Book Group Challenge

I don’t personally know any vegans, and I’m taking steps to remedy that.  Nearly all the women I do know, however, belong to or have belonged to a book group.  I belonged to a book group in New Jersey for years.  We read some good stuff, some great stuff and some inane stuff.  But I can say that we never read much important stuff.  No judgment, that’s just how it was. I’m just trying out a Meet-Up group here in Tucson that reads current, interesting trade fiction.  Again, this is fun, just not very important.

And this is why I am challenging all of my book group sisters (and maybe some brothers) to step it up and read this:

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The World Peace Diet by Will Tuttle, Ph.D. is one of several books I am required to read before I attend Victoria Moran’s Main Street Vegan Academy in June.  The academy reading list is a compilation of some of the most influential and important books on the subject of veganism, covering topics that include health, animal rights and the environment.  The scholarship and brilliance of authors such as Melanie Joy, T. Colin Campbell and others has been eye-opening and inspiring.

The title of this book is a bit of a misnomer, if only because the word “diet” conjures the old tired quick fix weight loss thing.  The subtitle, “Eating for Spiritual Health and Social Harmony” gets closer to the crux of the subject matter.  Rather than try to sum it up myself, here is the description of the book from Amazon:

Food is our most intimate and telling connection both with the living natural order and with our living cultural heritage. By eating the plants and animals of our earth, we literally incorporate them. It is also through this act of eating that we partake of our culture’s values and paradigms at the most primal levels. It is becoming increasingly obvious, however, that the choices we make about our food are leading to environmental degradation, enormous human health problems, and unimaginable cruelty toward our fellow creatures.

The World Peace Diet suggests how we as a species might move our consciousness forward so that we can be more free, more intelligent, more loving, and happier in the choices we make.

Because this book was a number one Amazon bestseller in 2010, I was interested in reading comments and reviews by the Amazon customers.  Predictably this book resonated powerfully with, well, the “choir”.  Those readers who were interested in the subject matter were already highly conscious about the need for a global change in our diets.  This is my and David’s lens as well, and still the book and its message have stimulated hour after hour of discussion about history, society, philosophy and spirituality. Is this not the stuff of a great book group read?

So what do you think folks?  Are you ready to step it up and tackle some new subject matter?  Are you willing to expose yourselves to disturbing truths about ourselves and our society?  I can’t promise that you will be comfortable.  I can promise that if you can tolerate your discomfort you (and your book group) will have an experience you will never forget.

 

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21 Days of Meditation

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Somehow I just couldn’t start a post about meditation without some sort of lovely visual, even though this photo has nothing to do with my experience with meditation.  Meditative experiences maybe, but not the practice of meditation.  I hope you enjoy it anyway.

As I’ve alluded to time and again in this blog, I’ve been engaged in very intentional spiritual explorations for some time now.  For me “exploration” of any type usually involves reading, reading and more reading.  And that’s surely been the case here.

Years ago I read Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now and it resonated mightily with me.  It is not my intention to extensively discuss spiritual principles in this blog (I’ll leave that to teachers and practitioners), however, this was the book that started it all for me, specifically the idea that we are not our thoughts and feelings, but rather the observer of our thoughts and feelings.  I initially struggled with this concept until I started engaging with the spaces between my thoughts, moments of “being” without thinking.  And when I did, I felt great peace.  My spiritual journey has been one of greater engagement with the “me” that is the observer of the rest of it.

The actual practice of meditation is new for me, although I have considered many of my activities meditative in nature.  Hiking, knitting, sewing, beading all have repetitive, rhythmic bits that at times help free me from endless spinning thoughts thus creating clearer pathways to a deeper part of myself -the place where intuition and wisdom reside.  I think I was afraid to meditate, fearing that I would want to jump out of my skin with the stillness of it.  Reading books by spiritual teachers like Elizabeth Loesser, Pema Chodron, Marianne Williamson and Deepak Chopra helped me understand that meditation is simply about “being with whatever is there”.

Armed with the knowledge that there is no right or wrong “way” to meditate (at least I don’t believe there is) I decided to take bits and pieces of all the teachings and jump right in.  Or should I say, sit right down.  Every day for 21 days.   I know that “21 days to a new habit” is a pop-psych thing that’s been scientifically debunked but it was as good a time frame as any.  I’m past that time frame now and still going strong. Forget the beautiful nature visual, here’s where I sit:

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Pretty spartan, I’ll admit. No candles or statues or sounds of running water.   Yes, I do the finger thing:

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I make sure my body feels well supported, I tell Siri to let me know when 20 minutes have passed, I close my eyes, take two deep breaths and begin with a simple mantra as I breathe lightly in and out.  And then…

Whatever happens, happens.  And it varies every time.  Thoughts come and go.  I label them “thinking” without engaging with them.  Feelings come up.  I acknowledge them and return to a focus on breath and mantra.  I feel my body in new ways, experiencing the energy flowing through me.  Sometimes I’m aware of physical discomfort (itchy ears seems to be a problem for me).  I acknowledge the discomfort knowing it will pass, and it does.  Throughout the 20 minutes I try to remain relaxed and still, being with and observing whatever the experience is.

Meditating has been a revelation.  I’m starting to understand that these minutes are a microcosm of life in all of its richness and depth.  I can see that at any moment it’s possible to remain connected to my deepest self, the “me” consciousness, as thoughts and feelings flow on through.  It’s clear in meditation that my thoughts and feelings are impermanent- they arrive unbidden, are neither good nor bad, and I have a choice to engage or not engage with them.  Same with physical sensations and perceptions.  This is a powerful knowing that serves me well in all aspects of my life, although maintaining this clarity is way more challenging in the world when I am engaging with others and in more emotionally charged circumstances.

I have no idea where meditation will take me or the eventual impact it will have on my life.  What I do know is that I will continue with my daily practice.  Whatever I am destined to learn about myself in this process I know that it will serve me and the world around me.

My faith is bigger than my fear.

 

 

 

 

 

Better Than “Good”

Every so often I reread my own blog posts, both because I can’t believe that I’ve actually written so many and also to look at my own development as a blogger.   I write about things that have a lot of emotional charge for me, and I see that my language reflects that.  My posts are peppered with descriptive language–words like “gorgeous, stunning, spectacular, disaster, mess, epic fail”, etc.

I love words, and part of the fun of writing is making the words sing as well as accurately convey how I feel.  Consequently, words like “good, okay, fine” don’t often find their way into my posts.   I think we can all agree that it’s not particularly interesting to read language that conveys so little.  That being said, our lives are chock-full of moments and experiences that might not qualify as “blog-worthy”.  As I pick and choose what to write about I naturally gravitate to the highlights.  Today’s post, however, is an homage to the other stuff -the stuff (see how nondescript I can be?) that doesn’t usually make the cut.

What actually inspired this post was last night’s dessert…

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which was….good.

This is an Italian Shortbread Jam Tart (recipe here).  This was stunningly easy to prepare (I’ll get the superlatives in there somehow) with a simple shortbread dough:

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Any jam can be smeared onto the dough.  I used the apricot preserves you see in the photo.   Then the remainder of the dough is crumbled onto the top, and sliced almonds (no toasting or anything) are sprinkled across the entire top and it’s ready for baking:

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A half hour start to finish (plus baking time).  And here’s a slice on the plate:

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Hmmmm.  Never mind how the tart looks (pretty delectable, actually)  I’m noticing that the photograph which is just “okay” because I couldn’t figure out how to deal with that pesky shadow.

This tart was really more like an almond  shortbread cookie, although it was slightly overcooked which gave the entire consistency more crunch than I think was intended.  And now that I’m reliving the initial bite, it was pretty melt-in-your-mouth buttery.  A little more jam in the middle would probably have elevated it quite a bit

As I’m writing this post, I’m realizing that this simple tart was really quite a bit better than “good”(and the piece I’m munching on now confirms this). I’m undoubtedly impacted by my own journey into cooking and baking which has moved me (and my palate) into more sophisticated territory.  But what I think is probably more true is that I hadn’t been fully present with the experience of sitting down to enjoy this dessert last night.  In fact, I remember feeling preoccupied by some discussion David and I were having over dinner.  Did I even really taste this?  Could I savor it at that moment?  I think not.  And as a result, I might have tossed a recipe that is not only tasty but very useful in my repertoire for its ease of preparation.

So maybe what I’m talking about here is more about my level of engagement with the okay/fine/good moments rather than the moments or experiences themselves.  As this post seems to suggest, what might make something “blog-worthy” is less the thing itself and more about how present I am.   And that begs the question, are there really any ho-hum moments if we are truly present?

I think not.