Saturday, 20 February 2010

136.6 this morning!

I may be naturally pulling out of my year long bake-cakes-and-eat-everything-in-sight phase. For some reason, the thought of a cake is giving me a nauseated feeling, and I'm not going back for seconds at meals. And my weight has dropped 3.5lbs this month.

I've been doing a rotation of Jillian Michaels 30-Day Shred, mostly, with some of Chalene's Fat Blaster (that clip is a great one someone taped of herself doing the workout--so that's how I must look doing it! LOL) and new Cathe step ('Step Moves') thrown in. (Cathe seems to have managed to get more makeup than I even OWN stuck to her face for this one! :) It's a great workout--moderate intensity, complex choreography. Very fun!) So some of the weight loss could be muscle loss--I haven't done any heavy lifting or even any high endurance low resistance work this month. BUT I wore my skinniest jeans to work yesterday and they seemed to fit fine. So that has to be a good sign.

9 card spread

So a subordinate of mine phoned me today from another branch to tell me 'someone' called. She gave me a vague description of what the lady called about, said the lady didn't leave her name or her phone number, nor did this member of staff ask the lady what specifically she was requesting, because the lady 'seemed sure someone knows all about it.' Apparently she thought she'd pass it on to me and I'd sort it out. I told her off for not taking a message properly and throwing this in my lap to sort out. If you can even sort out a message that has 1) no name 2) no number and 3) no message! I said to her rather coldly, 'So you didn't ask her name? You didn't ask for a phone number? It would have been VERY USEFUL to have that information.' Which I think showed considerable restraint. Maybe too much restraint. All I know is, some customer is going to come back to me eventually very angry that she hasn't heard anything from us, and there's nothing I can do until she calls, mad.

I was livid when I got home and threw 9 cards from my Anna K, no reversals. (Quotations from Anna K LWB).

What lesson can I learn from this? 6 cups, 3 wands, ace cups

6 cups--The lesson is that some members of staff (me included, most likely) are allowing 'the influence of the past to colour their judgement and decisions'. There is a long history in my work place of poor communication, a fuzzy and little understood heirarchy, lack of strong leadership, and letting poor performance slide. I'm sorry to sound critical, but it really is true. Those of us a more supervisory role are working with management to tighten things up, but we're in for a long haul changing this culture. Really, it says so much about us in general that I feel so conflicted about what most supervisors would rake you over the coals for without a second thought.

3 wands--This is a time, though, when it's vital that we invest our energy in forming a realistic vision of the future. We have to figure out 'how to coordinate to achieve our plans'.

Ace cups--The current climate at work is a new situation that is definitely emotionally charged. Our work place has been undergoing a massive transformation for the last two years or so, and more major change is on the horizon. This is upsetting for people. But it's also a chance to create real vitality and enthusiasm. If handled well.

How can I handle similar situations in the future? page swords, knight cups, 2 pents

Page swords--I must 'be prepared for conflicts, for clarifying discussions and for criticism', but I 'must not be overly fierce'. The Anna K LWB is so perfect, I think, saying, I must 'not be preparing for a fight, but for a conflict for which I need objective, realistic points, not the taunts of a diatribe'. That rings so true and perfect for this sort of situation--how to deal with my anger when someone is so blatantly incompetent. The page of swords seems to me to speak to discipline and reasonable assertiveness. I was not overly fierce with the member of staff, but I certainly launched into a diatribe when I hung up the phone!

Knight cups--I must use my emotions--my sympathy--in an appropriate way. I believe people have been let slide for too long, but as Anna K LWB says, 'It is a time to approach an enemy peacefully...and be careful not to fall into naivety, credulity or inappropriate helpfulness.' I don't know if enemy is the right word, but you certainly feel like there's a possibility of making an enemy if you correct someone where I work, and I know a lot of griping and criticism goes on about supervisors and managers amongst staff.

2 Pentacles--The key to success seems obviously to be to strike a balance between the assertiveness of swords energy and the compassion/sentimentality of cups energy.

How can I assert my authority effectively at work? Queen wands, Death, Ace swords

Queen wands--I need to be self-confident and full of energy but not 'self-dramatising or overestimating my own capabilities.'

Death--The best way to assert myself is to attempt to die to my old ways of thinking and dealing with members of staff.

Ace swords--I must look at things with a clear head and clear mind. 'It is the time to make clear the things which had been unclear or incomprehensible'--which is the best way to describe the convoluted and backward way we have supervised and managed people so far.

I was amazed at how accurate this reading rang for me when I threw the cards and looked them over intuitively, so I checked the LWB for deeper levels of meaning, and was really surprised at how sentence after sentence fit the situation so perfectly.

You tarot folk, what further or different insights do you have?

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Ma Po Doufu

Ma Po Doufu ('Pock-marked Ma's Tofu')

Prepare and set these aside:
2 packages firm tofu, drained and pressed, cut into bite-size cubes
approx 2 cups frozen veggie mince (or reconstituted dried TVP)
1/2 cup shredded dried black fungus (wood ears), soaked in hot water
2 whole dried red chiles

Combine in a bowl:

1/4 cup dark soy sauce
2-1/2 Tbs Sichuan chili bean paste
1 Tbs black bean paste
1 tsp sugar or a Tbs mirin
4 Tbs cornstarch
a big squirt of garlic paste from a tube (or 2 fat cloves minced)
a smaller squirt ginger paste (or about 1 tsp minced)
a squirt of chile paste from a tube (or a pinch of ground cayenne, or a chopped fresh hot red chile)--adjust heat to taste, but traditionally should be pretty hot!
several grinds black pepper and Sichuan peppercorns
sesame oil to taste (a little goes a long way)
about a cup of water

To prepare:
Heat a little peanut oil in a sauce pan or wok. Toast the dried red chilies for a few seconds, then pour the liquid mixture in sauce pan and add the veggie mince and wood ears. Stir and simmer until thickened and veggie mince is done to your liking. Taste for spiciness and adjust accordingly. (You might want more pepper, more soy sauce, whatever.) When it's perfect for you, add the tofu, stir very carefully, and allow to heat through.

Serve over rice,with a large portion of crisp stir-fried mixed vegetables on the side. (Keep the flavour of the side dish light because the tofu dish is very rich. I just put some ginger in my veg and didn't make a sauce...) Garnish the mapo doufu with fresh chopped green onions.

We had this for dinner last night!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Me and resolutions, we lose interest in each other fast

I was going to post my food for a week, but alas I haven't. Probably just as well as it's terribly dull reading. Well, it's kind of like a Greek tragedy. You know, where the protagonist's weakness is the cause of his own downfall. And you surely don't want to watch that happening.

So rather than focus on my tightening waistband, let's talk about something else.

I have rediscovered the Heart Sutra, also known as the Prajnaparamita Sutta. It is a sutra that is very dear to me. It is said to contain the essence of Buddhist teaching, and is recited daily in Mahayana temples and practice centres around the world. It is very short sutra and quite profound. In the sutra, Avolokiteshwara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, speaks to Shariputra, a disciple of the Buddha, about ultimate reality. The orginal version of the sutra is in Sanskrit, which I am in the process of learning to chant, but I also chant it in English, using my beloved Thich Nhat Hanh's translation:

The Bodhisattva Avalokita,
while moving in the deep course of Perfect Understanding,
shed light on the Five Skandhas and found them equally empty.
After this penetration, he overcame ill-being.

Listen, Shariputra,
form is emptiness, and emptiness is form.
Form is not other than emptiness, emptiness is not other than form.
The same is true with feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness.

Listen, Shariputra,
all dharmas are marked with emptiness.
They are neither produced nor destroyed,
neither defiled nor immaculate,
neither increasing nor decreasing.
Therefore in emptiness there is neither form, nor feelings, nor perceptions,
nor mental formations, nor consciousness.
No eye, or ear, or nose, or tongue, or body, or mind.
No form, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind.
No realms of elements (from eyes to mind consciousness),
no interdependent origins and no extinction of them
(from ignorance to death and decay).
No ill-being, no cause of ill-being, no end of ill-being, and no path.
No understanding and no attainment.

Because there is no attainment,
the Bodhisattvas, grounded in Perfect Understanding,
find no obstacles for their minds.
Having no obstacles, they overcome fear,
liberating themselves forever from illusion, realizing perfect nirvana.
All Buddhas in the past, present, and future,
thanks to this Perfect Understanding,
arrive at full, right, and universal enlightenment.

Therefore one should know
that Perfect Understanding is the highest mantra, the unequaled mantra,
the destroyer of ill-being, the incorruptible truth.
A mantra of Praj├▒aparamita should therefore be proclaimed:

Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha
Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha
Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha
To hear it chanted by members of the Plum Village sangha (Thich Nhat Hanh's home in France), click here.

Now, I would never profess to be a teacher of Buddhism. I am not posting this as instruction. I am also not asking for corrective input. I am merely sharing my thoughts on the sutra as I see it, based on how I have been taught by Thich Nhat Hanh (through reading his books and listening to his lectures online).

What The Heart Sutra is saying is that Avalokita observed life (the 5 skandhas are the 5 aggregates of life, the 5 aspects of existence: form, feeling, perception, mental formations, consciousness) and found that when you look into them deeply, you find that they are 'empty'. (This is the interesting thing about this sutra. It carefully goes through some of the most basic Buddhist teachings about reality and 'deconstructs' them, proclaiming that their teaching is not a teaching at all. This in itself is an important Buddhist teaching, in fact the most important Buddhist teaching.)

Okay, here we go, then. What are the 5 skandhas? Remember they cannot exist independently.

Form (rupa in Sanskrit)--material, physical factors, including our bodies and the material objects that surround us--the physical sense organs and the corresponding physical objects of the sense of organs--but also the mind and its constructs

Feeling (vedana in Sanskrit)--physical sensations and emotions experienced as a result of interacting with Form--'sensation' is the key word

Perceptions (samjna in Sanskrit)--attaching a name to an object or experience, conception of an idea about a particular object, conceptualising

Mental formations (samskara in Sanskrit)--conditioned response to the object of experience, volitional actions whether good or bad--biases, prejudices, interests and attractions

Consciousness (vijnana in Sanskrit)--the faculty that connects Form to Feeling--you cannot feel without consciousness

Now, Avalokita observed us all and considered the Buddha's teaching that each of us is merely a conglomeration of these 5 aggregates, and that nowhere in any of these 5 aggregates can we pinpoint the 'self', nor can we pinpoint it in any combination of them. Therefore, there is no self. We are empty of self. Think of it this way. Look at a chair. Why is it a chair? What part of it makes it a chair? It's wood. Does that make it a chair? It has legs. Is its chairness in its legs? When you're putting it together, at what point does it become a chair? Conversely, if you deconstruct it, at what point does it stop being a chair? What is a chair? You can deconstruct it down to its atoms, but you won't find where its 'chairness' is. It's the same with you. You can't find the part of 'you' that is you. The concept of self is as much of an illusion as the concept of chair, when you look at it that way. The chair is made up entirely of not-chair elements. You are made up entirely of not-you elements. In fact, if you look deeply into things, you will see that there is nothing that is not an element of everything. The only thing lacking is a 'separate self'. And that's what Avalokita meant when he found all skandhas 'equally empty'. Everything is equally empty of a separate self. And understanding this, 'penetrating' this truth, he overcame suffering, or 'ill-being.' There is no fear when there is no separation, no beginning and no end.

The rest of sutra goes on to say that there is nothing that is not empty of a separate self, which is a curious way of stating that everything is actually part of everything else:

'Neither produced nor destroyed.'-- Nothing can be destroyed and nothing can be created. (You can't make something out of nothing. Think about it. And you can't make something into nothing. You burn a piece of paper, it turns to smoke and ash. It doesn't become nothing. Nothing becomes nothing.)

'Neither defiled nor immaculate'--a rose becomes garbage eventually, and garbage is compost to the rose.

'Neither increasing nor decreasing'--everything that is, already is, and cannot be produced nor destroyed.

So when you relax into the knowledge of our oneness, our 'interbeing', suffering ceases. There is no attaining to this, nothing to strive for, no concept to master. It is merely a matter of seeing an 'incorruptible truth'--everything is part of everything else.

The 'mantra of Prajnaparamita' (which means 'perfect understanding') is 'Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi swaha'. This means, 'Gone, gone, all the way gone, everyone gone over to the other shore. Hurray!' Which is a funny way of celebrating that we're all one, and a sort of prayer that we'll all realise it.

Oh, here's a perfectly beautiful rendition of the Heart Sutra in Sanskrit, by a Malaysian recording artist named Imee Ooi. It's the one I'm learning: Heart Sutra Imee Ooi .

And finally, if you want to hear a dance version in English, check this out: Heart Sutra Club Mix. (It's not Thich Nhat Hanh's translation, but if you listen closely you can hear every word.)