true nature she will realize that she is water. Then her fear and complexes will disappear.

Water is free from the birth and death of a wave. Water is free from high and low, more beautiful and less beautiful. You can talk in terms of more beautiful and less beautiful, high or low, only in terms of waves. As far as water is concerned, all these concepts are invalid.

Our true nature is the nature of no birth, no death. We do not have to go anywhere in order to touch our true nature. The wave does not have to look for water because she is water. We do not have to look for God, our ultimate dimension or nirvana, because we are nirvana, we are God. You are what you are looking for. You are already what you want to become.


Why should I strive to have compassion for other waves? Why should I see myself as separate from them? We are all water. This must be meditated on, I think. But I will not strive toward it. It is not a concept to master. It is a truth to surrender to.

May all beings be at ease.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Looking back at 2007


At the beginning of the month, I posted these questions and invited you to share your answers. Here are mine.

a)Talk about what went well over the past year. What are you proud of? What sets your heart on fire? What passions and lessons have you gleaned from the past year?
This year I achieved the big goals that I set myself, apart from getting a driving licence. I passed my Life in the UK test in March. I became a UK citizen in June. That same month I earned my ACLIP library qualification. In July I received my UK passport. In August I applied for a provisional driving licence. In October I got my US passport renewed. In December, I took my first driving lesson. I am proud to have achieved these things by using a time scale and working steadily toward them.

Another year has gone by without my gaining back any of the weight I have lost. I have weighed 133-135 all year, a tiny bit less than my average weight for 2006, and about 10 pounds under my average weight for 2005. I have made a vow that I will never be fat again. So far so good.

My exercise rotation has been consistent again this year. I have worked out 5-6 days per week all year.

I remain committed to the vegan lifestyle.

We're okay financially. We have no debt and I am closer to my personal savings goal.

Over the past year, I've decided to really embrace a Buddhist outlook and stop toying around with it. I have tried to commit myself more fully to daily meditation practice. I have continued to read and to consider Buddhist principles.

b) Talk about what you wish you had done differently. Which situations would you like to have changed if you could? Which actions would you have taken if you knew then what you know now (after all, hindsight IS 20/20, right?). Are there situations that still feel unsettled for you that you wish you could change?

I wish I had started driving lessons in the summer because the days are longer and I could have done the lessons after work rather than on my days off. My days off are pretty much shot from now until it starts staying light out longer. That's not good!

If I could change situations, I would go back to times when I talked instead of listening. I would keep my mouth shut. I always feel that I say too much. I struggle with wondering what to say when. Then I spend a lot of time replaying situations in my head and hoping I didn't make the wrong impression.

I have engaged in overthinking too much this year.

I wish that we had planned a longer visit for when Dad and Ethan came over in July.

c) Talk about your hopes and dreams for the future. What do you want to focus on as you move into the New Year? Which projects have you put off (out of necessity, a busy lifestyle, too many responsibilities looming) that you'd like to tackle in 2008? How do you want to feel about yourself next year? And ... more importantly, how can you make those hopes and dreams a reality?
My hopes and dreams for the future are vague. When I consider them, I usually end up with a list of things I'm worried about in the future. I hope I have a place to live when I'm old. I hope I have some sort of retirement income so that I don't have to work until I drop dead. Or if that doesn't work out, I hope that I will be able to find someone willing to employ me until I drop dead. How will I survive if I have no home because I never managed to get on the property ladder and I am forced to retire at 65? No way to pay rent, no income, but (hopefully) another 20-30 years to live? This is a fear that looms. So, one of my goals is to try to get some financial advice for late-starting, risk-averse savers like myself. I still have a good 25 years left in my working life, so all hope is not lost. I'm just scared of investment. I need advice!

Obviously I want to get my driving licence and maybe buy a car.

I want to find some peace with my career progression. I have got to deal with my feelings about it. Am I content to be a library assistant or do I want to try to move up? Am I willing to do what it may take to move up? As a library assistant, I don't make enough money to support myself on my own, and it always makes me nervous to think that I can't make it on my own. Do I want to get a post-grad diploma in Library and Information Studies? Do I want to just keep my head down and continue as I am? Where am I going? Why do I have this feeling that I ought to always be striving for something? Why do I always feel that I don't measure up? *shrug* Got to deal with this.

In 2008, I want to take my fitness to the next level, if I can. I want to stop playing around with it and go ahead and lean out the rest of the way. I would like to lose a bit more weight (7-14 lbs) and build up my muscles further so they really show. This will mean NOT eating so much indulgent junk! And a focused effort to lift heavier weights and make every workout really count.

I've also begun to realise that if I want my Buddhist practice to grow, I am going to have to find a practice centre. So there's another goal.

And finally, Derek and I have discussed our disengagement with our community. We have lived here five years, but to be honest, once we get inside this flat and close the door, we could be anywhere in the UK. We have not engaged with our community at all. All our friends live in the south. Our only friends here are ones we've made at work, and we don't really get together with them outside work. We are not part of any local organisations and have no involvement with any community events. So we are going to look into finding out about local sci fi fan clubs, environmental organisation, Buddhist groups, or some other interest groups that we might click with, and try to get a bit more involved in 2008.

How do I want to feel about myself next year? I want to feel that I'm okay. I want to feel that I have done my best and that it's okay to have made a few mistakes along the way. I want to feel that I have made choices that are compassionate. I want to feel that I have behaved in a way that shows respect to myself and others. I want to feel that I have made a positive impact in some way.

SO...what are your thoughts? Leave me a link to your blog, I would love to know!

May all beings be at ease.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Blueberry Polenta with Maple Syrup


The picture here is one I found on Google images of fried cornmeal mush, which is actually what this recipe is. I'm sure that it isn't original, but I have never read a recipe for it anywhere and actually the last time I made polenta it occurred to me that it would be great with blueberries in it and served like pancakes. So that's what I made Saturday morning. My husband got so wildly excited when he saw it, exclaiming,'That looks wonderful! That looks so American! That looks like something you'd have in a truck stop beside the highway somewhere in...Nebraska!' I'm sure he meant it to be complementary.

Here's the recipe. Serves 2.

100g polenta
400ml water
1/2 cup dried blueberries
3/4 cup fresh whole blueberries
dash of salt
tablespoon or two of peanut oil (or whatever oil you want to fry the mush in)
2 tablespoons maple syrup

Mix blueberries and dash of salt into dry polenta in bowl. Bring water to boil in saucepan. Add polenta mixture, stirring. Cook until thickened, about 3 minutes. Pour into a square casserole dish to allow it to set. (Takes about 10 minutes to set). Preheat the oven to medium-high heat while the polenta sets. Cut the polenta into 4 squares. Coat both sides of the polenta in oil and place on baking sheet. Bake in hot oven until golden and crisp on edges, turning once. (Takes 5-10 minutes). Each peson gets two squares of polenta. Drizzle one tablespoon of maple syrup over each serving. Serve hot, with coffee.

No, it isn't that healthy. But it sure was good!

May all beings be at ease.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Confessions of a student driver


'Oops, shi*--sorry!'

'Oh man I don't know what's wrong, I'm really feeling like I'm going to be ill.'

'I don't think I can fu**ing do this.'

'I am never going to pass my test.'

What skill was I trying to master? Reversing around a corner? Reversing into a bay? Parallel parking? Nope. It was turning left and right using the push-pull steering technique. He kept asking me if I was thinking about it. I was supposed to say I was not thinking about it. But how can I effing do it if I'm not allowed to think about it? The last time he asked me if I thought about it, I said no. Lie.

I officially can announce that I hate driving lessons. I hate them. I fu**ing HATE them. It's not the driving instructor's fault. It's the whole atmosphere of driving lessons.

I have never felt so tense while driving in my entire life as I have felt when accompanied by a driving instructor. I can't explain why that is, other than the fact that he is actually scrutinizing and commenting on my every move and gesture. That would make anyone tense, in any situation. I mean, imagine you're cutting up an onion. You thought you could cut up onions--you've been doing it all your life. Then some trained soux chef stands next to you and says, 'Do you think you should cut the root off first?' 'Why would you want to hold the knife that way?' 'What do you think is the reason why you ought to cut in straight lines?' 'Actually, it's safest to hold your hand flat on top and make horizontal cuts,' etc. And then your hands start to shake, you suddenly feel you don't know up from down, so you stand there waiting for him to tell you what to do next because you've become afraid to do anything at all, and at the end of your onion-cutting lesson, you get 'Displays skill when prompted' ticked on your key skills log sheet. Would that not put you off onions for life?

(Okay, okay, strange analogy. I just finished cutting up an onion.)

*Heavy sigh*

No wonder Derek is shy of driving. He's only ever been behind the wheel with a driving instructor. If I had only ever driven in that situation, I'd be freaking dang afraid to drive, too! I told him how much more at ease he will feel when he is free to relax and just drive the damn car.

I know, I know, potty mouth. Sorry for all the bad language, sorry, sorry, sorry. I most assuredly did not display any of my lofty Buddhist notions of inner calm today. This happens to me a lot. In the heat of the moment, there's often not much but heat. There are so many areas of my life that need improving. Knowing how to deal with anxiety is WAY up there on the list.

Well, I have my next lesson on Wednesday. Driving instructor says he is going to take me to a new area and we will do some 'more normal' driving than what we've done so far. Thank goodness for that!

Wish me luck, and send me calming energy--those of you who do Ravi & Ana's kundalini yoga, send out healing vibes to me at the end of your sets, please!

May all beings be at ease.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Whadda bout me?


I've been feeling down for the last few days. It's irrational and emotional, but here's the reason. I applied for a job and didn't get invited to interview, but a work colleague of mine who applied for the same job did. I know it sounds petty, but the thing is, the job that we both applied for is the same work I do now. For him, it's a promotion. I know that I have at least as much ability to do the job as my colleague, so I don't know why I wasn't shortlisted. Whatsa matta wit me? It's true that he has a fresh new postgraduate diploma in library and information studies, but the post we applied for does not require a qualification. So I just wonder, what? What? I called the human resources department today to ask for feedback about why my application was apparently unsuccessful, and a helpful girl there took my name and number and said she would get the relevant person to call me back. Hoping to hear from them tomorrow. If it's a problem with the way I fill in applications, maybe they can help. If it's a lack of CPD, perhaps they can suggest further development for me. At least I'll know something. If she doesn't call me, I'm going to call again. It's my secret hope that she calls and says, 'We never received your application. Could you email it to me today?'

It's not so much that the job was the career move of my dreams. It's just I'm really, really curious as to why I didn't get shortlisted, because I am certain beyond doubt that I meet all essential criteria. Plus, I have relevant experience, whereas my colleague who was shortlisted does not.

Anyway, that's why I've been feeling knocked back by life a bit.

On a higher note, I just finished a good Cathe step workout (Low Max) and when hubby gets home from work, we're going to do a kundalini yoga set. Gotta work off those chocolates I've been eating this month. Plus, it helps with the stress.

May all beings be at ease.

UPDATE 13/12/2007 Got email from HR at that uni. I didn't get shortlisted because I don't have an NVQ level 2 library qualification. I do have a different library qualification that I thought for sure was listed as an optional alternative, but I don't have the person spec here (left it at work) and to be honest I don't want to press the matter. Never mind about it. At least I know what happened. They looked and chucked. They only had 20 applicants! Oh well.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Book review: Skinny Bitch in the Kitch


Skinny Bitch in the Kitch arrived Saturday. It is the cookbook companion to the book, Skinny Bitch, by the same authors.

A vegan cookbook, this book is divided into 13 chapters: Bitchin Breakfasts, PMS (Pissy Mood Snacks), Grown-up Appetisers, Sassy Soups, Skinny-Ass Salads, Hearty-Ass Sandwiches, International Bitch, Italian Bitch, Good Ol' Homecookin, Skinny Bitch Staple Meals, Divine Dressings, and Happy Endings.

I don't want this review to become a diatribe against Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, so I'm just going to reveal my thoughts on the pros and cons of the book. The girls' hearts are in the right place in advocating veganism, but I'm not entirely sure they have a firm grasp of daily nutrition. OR, it could be that they don't actually eat this way every day, but don't realise that newbie vegans will most likely get hold of this book and take it as permission to eat this way all the time. If they do, I'm here to tell you, they are going to be waiting a long time to become 'skinny bitches.'

So here's the deal.

PROS
All recipes are entirely vegan.

There is a decided lack of refined flours and sugar. You'll only find wholemeal breads and grains and whole natural sweeteners such as agave nectar, maple syrup, etc.

Recipes are designed to be simple and quick, so you don't have to spend a lot of time slaving over complicated rubbish that you're just going to snarf down in five minutes flat.

The section, 'Skinny Bitch Staple Meals' features 14 meals that focus on a range of fresh vegetables, legumes and whole grains. It is by far the most useful section of the book, and should have been longer. The implication is that this is the way 'skinny bitches' really eat day to day. (It is also the closest this book comes to reflecting my own daily diet).

There's a lot of tofu in this book, which I love.

All the ingredients will be familiar to practising vegans (or as I like to think of us, 'advanced bitches').

The book is fun to read.

CONS
Nearly every recipe calls for refined coconut oil. Now, I know all about the healthy properties of coconut oil. I know that it remains stable at high heat, so as not to unleash free radicals in the blood. I know that while it is high in saturated fat, it is also loaded with vitamin E, antioxidants, and all sorts of good stuff. HOWEVER, these wonderful properties are contained in unrefined, cold-pressed, organic coconut oil, NOT refined coconut oil. Refined coconut oil is bleached and deodorized, oftentimes solvent-extracted at temperatures up to 400 degrees F, which means that all the vital properties of the oil have been eliminated. So if the authors of this book have recommended coconut oil, as they say, for the health benefits, why have they specified refined rather than cold-pressed organic coconut oil? AND, even if they specified cold-pressed oil, why would they have an average of 4 tablespoons of it in every single recipe in this book, which is supposed to turn you into a skinny bitch?

There's a lot of tofu in this book, which can be a problem for people with a soy intolerance or who are worried about phytoestrogens.

The vast majority of these recipes call for a controversial part of some vegan diets, vegan 'fake meats' and dairy substitutes. These are controversial because 1) if you don't want to eat meat, why are you trying to make something that looks and tastes like it out of plant-based substances? and 2) even the 'best' of these products are highly processed and made mostly of oils and fillers, so they are not healthy for you. There are so many recipes that call for vegan cheese, vegan ham, turkey, chicken, vegan cream, vegan mayonnaise, etc. Even the most committed vegans sometimes will use a bit of such products to add some variety to the daily routine, but I don't know any vegans who eat any of these products on the scale promoted in this book. Too heavily reliant on fake meats and not enough emphasis on fresh whole foods. There isn't even a reminder of how to balance meals properly with fresh salads and side vegetables.

At least half the book is given over to recipes that are for 'what the heck' kind of days when you feel like a pig-out (the PMS section, the Good Ol' Homecookin section and the Hearty-Ass Sandwich section!) and to recipes for cakes, cookies, and other desserts. How is that going to make you a skinny bitch?

I don't want to show too much disrespect to Rory and Kim, because I like their style and I like their first book. I even really like this book, although I will modify nearly every recipe I make from it. I just wonder if newbie vegans will understand what they should be eating based on the information herein.

I'd like Rory and Kim to work on a new book: 'Dinners for Divas: 100% Wholefoods Recipes for Advanced Bitches'. Now that would be one kick-ass book!

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Before and after photos

Anna's blog inspired me to post some before and after photos. I first started trying to get control of my eating in December 2003, so I'm posting some photos of me from that time. Then some photos of me after a few years of eating vegan and exercising regularly.


This photo was taken in autumn 2003. In 2001, I lost from 215 to 175. By the time this photo was taken, I was back up to 195 pounds.


Christmas 2003. It was at this time that I decided that as soon as Christmas was over, I would start trying to lose weight. After we returned from a holiday in Austria, I started the Weight Watchers at Home program, which I did. We went vegan in November 2004.



February 2005, French Quarter New Orleans. I was vegan, but had not yet started to work out. In this picture, I weighed about 155 pounds. I brought home my first Firm workouts and the Fanny Lifter that trip. It opened up a whole new world for me.



May 2007, Ludlow, Shropshire. I weighed about 135 pounds here. I had been a whole foods vegan for nearly three years, and had been working out 5 or 6 times a week for over two years.



And here's another from summer 2007, about 133 pounds.

My goals for 2008 are to get lean enough to really see the musculature of my arms, which are still a bit gooshy over the muscle. Same with my abs. They're rock hard under a layer of goosh. It's only a thin layer, but I'd like it gone. I'll never look like Jari Love (bless her incredibly lean self!) but I can keep working on it!

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

All these years I thought I could drive



The first driving lesson was today. It was a bit of a chore. I spent two hours practising how to take off. (May I clarify that I am not taking flying lessons, either). I mean I had to pull up to the kerb, stop. Go through what felt to me like a super-slow routine of scanning and pedal maneuvers, take off, drive a little way, pull back over and do it all again. I was being coached in how to push down the accelerator until I felt the 'bite', then check my mirrors and blind spot, then let off clutch and release hand brake--after signalling that I'm 'entering traffic' and checking my left mirror one more time (even though I'm parked on a lefthand kerb). Oh, and once I got rolling, I was allowed to make left turns.

Now I'm not saying I was stellar at this. I'm just saying that if he had got in the car and said, 'Right, drive around the block four times, go.' I would have been able to start that car and go around the block. I would have been doing it my way, though, which apparently is not the 'right' way. I've never had driving lessons; my dad taught me to drive and what he didn't teach me I figured out on my own. He taught me how to work the clutch and gas to take off. What he taught me and what I've done all my life are not what this driving instructor is teaching me. *sigh*

And to think all the years that I drove a manual transmission, smoothly engaging the gas while releasing the clutch, and somehow managing to make sure that nothing was coming from any direction, all in an efficient, fluid motion that was second-nature to me, was 'not safe'.

Oh yeah, I can't steer properly, either. My hands must push-pull and not go past 6.00! Doesn't seem to matter that I'm right where I need to be in the road, or that I manage to make a turn and know precisely where the car is going to be. Steering a different way is 'not safe'.

At the very least, I did not feel uncomfortable sitting on the right side of the car or shifting with my left hand. No problem.

To sum it up, I knew this was gonna happen. I am going to have to unlearn a lifetime of habits and do it 'their' way, because, as I was told, Britain has the safest roads in Europe. (That's not true, actually. I looked it up. The top five safest roads in Europe are Malta, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and Norway. BSM's data are based on statistics from 2000. Mine are from 2006--University of Loughborough study. Still, we won't quibble about factoids.)

I am not deterred! I rise to the challenge! I can unlearn my dance and learn theirs. I can do it their way!!

My next lesson is 15th December. Maybe I'll get to turn right. One can dream.

May all beings be at ease.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Your Year in Review 2007


I found these questions on a fitness forum and liked them so much I thought I'd share them. I'm going to give them a good think and post my answers by the end of the month. In the meantime, feel free to copy and paste to your own blog and be sure to leave me a note so I can stop by and read your answers, too!

a)Talk about what went well over the past year. What are you proud of? What sets your heart on fire? What passions and lessons have you gleaned from the past year?

b) Talk about what you wish you had done differently. Which situations would you like to have changed if you could? Which actions would you have taken if you knew then what you know now (after all, hindsight IS 20/20, right?). Are there situations that still feel unsettled for you that you wish you could change?

c) Talk about your hopes and dreams for the future. What do you want to focus on as you move into the New Year? Which projects have you put off (out of necessity, a busy lifestyle, too many responsibilities looming) that you'd like to tackle in 2008? How do you want to feel about yourself next year? And ... more importantly, how can you make those hopes and dreams a reality?

May all beings be at ease.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

"Every day in every way, my a** is getting smaller."


This is the mantra recommended in the book Skinny Bitch. I love it! Here's the lowdown on how to be a skinny bitch:

No smoking.
No booze.
No sodas.
No coffee.
No meat.
No dairy.
No over-the-counter remedies for every sniffle.
No conventional beauty products.
No conventional junk food.
No sitting on your ass.

Hey, who are these nazi vegans and what have they done with all the fun in life? Well, they're not that bad. You can have:

Organic red wine, if it's free of sulfites and additives, occasionally.
Herbal teas.
Every fruit, vegetable, whole grain and other edible item that grows up from the soil of the good earth.
'Healthy junk food'. (More on that later.)
Your body's natural healing process.
Natural, organic beauty products.
Exercise.

So see, what's wrong with that? According to the book, the perfect skinny bitch day would start with fresh fruit and herbal tea for breakfast, continue with a giant salad of fresh greens and raw vegetables for lunch, and finish with a dinner of a vegan protein source, whole grains or starchy vegetables, and of course more fresh vegetables in a rainbow of colours. Any snacks in between would consist of whole, natural items or a product made of organic whole ingredients. The second mantra of the skinny bitches is 'Read the label.' If it's got any sort of refined sugar, animal product or chemical in it, don't eat it. There are no restrictions on the use of cold-pressed, organic oils, such as olive and coconut oil, or of eating nuts and seeds. Of course, you'd want to keep those balanced because of the high calorie content, but I seriously think if you ate this clean even most of the time, you couldn't help but lose weight even if you ate oil and nuts fairly liberally. Since the authors aren't 'perfect skinny bitches' their book makes recommendations for a heartier breakfast with grains, etc, and bigger lunches, plus snack ideas. And they have a new book coming out (which I've already ordered) 'Skinny Bitch in the Kitch.'

So that's the skinny bitch plan. I'm sure they won't mind if I help spread the word!

May all beings be at ease.


Sounds good to me!

Monday, 26 November 2007

We Wish You a Jari Christmas


Here's the 'Merry Jari Christmas' rotation that I mentioned in a previous entry. There will be a check-in for this rotation at the VideoFitness.com Challenges and Check-ins Forum at the beginning of December. This rotation does not show rest days. It will be up to you to decide when and where you need a break. I use Jari, The Firm and Ravi & Ana's kundalini yoga exclusively in this particular rotation. You can sub your own cardio and yoga choices as needed.



MERRY JARI CHRISTMAS!

1 Get Ripped
2 KY for Beginners & Beyond
3 Super Cardio Sculpt
4 GR Slim & Lean
5 KY Bliss Hips
6 Super Cardio Mix
7 Burn & Shape
8 KY Ultimate Stretch Workout
9 GR to the Core
10 Bootcamp Maximum Calorie Burn
11 Get Ripped
12 KY Dance the Chakras
13 Complete Aerobics & Weight Training
14 Cardio Sculpt Blaster
15 GR Slim & Lean
16 Ultimate Calorie Blaster
17 GR & Chiseled
18 Yoga Beauty Body
19 Ultimate Fat Burning Workout
20 Total Body Time Crunch
21 KY for Beginners & Beyond
22 GR to the Core
23 KY Ultimate Stretch
24 Low Max (a little Cathe thrown in there for a change!)
25 Get Ripped
26 KY Journey thru the Chakras
27 Express Cardio
28 Cardio Sculpt
29 KY Beauty Body
30 GR Slim & Lean
31 KY Warrior Workout

There it is! You could always take out a cardio or yoga and plug in a third Jari workout each week. The simplest way to get a rest day would be to drop one yoga per week. You'll also notice that some cardio days are actually cardio+sculpt. It's good the keep the body guessing. I would love to see other people's versions of a Merry Jari Christmas rotation and hope to see lots of people at the check-in!

May all beings be at ease.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Long and winding road



I've nearly reached the end of my list of goals that I set when I moved to the UK five years ago. I got my UK citizenship and passport in July of this year, and the next goal is to get the UK driving licence. The driving test is a big deal in the UK. It is very strict,and lots of people fail it several times before finally earning their licence. Personally, I think this failure rate is not so much in the interest of public safety as it is to earn the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency)more money. Every time you retake the test, of course you have to pay the exorbitant fees again. And people fail for small reasons, like not looking over their shoulder enough when joining a dual carriageway from a slip road, then the next test when they try to improve in that area, they fail for looking over their shoulder too often. They fail for bumping the kerb, hesitating, not having their hands at 10 and 2 on the wheel, not checking their mirrors enough, checking their mirrors too much, going too slow, all sorts of excuses. Some people are even told by the test examiner that they are good drivers, but they have to be failed anyway because of one or more of these picky points. Which is why I think examiners have a quota of failures they must achieve because they're working to a financial target for the DVLA.

Anyway, I've got my provisional licence and intend to call around and find a driving instructor who can coach me in the proper performance for this wretched practical exam, so I will know precisely what unnatural behaviours my examiner will scrutinize me for. Then when I get my licence I can drive like normal people. I'm not looking forward to it and will not be surprised if I fail more than once, even though I've held a clean US license since I was 17 years old.

On the upside, once I get the darn thing (which I fully intend to do before 2008 is out!), it will be nice to have a car. At the moment we like the Toyota Yaris:



It's not amazingly sexy or anything, but it has favourable reviews from consumer magazines and seems like a good choice for us.


May all beings be at ease.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

The Bitches are Back!



Oh boy! I just found out that the authors of Skinny Bitch have a cookbook coming out in a few weeks! I have preordered in at Amazon and can't wait to get it. I was browsing for an image of the cover of Skinny Bitch because today's blog entry is about my plan for December. Serendipity!

Having read that the lovely Jari Love is the same height as me, two years older and has had two kids, I was gratified to also learn that she is only 13 pounds lighter than me. This has steeled my resolve to kick this plateau/maintenance phase that I've been in for the last year. I'd like to lose 10 pounds by next April and be a similar weight to Jari Love. Just look at her:



I didn't realize I was so close to her weight. I can't be that close and not go for it, can I? So I have been looking around trying to decide on which food philosophy to try. Eat to Live? I've read it. It's vegan and low fat, but I am not a raw fooditarian and couldn't stomach so much salad. McDougall's Maximum Weight Loss? I haven't read it but I know I've read something by McDougall. It's vegan, too, and heavier on complex carbohydrates, which I love, but can I really go so low fat? Is it something I can live with? Not sure.

Then I remembered I've got Skinny Bitch on the shelf and there's a month's worth of daily menus in the back! So I'm going to follow those. (To be honest, most of that stuff is what we already eat, it's just the breakfasts are a little better balanced and of course having something set will help take the pressure off.) I've made out shopping lists for weeks one and two, and when I've finished those, it will be about time to get the new cookbook and then I can make things out of that! Perfect timing!

So I'm starting on Monday 3rd December with a target of 10 pounds gone by 1st April. My December rotation features two Jari Love workouts per week and I'm calling it 'We Wish You a Jari Christmas.' (The basic pattern is a Ripped workout-kundalini yoga-cardio-Ripped workout-kundalini yoga-AWT-kundalini yoga). I will post both my menus and my rotations closer to the time.

Today I did TLT Strength in Movement in the AM, and this afternoon I'm going to do Rodney Yee's Power Yoga Total Body. DH has gone to see his parents, so I've got a pot of soup on the stove and my workouts to keep me busy.

Here's what's in the soup:

Kale and Bean Soup with Garlic

1 large onion, minced
1 leek, minced
1 carrot, finely diced
1 package of chopped kale
15-20 whole cloves of garlic, skinned (basically, one head of garlic cleaned)
2 cans of cannellini beans, or whatever large white beans you have on hand
vegan bouillon
marmite
salt and pepper

Water saute the onion, carrot and leek. Add the garlic cloves. Add the kale, reduce heat and simmer with lid on until the kale is quite limp. Pour in plenty of water. Add vegan bouillon to taste, salt and pepper. Simmer on very low heat for 2 or 3 hours, until the kale is soft and tender like spinach. (Kale is a tough leaf, so this takes a very long time). Add marmite to taste to make the stock richer. Salt and pepper and serve. (Don't worry about the garlic, it goes soft and mellow and looks like one of the beans until you mash it around in your mouth and think, whoa, that's garlic!)

This soup has no added fat and no grain, so you can eat bowl after bowl with virtually no consequences. (Which is a good thing, because we ate a bag and half of doritos last night in the form of vegan nachos! Doh!)

Edited to add: Jari Love's been featured in The New York Times! And I also found a cute article about Cathe Friedrich. Click to read:

The Fonda Factor

Hard Corps: A Weekend of Workouts

May all beings be at ease.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

OH ARGH!


I had a really rubbish day at work today. All my Buddhist notions of calmness and breathing fell by the wayside. In all honesty, it wasn't that big a deal, but I just hate making errors and I never know when to talk and when to shut up. I also have no ability to disguise my emotions, particularly stress and frustration. I have to remember the philosophy taught me by a more senior colleague when I first started this: 'At the end of the day, it's just books.' Or in this case, DVDs.

There are times when minutiae really get me down. Details, details, bean counting and ticky ticky stuff. It seems that lower down the totem pole you go in my organisation, the more details you're expected to be able to think about and perform all at the same time. And I'm right down there at the bottom. It's particularly galling when you think a plan is coming together, that you've got a task licked, and then some problem rears its head and you have to go back and do work over again. Another problem I am having at the moment is people listening in on what is going on and interfering. While my teammate and I were discussing the problem we'd encountered, people all over the workroom stopped to listen in. People come out and have something to say about what's going on when they aren't even meant to be involved in it. Someone tells me it's my boat, then the next thing I know there are 40 people in there with me all trying to steer it. I might as well put on my life jacket and jump.

So confession time. Today a member of staff asked me to help her do something with the computer system, but the whole time I was trying to show her she kept interrupting me thinking I was making errors, until finally I asked her, 'Do you want me to do this or do you want to do it?' Then another member of staff brought a customer over with a problem, which I dealt with. Then she came over to find out the resolution and when I started to explain it to her, she interrupted me and contradicted me so I said, 'Do you want to hear what happened or not?' And at one point a senior member of staff--who is NOT, however, on my team--came out to question something I had done, even though a member of staff senior to HER had conferred with me and told me to do it. I tried to explain this to her, but she kept telling me that that isn't the way 'we' had done it before. So finally I said to her, 'Would you like me to copy you into any future emails about this?' And of course she said it wasn't her concern.

Well, I mean honestly! I do feel I was justified in feeling frustrated by all these instances, but I am pretty sure my reactions weren't the best choice. I did not raise my voice or use a sharp tone, I don't think, but still, perhaps I could have done better.

Anyway, between things I'd tried so hard to get right going wrong and then my interpersonal skills being tested and found lacking, it's been a crap day.

I'm going to go exercise now and see if I can work out some frustration.

May all beings be at ease. (Even at work.)

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

'Each time we eat, we are creating our future self.'



What does it mean to eat like a Buddhist? What is the Buddhist attitude toward food? Who knows! Some Buddhists eat meat, some don't. Some eat nothing after 12.00, some do. Yogis get a little more specific guidance on what they might ought to be eating. One thing that Buddhism shares with kundalini yoga, and all yoga, is the notion of ahimsa, or non-injury, the refraining from harm to other living beings. It isn't long into your yogic (or Buddhist) journey before it occurs to you that it is a bit harmful to a living being to kill and eat it. This is why so many yogis (and Buddhists!) become vegetarians and vegans. So far I haven't encountered any specifically Buddhist cookbooks, but I stumbled upon this curiosity one day while doing some online searching, so I ordered it and I really like it!

The Kundalini Yoga Cookbook is more than just a recipe book. Its opening chapters contain information on the kundalini yoga attitude toward food ('Each time we eat, we are creating our future self.' Yogi Bhajan), a short introduction to the principles of kundalini yoga, and some details about the philosophies of yogic eating. In the back of the book, after the recipes, there are full color photographs of the authors (presumably) doing tuning in and warm-ups (easy pose, cat cow, forward stretch), close up photos of various mudras, complete instructions for Yogi Bhajan's Detoxification Kriya, Healing the Stomach Kriya, and Kriya for Optimum Health. The book ends with instructions for four meditations: Boost Your Immune System, Self-Healing, Raa Maa Daa Saa Saa Say So Hung, and Conquer Inner Anger and Burn it Out.

The book is a full size, full color, fully illustrated cookbook. The photos are beautiful and inspiring. It contains three vegan diets that you can follow for 40 days, as kundalini yoga teachers sometimes do as part of their training, according the book. The diets are The Green Diet (mostly green foods), The Mung Beans and Rice Diet, and the Fruits Nuts and Vegetables Diet. There is also a chapter called 'Foods for the Chakras', one for hosting a party or gathering, and food specifically for women's health.

While the book is lovely to look at, fun to read, and can provide inspiration for some good meals, there are a few things to point out.

First, the measurements used in the recipes are entirely unorthodox. If you cook by feel anyway, there's no problem, but if you like to measure, you may well be confused by references to 'double handfuls' of water and 'mudra pinches' of cumin. A chart is provided with equivalent spoon and cup measures, but the whole thing seems a bit contrived.

Second, the names of recipes incorporate important kundalini words in a what seems a rather trite way. For example, Ong So Hung Vegetables and Rice, Ek Ong Kar Salad, and Tomato Basil Gobinde Tofu Salad might strike serious yoga practitioners as a bit insulting, or at least uncalled for.

Third, the recipes themselves often incorporate chanting, bandha locks and numbers of significance to kundalini yoga. These might delight serious practitioners, but could seem wacky to someone just looking for a fresh idea of how to use beetroot and mung beans. For example a recipe for 'Solstice Hot Sauce' instructs you to 'stir well, tracing the outline of the infinity symbol whilst chanting Har-Har.' The 'Kundalini Chakra and Blood-Cleansing Salad' asks you to mix the ingredients while 'chanting a long Ong for the infinite connection with the base chakra--this will be balanced by the red vegetables and red apple.' You then marinate the mix for 11 minutes--apparently an important number. 11 and 31 turn up a lot in these recipes, as do sets of 3. One recipe asks you to stir something 31 times while holding mula bandha. LOL I can just imagine my mother doing that. (Not).

Finally, because the focus of this book is fresh, natural ingredients, it isn't as highly seasoned or as salty as foods you may be used to, so may taste bland. You can either spice it up, or remind yourself that this is what real food tastes like. (The book is very heavy on garlic, though. I personally can't help but fall in love with a book that regularly asks for 8 cloves of garlic in a recipe for two people).

Here's a recipe for you to try:

Seven Vegetable Curry

3 garlic cloves
2 carrots, diced
2 potatoes, diced
2 beetroots, diced
1 generous handful green beans
2 handfuls frozen peas (fresh if available)
2 handfuls sweet corn
2 large tomatoes, diced
fresh green chile to taste

olive oil
turmeric
sea salt
vegetable (vegan) stock cubes
curry powder

Brown the garlic in olive oil. Add 2 mudra pinches turmeric and fry until aromatic. Add all the vegetables except the chile and 1 small gyan pinch salt. Cover and cook on low setting 3 minutes, stirring once. Add 4 double handfuls water and 4 stock cubes. Season with 1 mudra pinch curry powder. Add sliced chile to taste. Cook a further 11 minutes or until potatoes are cooked. Serve with your favorite type of steamed rice.

Sat nam.




Okay, so the above recipe is neither bland nor unsalty. I guess that's why I liked that one!

I have made several recipes from this book, and they are all nice. Last night a I made Sun Polenta with Rainbow Vegetables, a mix of oven-roasted beetroot, sweet potato and celeriac with mung beans, served on polenta that has paprika added to it to make it the color of the sunset. Some spinach leaves added at the last minute the veg mix add some green, and of course it contained 7 cloves of garlic!

May all beings be at ease.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Compassion

I've been re-reading Stephen Batchelor's Buddhism Without Beliefs since I recommended it here, and thought I'd share from his chapter on compassion. I really need to apply this wisdom to my daily life. Listen to this:

Notice how the way you perceive people reinforces your feelings about them, and how the way you feel about them reinforces your perceptions of them. The image we have of another becomes a confused mix of objective facts (long nose, glasses, bald) and our own ideas about him (arrogant, stupid, doesn't like me). So as well as being someone in his own right, the person is cast as an actor in our own private psychodrama. It becomes increasingly hard to disentangle him from the emotionally charged image formed by our own desires and fears.

To escape this trap is not to pretend to feel otherwise but to start looking at things differently. We are free to choose how to perceive the world. Upon reflection, we may discover that no matter how strongly we feel about a person, that feeling is often based entirely on an image we have formed of him. . .By suspending our judgments, we are able to look at the person from a fresh perspective.


Batchelor goes on to suggest a meditation where you imagine three persons sitting in front of you: a friend, an enemy and a stranger. He says to contemplate first the friend, imagining her newly born and covered in blood, following through her toddler years, adolescence, what she was like before she knew you; to picture her as someone who has her own values and thoughts and who treasures them in the same way you do your own. Imagine her aging and dying, her whole life span. Then do the same with the enemy, then with the stranger, until you have before you not a friend, an enemy and a stranger, but three fellow human beings, 'equal in birth and death.'

Are you able, even for a moment, to witness these people in all their autonomy, mystery, majesty, tragedy? Can you see them as ends in their own right rather than means to your ends? Can you notice the restrictive and selective nature of the image you have formed of them? Can you let go of the craving to embrace the friend and banish the enemy? Can you love the stranger?


This message is not a new one, obviously. Most world traditions teach us to look at our fellow human beings as equals and to see our common bonds, to rise above our petty concerns. But can we do it? It's so hard to step outside my perceptions, to release this notion of, as Batchelor calls it, a 'fixed, immutable nugget of self at the core of experience.' It's this self-absorbed, deluded little 'nugget' that causes so much trouble!

What I perceive as my self is no more real than my perceptions of others. The self that I so nurture and cherish and protect is in actuality an ever-changing manifestation of a matrix of conditions, cultural and biological. Unique, yes, but not something existing in its own right. So if I am not what I perceive myself to be, how can others be what this self attempts to perceive them to be? It's all delusion, based on craving to avoid pain and always get what we want, to never sicken, or be in pain either physical or emotional, and to never die. We all build up these defenses in our heads, this idea that we are independent individuals, that there are people and things on our side and people and things that are against us. But that's the not the truth of the matter. The truth is, not only are we not independent, we also cannot protect ourselves against any of the things we spend so much energy trying to ward off. It's all a big fantasy.

Other people are no more the beings that I have created in my imagination than I am. The image I have created of others stems from the big fantasy inside my head.

That's a good thing to remember.

Batchelor urges us to 'persistently challenge the validity of the emotionally charged images by which we define others.'

Even if other people are behaving poorly toward us as a result of the fantasy going on in their own heads, that doesn't mean we have to respond in kind, or form a perception of them based on our emotional responses to their behavior. It doesn't mean we have to condone or excuse their behavior, either, or even pretend to understand it.

This is a lot to take in, and I'm not sure I've done a good job expressing it, but I know I need to remember this in my daily life when dealing with people, and thinking about it is giving me a new meaning to the lines from the Metta Sutta: 'By not holding to fixed views, the pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision, is not born again into this world.'

May all beings be at ease.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

What the!!!

So now the CDC is saying it's good be 'a bit overweight'. They're classing that as a BMI of 25-30. A 'normal' BMI is 18-24, and underweight is anything below 18. Mine has been 21 for the last few years. When I was at my fattest it was 33. So that means according to the Centers for Disease Control, I had less risk of some diseases and was better off weighing 190 pounds (BMI 30) than 134 pounds (BMI 21)at my height of 5' 7". This strikes me as insane!

Read the story here:

Now doctors say it's good to be fat

And here:

Being a little heavy may have some benefits

Obviously, I think this is not only complete and utter tosh, it's also irresponsible. People are already so confused about what they should do to protect their health and improve their quality of life. I don't understand why journalists grab these studies and oversimplify them then trumpet their own version of them all over the airwaves. And I don't understand why researchers keep crunching the numbers to try come up with something shocking. These odd little studies almost invariably turn out to be untrue, and when a few days later the press announce that study was flawed or in heavy dispute, they're much quieter about it and people don't seem to hear it.

'Let's haul our fat, flat butts out to the Range Rover, kids, and drive on over to Wendy's for a half-pound double bacon cheddar melt. Wouldn't want you sweeties to die of cancer!'

Good lord.

May all beings be at ease. (And in an acceptable weight range. LOL)

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Sunday lunch

I just made a very successful vegan Sunday lunch and thought I'd share how I did it. (Anna, you reading??)

Do you remember those potatoes and carrots your mother used to put in with the pot roast? Maybe you have to be from the Southern US, but every mom I know made this--and so did I before I went vegetarian. The roast was cooked until it was falling apart in tender threads, and the potatoes had a distinctive, almost leathery crusty outside and were more or less caramelized all the way through. The carrots had crinkly skins and were roasted to sugary sweetness while still retaining their shape. Well, I always liked the veg much more than the meat, and this morning I had a bag of potatoes and suddenly really wanted pot roast style potatoes. I managed to recreate them today by peeling red potatoes and leaving them whole, chopping carrots in halves or thirds and leaving the skins on. I coated the vegetables in a bit of peanut oil, a few spoonfuls of vegetarian gravy granules and Marmite, a few tablespoons of water, a dash of smoky paprika and generous grinding of black pepper. I put all these ingredients in a covered pottery casserole, put the lid on and baked for three hours, checking occasionally to see if they needed a few drops more water and weren't sticking. When they were cooked through, I turned the oven off and left them sitting in the oven to continue to caramelize while I cooked kale with onions in a suacepan on the stove. I did my yoga practice while the kale cooked, then I opened a can of mock duck and made a gravy with the liquid from the can and voilĂ , Sunday lunch with old-fashioned roast potatoes and gravy. It would have been good with sprouts instead of the kale, but we didn't have any sprouts. DH said it was like Christmas lunch! And no animals had to die!

May all beings be at ease.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Good news

I just talked to my son and he told me he is on the honor roll this semester! This is the first time in his life, that I can recall, that he has made straight A's. All his school life I've tried to convince him that it doesn't matter how much he knows, if he doesn't write it down he won't get credit for it. He has refused to do his work or conform to the whole school 'thing' since he was in kindergarten. Now at last it seems to have been revealed to him the secret to success. He said, 'All I've been doing is picking up my pencil and writing down what's on the board.'

Well, will wonders never cease.

I am forwarding some money to my parents so they can take him to order his class ring. I feel very happy that he's achieving some success at long last, and he says that he's been told he can go back to regular school after Christmas. (He has been in alternative school for the last few years.)

I've been really emotional this weekend, anyway. Now this. I feel so many emotions; happy for him but also quite sick in the pit of my stomach. I haven't actually spoken to his father in at least a year that I can remember. In fact, I think it's been two years. In actual fact, they don't have a phone, so the only time I get to speak to him is about once a month or so when my parents have him over for the weekend and I get to have a phone conversation with him. Obviously, if there's no phone in his house there's also no dial up connection or broadband, so email is out. So my communication with him is rare. Maybe I should not be disclosing all this so publicly. The nausea I feel is rising now into my throat. There's a burning sensation from the pit of my stomach all the way up my esophagus to my throat. I get this reaction after speaking to him because it is just so fraught with emotion. It's a bit better these days. In the past, I used to go and actually throw up or have dry heaves and cry for hours. Now it's just this shakiness in the hands and a feeling of desolation accompanied by the nausea. I suppose it's a primal reaction, beyond my control.

See, life can be complicated for us mere mortals. Things aren't always so simple. I used to think they were. I used to sit in judgement of people who have been forced to make painful choices or whose lives weren't like mine. It's so easy for people who are married and living with their kids to just frown and shake their heads and say 'How could she, how could such a thing happen?' But the path of life is unpredictable and sometimes fraught with perilous forks where turning neither left nor right is acceptable, yet you have no choice but to go down one or the other. You can almost never turn back. The truth of it is, you never really can go back at all. The past can't be undone or relived. All any of us can do is go forward. We have to embrace the path, such as it is.

It does no good to dwell on things. The only real moment is right now. The past doesn't exist, the future doesn't exist. Right now, my son is not only alive and healthy, he's experiencing success and good times. I've talked to him, it's real. These emotions, these feelings, they're real, too, but they're transient. They spring from my perceptions, my condemnation of myself, my guilt. They aren't based on him, he blames me for nothing. These feelings will pass way. They will leave me only as changed as I allow them to. They will affect me only to the extent that I allow them to. They will mean only as much as I allow them to. He's okay, he's doing okay, his life is okay. It's me who's having the problem, the same old problem, the old wound that doesn't heal, or that I won't allow to heal.

Tomorrow I'll go and buy a card and mail it to him in congratulations. It just so happens I've sent him a package recently. I'll see to it that he gets his class ring, with the help of my parents. And I will continue to breathe through each moment. It's all I can do.

It's good news.

Good news.

May all beings be at ease.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Embracing emotion

I slipped up and broke my cardinal rule at work today. There's someone at work who, to me, is a toxic person. So many times in the past, interacting with this person has left me feeling unsettled, upset, worried, angry, hurt, belittled, and worthless. Having resolved not to let my interactions with her go beyond yes and no (and even then as a strictly business-only last resort), today I slipped. Yes, we spoke beyond the necessary. It was a stupid thing to do. As usual I have come away from it feeling bad about myself, bad about my job, worried about the future, and in general just uneasy. Speaking to this person seems to be an invitation for her to unleash all her very critical thoughts about staff, the way things are run. I agree with a lot of it, but I never come away feeling like any good has been accomplished as a result of these interactions, on a personal or work level.

I don't know why I did it. I know it doesn't pay to talk to this person. Every time I do it, I leave myself open to this result.

Okay, time to step back. An emotion has arisen in me. I'm examining it. It is not the direct result of any particular words that were said, but seems to have sprung from a complex web of my own perceptions. What she said and what I heard were not the same thing. I catapulted directly from her words to my own responses to them, and the springboard was my own perception, the stuff that I brought with me to this conversation. I am not skilled enough to communicate with this person. I feel certain that her reality and mine are completely different--she's not looking at things the way I do. She wouldn't be able to predict how it made me feel any more than I have a clue as to how it might have made her feel. I can only guess, and as my guesses are based on my own perceptions, I'm sure they're probably way off. At this point, it doesn't really matter anyway, I think. What matters is preservation of peace, peace for myself and peace for others.

The Buddha said,

If you know anything that is hurtful and untrue, don't say it.

If you know anything that is helpful and untrue, don't say it.

If you know anything that is hurtful and true, don't say it.

If you know anything that is helpful and true, find the right time.



Looking back on this conversation, I don't see that anything that was said on either side was exactly helpful and true. It was mostly opinion, speculation and worse. It was not the right time for speaking.

Most of the time, it is the time for silence.

Must remember that.

Why call this entry 'Embracing Emotion'? Because instead of allowing this emotion to bowl me over, I have sat with it. I have breathed through it. I have allowed it to exist and I have watched over it. I have stepped aside from it and tried to see it. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, I have cradled my emotion as if it were a howling baby, and my mindfulness has helped to transform it.

All mental formations and all physiological formations in us are sensitive to mindfulness. If mindfulness is there, embracing your body, your body will transform. If mindfulness is there, embracing your anger or despair, then they, too, will be transformed. According to the Buddha and according to our experience, anything embraced by the energy of mindfulness will undergo a transformation.

At the moment you become angry, you tend to believe that your misery has been created by another person. You blame him or her for all your suffering. But by looking deeply, you may realize that the seed of anger in you is the main cause of your suffering. Then we will stop blaming the other person for causing all our suffering. We realize she or he is only a secondary cause.

~Thich Nhat Hanh, from Anger




If I hadn't embraced this emotion, I would now be enslaved to it, ruled by it, and seeking to blame someone for it. Looking deeply, I see that the fears and worry brought on by this conversation are all illusion from inside me. They are not real. They do not exist.

May all beings be at ease.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Buddhism without Beliefs



For many western Buddhists, Stephen Batchelor's 'Buddhism without Beliefs' is a sort of manifesto. Subtitled, 'A Contemporary Guide to Awakening,' the book explains dharma practice, unbound by the fetters of cultural and religious tradition. To me, this book expresses Buddhism in its purest form, and is one of the books that has been pivotal to me on my current path.

Here are a few striking quotations from the book.

On the Buddha:

The Buddha was not a mystic. His awakening was not a shattering insight into a transcendent Truth that revealed to him the mysteries of God. He did not claim to have had an experience that granted him privileged, esoteric knowledge of how the universe ticks. Only as Buddhism became more and more of a religion were such grandiose claims imputed to his awakening.

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When asked what he was doing, the Buddha replied that he taught, "Anguish and the ending of anguish." When asked about metaphysics (the origin and end of the universe, the identity or difference of body and mind, his existence or nonexistence after death), he remained silent. he said the dharma was permeated by a single taste: freedom. He made no claims to uniqueness or divinity and did not have recourse to a term we would translate as 'God'.

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First and foremost, the Buddha taught a method ('dharma practice') rather than another '-ism'. The dharma is not something to believe in but something to do. The Buddha did not reveal an esoteric set of facts about reality, which we can choose to believe or not. He challenged people to understand the nature of anguish, let go of its origins, realise its cessation, and bring into being a way of life. The Buddha followed his reason as far as it would take him and did not pretend that any conclusion was certain unless it was demonstrable.


On Worry:

To understand worry is to know it calmly and clearly for what it is: transient, contingent, and devoid of intrinsic identity.


On Rebirth:

It may seem there are two options: to believe in rebirth or not. But there is a third alternative: to acknowledge in all honesty, I do not know. We neither have to adopt the literal versions of rebirth presented by religious tradition nor fall into the extreme of regarding death as annihilation. Regardless of what we believe, our actions will reverberate beyond our deaths. Irrespective of our personal survival, the legacy of our thoughts, words, and deeds will continue through the impressions we leave behind in the lives of those we have influenced or touched in any way.


On the concept of an afterlife:

Dharma practice requires the courage to confront what it means to be human. All the pictures we entertain of heaven and hell or cycles of rebirth serve to replace the unknown with an image of what is already known.


When I first became interested in dharma practice and began reading about Buddhism in earnest, I was a bit taken aback by some of its religious forms. Particularly, Tibetan Buddhism struck me as foreign to my mind, and was not something I could embrace. As I learned more about various Buddhist beliefs, I became more and more confused and doubtful about the whole thing. Long ago I had come to the conclusion that I did not need a saviour and I was not a sinner. I knew that life was merely life; that it was neither meaningful nor meaningless. The Buddha's Wheel of Darma teachings supported these beliefs. When I read the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Noble Path, and saw in them my secret beliefs reflected back to me like an echo of my own thoughts, from a man who had passed them on centuries before Jesus was even born, I had felt such a sense of being freed. But my further research was troubling. I knew I could not worship the Buddha any more than I could worship the Christ. I knew I could not believe in karmic rebirth any more than I could believe in a heaven or hell. I could not believe in devas and hungry ghosts any more than I could believe in angels and demons. I knew I could not reject one mystic and esoteric religion only to embrace an alternate one. The Four Noble Truths had led me to dharma practice, but Buddhist religiosity nearly repelled me from it. Then I read Stephen Batchelor's book, and realised it was okay for me to accept some things and to reject others (something I had been warned against as a Christian). It was okay for me to get to the heart of Gautama Sakyamuni's teachings and bypass the religious traditions that have grown up around them. I couldn't do this with Christian teachings. No matter how you strip it down, Christianity is a dualistic belief system: mind/body, God/man, good/evil. No. But Stephen Batchelor's book helped me realise that I could strip down Buddhism to its essence and find something that I could embrace with joy. I sure do thank him for that.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Food glorious food!

This is going to sound a bit 'chefy', but I made this today and it turned out so delicious I thought I'd share. It is vegan, but you could use dairy products if you want.

Aubergine and Kale Stacks with Red Pepper Cream Sauce, Braised Puy Lentils and Polenta Croutons

For the Braised Lentils:

1 can lentils
1 small red onion, diced very fine
2 medium carrots, diced very fine
olive oil
Sweat the onion and carrot down in the olive oil until onions are translucent and mixture is beginning to caramelise. Deglaze the pan a bit at a time with the liquid from the can of lentils. When the veg is very soft, add the lentils, salt and pepper to taste, and some chopped fresh parsley. Continue to simmer until the lentils are done to your liking while you continue on with other stages of this recipe, then set them aside to keep warm.

For the Red Pepper Cream Sauce

Roast 2 red bell peppers in the gas burner of your stove top, or under the broiler of the oven. When they are charred, put them in a paper bag or covered bowl to rest 10 minutes. Continue with other stages of recipe.

For the Aubergine Stacks

2 aubergines (eggplants, each sliced into four slices longways)
kale or other greens of your choice, chopped and cooked in boiling water, drained and all excess moisture pressed out
2-3 tablespoons of sundried tomato tapanade (or other highly seasoned, strong tasting thick, tomato-based pasta stir-through type sauce--I used the tapanade because that's what I had)
olive oil

Rub a bit of olive oil on the aubergine slices and put in oven for 15 minutes or so at around 350F to start the cooking process. Combine the chopped greens and tomato tapanade. Set mixture aside.

For the Polenta Croutons

Mix 200g polenta into 800ml boiling water or seasoned vegetable stock. Cook and stir for five minutes or until very stiff. Pour into lightly greased dish and allow to cool and set.

Finishing it all up...

Peel the roasted peppers and pull out the stems and seeds. Put them in a small saucepan with 2 crushed garlic cloves and a small amount of water or vegetable stock. Cover and simmer for 5 or 6 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the polenta into cubes and toss in a bit of olive oil. Spread on a baking sheet and set aside.

Puree the pepper and garlic mixture and seive it back into the saucepan. Mix the red pepper pulp into the greens and tapanade mixture. To the red pepper sauce in the pan, add enough soy cream (or dairy cream if you prefer) to lighten the sauce. Add salt and cayenne pepper to taste. Set aside.

Take the aubergine slices out of the oven. Spoon one quarter of the greens mixture onto each of four of the aubergine slices. Top each with the remaining aubergine slices and press down a bit. Cover lightly with foil and return dish to the oven. Put the polenta cubes in the oven as well. Bake all for about 30 minutes. Check and toss the polenta cubes often. You want them to be golden and crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Take the foil off the aubergine stacks for the last 10 minutes or so to allow the tops to brown a bit.

To serve, plate up one aubergine stack per four plates and ladle one quarter of the red pepper sauce over each. Divide remaining food amongst the four plates. (Obviously, this dish serves four! Hubby and I ate it for both lunch and dinner today.)

Hubby declared this 'the food experience of the millenium', but then he gets really excited when I make oven chips and baked beans...

May all beings be at ease.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

You ain't Robin Hood, put that bow down!



The Buddha teaches us that ignorance magnifies suffering. He is talking about being ignorant of the nature of things, of reality, of the fact that all things change continuously and nothing is permanent. This is something we always seem to forget; for some reason it is in our nature to cling to the false belief that there is something that can be permanent, that it can be stable, that it can be enduring. He is also talking about the false belief that things are independent of one another, when in reality, everything is intimately interconnected with everything else on every level. When you reach the understanding that we are all part of a vast web of being that is in constant flux, we can overcome ignorance and suffering. This is not to say that someone with understand can entirely escape suffering, but he can certainly lessen its impact.

Here's what the Buddha had to say about the effect of ignorance:

Suppose someone is struck by an arrow. He will feel pain. But if a second arrow strikes him at the very same spot, the pain will be much more than just doubled. And if a third arrow strikes him at that same spot again, the pain will be a thousand times more intense. Ignorance is the second and third arrow. It intensifies pain.

Thanks to understanding, a practitioner can prevent pain in himself and others from being intensified. When an unpleasant feeling, physical or mental, arises in him, the wise man does not worry, complain, weep, pound his chest, pull his hair, torture his body and mind, or faint. He calmly observes his feeling and is aware that it is only a feeling, and he is not caught by the feeling. Therefore, the pain cannot bind him. When he has a painful physical feeling, he knows that there is a painful physical feeling. He does not lose his calmness, does not worry, does not fear, does not complain. Thus the feeling remains a painful physical feeling, and it is not able to grow and ravage his whole being.

Be diligent in your practice of looking deeply so that the fruit of Understanding may arise and you will no longer be bound by pain. Birth, old age, sickness and death will also stop bothering you.

~from the Samyutta Nikaya Sutta, retold by TNH in 'Old Path White Clouds'



What does this teaching mean? Now, I'm only a lay practitioner and no dharma teacher, but this is my take on it. Things are going to come along and blindside us. It's going to happen, no matter how much we want to avoid bad events, bad feelings, physical pain, etc. When the inevitable hits, that's the first arrow. Ouch! Okay that hurt.

Now here's where understanding comes in. If we understand the First Noble Truth ('Suffering exists') then we know that stuff happens. It just does. We get sick, we age, we lose people and things that we love, we die. It is going to happen and we can pretend all we want to that it isn't but guess what. It still is going to happen. BUT--we don't have to make it worse for ourselves. If we understand that nothing is permanent and everything is connected and in continuous motion, we can get through it.

If we cling to the false belief that we could have done something to prevent this from happening, if we engage in 'if only' thinking, or if we fall into 'why me' thinking, we are shooting ourselves with that second arrow. You can't prevent the inevitable and this feeling is not going to last forever. Nothing does. It's a feeling. It will pass.

If we allow our emotions to overwhelm us, we have shot ourselves with the third arrow. This is when we wallow in despair, turn to self-abuse of various kinds (drug abuse, alcoholism, or whatever other self-destructive coping mechanisms we have found), find ourselves so deep into our own pain that we can't see a way out again. It is pain a thousand times more intense than the first arrow, and we caused it ourselves. We shot ourselves. We did it because we were clinging to false beliefs about the nature of reality.

This teaching has all sorts of ramifications for me. Just today I was walking home from work and I smiled at the sight of a bird and felt surprised at myself. I remember a time when I wouldn't have even noticed a bird. I inhaled deeply in time to my footsteps. In, out. In, out. I thought I might recite the metta sutta in my head as I walked, which I do sometimes. Then the thought occurred to me, I haven't lived up to this sutta today. I have no right to say these words. There's been tension at work amongst some staff and there's been talking going on behind people's backs, and I harboured some bad thoughts about people and yes I did some whispering myself. I felt a terrible pang of guilt. I felt a crushing feeling. In the past this could have led to tearful prayers for forgiveness and would have cast a cloud of gloom over me for the entire evening. But today, I have a better understanding. I breathed in and said to myself, 'I am feeling an emotion of guilt. I feel guilty for my behaviour today.' I breathed in and out and kept walking. I reminded myself that I was feeling an emotion. I acknowledged it, and it faded. There's no need to shoot yourself with that second arrow. It wouldn't change how I behaved today, and it wouldn't affect what I do tomorrow. I know I can do better tomorrow, and I already feel better today.


May all beings be at ease.