I promise at the end of this essay is a recipe. This particular entry was begun at least ten days ago, making its content now seem like ancient history; but when you run your own business, get sick, have a new dog and your boyfriend is away, there may be some delay between start and publication. Since then, I recovered from the cold, moved on to other food, and lost my dog for a harrowing two hours in the woods, his recovery effort assisted most graciously by my lovely friend/neighbor and Scabby’s BFF. He and I were ships passing through the night and he was on his way home when spooked by a horse (as reported by it’s rider) and turned to go the opposite way, the route we take almost daily. He was so ecstatic to be reunited with us- a nice person picked him up nearby a cul de sac and brought him the police station which is two doors down from our house. The female officer told me she would have kept him if no one claimed him, so I suppose it’s a plus when your dog is that adorable. He is safe and licensed now and I am being even more vigilant (is that possible?) and trying to forgive myself and remember that he is a dog, and the nose leads.
At the end of a full week, I found myself fighting a cold. Of course I want to be well and for my body to go to work soldiering against pathogens, but I wonder if I could examine the word choice here and actually surrender a bit, listening to the signal to slow my pace. Sickness happens when run down or vulnerable in some way, and even though I know I should listen to the message to cancel appointments and rest, I find myself resisting and moreover, wanting to add to my plate with creative projects and seemingly urgent to-do lists. Illness sharpens the focus on what is truly urgent: walking the dog, making and eating more chicken soup, taking zinc, vitamin C and other useful supplements, and purchasing Oprah and People magazine (normally reserved exclusively for plane rides) to read in bed while sipping peppermint tea.
Speaking of words, this week I lamented to my coach about feeling somewhat burned out and we came up with a plan to remedy the situation. During our conversation, one of the things she encouraged me to examine is the language I often employ- words like “hard” and “try”. She reminded me of their impressions upon my sub-conscience mind and encouraged me to replace them with more edifying words such as “challenge” (or the even more euphemistic- my idea- growth opportunity) and “strive”. Ok, a little part of me both rolls my eyes and kicks my legs in protest as I say in a tantrum, but my life has been hard. Hardship, I remind myself, is character building and compassion generating, and of course- fodder for writing.
Before I got sick I knew I was running low on emotional fuel so I engaged in several soul-feeding activities in between fretting about the usual challenges of self-employment, such as cooking and eating nourishing food, playing my guitar, and taking epically long walks with the dogs. The cranberry bog crusted with long cracking sheets of melting snow was spectacular and we’ve been walking in the warm spell, followed by the bitter cold snap, crunching through snow and taking in the sights, such beauty right outside our door.
Last week I was busy with work, and our home bustled with the preparatory energy of Chris packing to go to Panama to fish for eight days, which is where he is now. There was also, this week, mourning the death of the amazing nineteen year old cat I bought in college; her death marks the end of an era. I’ve been making a point to write in my gratitude journal every night, even if it is just a few scribbles, and am finding that there is nothing as directly mitigating of fear and worry as gratitude.
Last Wednesday afternoon while teaching class and balancing in tree pose, I looked around at my students and at belongings, suddenly feeling immeasurably rich; practically overcome with gratitude: my car outside (the Toyota Rav I love so much, the best and most comfortable and reliable car I have ever owned) my ipod, my little portable speaker, my coat, my super soft cashmere scarf, my grey suede boots, and even my water bottle purchased at our local health food store were seen through the lens of gratitude and the thought of how I bought all of these useful items myself with money earned from earnest and honest work, swept through me as I scanned my life and knew the luxurious wealth I am privileged to afford: gas for my car, contact lenses, vitamins and chiropractic car, warm clothes and nutritious organic food. How lucky am I to have a business/life coach and friends who come for lunch and walks and a boyfriend who makes me healthy chocolate cake and brings me tea and helps in any way I need, always here for me? How fortunate I am to have students and clients who are kind and gracious? How blessed am I for sharing my home with the most sweet dog in the world (and one mildly nice but beloved kitty), and for access to books and music, higher education and internet, the incredibly useful and always decedent iPhone, electricity and heat…The more diligently I write in the journal every night, the more my perspective is affected and the more I notice my good fortune. I will strive to keep this sort of journal for the rest of my life.
Even though I do not regret my particular path and challenges knowing they have shaped me into the person I am today, I experienced a little twinge of jealousy when talking with my friend about her upcoming visit with her grandmother, who is both still alive and cognitively sound. I felt such wistful sadness missing my grandmother and looking back at the seven years of Alzheimer’s we suffered through. January 18th marks the third anniversary of her death; the one where she rolled up into a tiny leaf in the bed while I played sweet sad songs on the little stereo brought to the bedsides of dying people in the nursing home, massaging her increasingly cold feet as she slowly withdrew, going home to sleep on one night of the bedside vigil and coming back on a Sunday morning to sit by her bedside, just she and I together in the room as she passed on. Seeing her take her last breath was as profound, I learned in that moment, as seeing someone take their first breath. During those years, I witnessed her return to a sort of fragile infancy, the full circle we often reference. She embodied the delicate, restrained beauty of an orchid, both in life and death. On Monday my friend Craig came for a visit and walk, bearing graceful purple orchids, now gracing my table.
My grandmother influenced me profoundly, helping raise me and instilling values of self-respect, hard work, reverence, gratitude and an appreciation for order, cleanliness, precision, beauty, stylish clothes and delicious healthy food. She stuck to a schedule and only kept possessions that were either beautiful or useful. She was elegant and adoring.
As I listened to my friend discuss her life, an act I very much enjoy, (she also blogs humorously and eloquently about new motherhood and life) I thought about what a human-nature pitfall it is to compare ourselves to one another, thinking other people’s lives are easier than ours.
Two days later in a twist of divine irony, I received an email from a student recommending this book, and she wrote, “though my impression of you is that you have already found peace in this frantic world…” I laughed to myself as I pictured all the little meltdowns and implosions I’ve suffered and how often I feel as if I’m frantically juggling two arms full of plates while running on roller skates; wondering how I am going to do it all… To be fair to myself, I have found peace in many areas of my life, and given the cards I was dealt, am leading a rather balanced, healthy existence, much improved over the way I once lived, taking such poor care of myself due to self-loathing. I aspire to continual evolution and to increasing self-respect. I take steps towards these goals. Recent research proves that the physical positions we assume affect our psyche, and I owe much of my improved self-esteem and greater awareness to the postures, breath and meditation practice I’ve been doing ten times a week for ten years. I wrote back: “Thanks for the book idea… Now that’s interesting thing for me to ponder- your impression… In some ways yes, and in some areas I have a lot of turmoil still. I have many tools and methods to cope with the frantic nature of life and I also still grapple with self doubt, low self esteem, lingering effects from childhood abuse, a near constant state of worry, the challenges of self-employment, anguish about how to get to all the creative things I love to do and still make a living, whether I want to try to have a child as the window is imminently is closing and how to navigate challenging family interactions and other brushes with mean people. I strive to live mindfully, to lead with kindness and make a difference in the world. I strive to train my brain to focus on the moment, gratitude and what is working well. But I, like everyone, am a work in progress. I choose to share this because it is important to remember that we all make assumptions about how other people’s lives are going and they aren’t always accurate. I for one, would like to feel more peaceful in certain areas of my life where I currently don’t. We all need more tools. We also need to utilize the ones we already have, and to read and share these books, inspirations and messages on a regular basis. So thank you!” She, in turn, thanked me for my candor and for the reality check.
In closing, let’s all remember that no one has a perfect life, suffering is relative, and we don’t always know what lives in someone’s past or what may be coming down the pike. Also, we forget that peace and challenge can co-exist. So let’s be kind to ourselves and others and share all of the methods that work to make us happier and healthier.
Here is what I ate a lot of last week. It was so good I made it twice. It’s full of minerals (like iodine from the kelp) and nutrients, good to have on hand for packing lunches, light and filling at the same time, and can be eaten cold or room temperature.
Almond Miso Kelp Noodles with Roasted Peppers and Chard (adapted from Glow Kitchen)
Ingredients for the noodles:
- One 1 lb. bag of kelp noodles
- one or two sweet onions
- two-three yellow, orange and/or red peppers
- 2 carrots
- 1 bunch Swiss chard
- cilantro, scallions and/or chopped peanuts to garnish
Ingredients for the sauce:
- 6 Tbs. almond butter
- 2 Tbs. miso paste
- 2 Tbs. sesame oil (I used 1 tbs roasted and 1 tbs hot)
- 1 inch chunk grated fresh ginger
- 1 (or 2 if you like garlic) minced garlic clove
- 2 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
- 1/3 C. (or more to desired consistency water
Roast thinly sliced peppers in onions that you’ve tossed with olive oil and salt at 400• for about 30 minutes or to desired done-ness.
Make sauce by placing all ingredients in a food processor or blender and place rinsed noodles in sauce- the longer they’re in, the more flavor they’ll absorb and the softer they’ll become.
Saute Swiss chard and thinly sliced or grated carrots until desired done-ness.
Toss everything together and top with chopped fresh cilantro or parsley, scallions, bean sprouts, peanuts.