Thoughts on Groundhog Day

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It’s Groundhog Day today.   So if the little critter sees his shadow there’s more winter?  Less winter?  Oh, I don’t know.  I live in Tucson where we are happily into sunny spring.

But I did love the movie, “Groundhog Day”.  In case you haven’t seen it (is there anyone who hasn’t seen it?) it’s about a cranky and cynical weather man (Bill Murray) who is on assignment in Punxsutawney, PA to cover the yearly groundhog shadow-spotting event and related festivities.  He ends up getting snowed in and wakes up to learn that he is reliving the same day as the previous one. Essentially he gets to have a perpetual do-over.  And little by little he adjusts and changes until he becomes the person he wants to be–obviously a better version than the cranky and cynical version.

Well if you’re a regular reader of this blog you can probably guess where this one is going.  While I have often heard myself utter the words, “I want a do-over” what I know for sure (thank you Oprah) is that I didn’t need a do-over, but I did need a do-differently or do-better.    What is so compelling about Groundhog Day is that Phil, (Murray’s character) is the only one who is doing anything differently.  The only thing that is changing is him.  And that starts a progression of positive change in his relationships and how he sees himself.

I read a wonderful book recently called “Gratitude and Trust” by Paul Williams (the composer and performer) and Tracey Jackson  (author and Hollywood screenwriter).  This book is a slightly different take on the principles of 12-step recovery programs that can work for anyone.  It’s essentially a series of affirmations that serve as a guide to change.  The first of these affirmations is:

“Something has to change, and it’s probably me”

I’ve made huge changes in my life over time.  I homeschooled one of my children.  I moved across the country.  I got into therapy. I got divorced.  I relocated again.  I got into therapy again. I got remarried.   I became vegan.   These changes were fueled by a fervent belief that my life could be better, that I could be happier and more fulfilled.  But even as I gritted my teeth and pressed on I still hadn’t fully groked:

Something has to change, and it’s probably me”

This is about commando accountability and honesty.  We don’t find ourselves in situations we put ourselves in situations.  No matter what’s going on we are full participants.  The choices we make are ours.  The good, the bad and the ugly.  Bad marriage?   Unfulfilling career?  Sedentary and overweight?   Estranged from our kids?  We are full participants.  Resentful?  Fatigued?  Lonely?  We are full participants.  Once we own that, we can begin to change it.

That being said we don’t need to go it alone.  We need to own our stuff, but we can find support from others- trustworthy partners, friends, therapists  or relatives who can handle and support the changes we are trying to make.  On the other hand we may need to distance ourselves from those who are threatened by our desire to change.

At times, the process of taking full responsibility for all that is in our lives may be painful and sad (hence wishing for do-overs) but letting go of the desire to blame or control others is at the same time wildly relieving, and it paves the way for real joy and serenity.   Focusing on ourselves in this way is not arrogant or selfish (although I’ve been accused of being both).  This is a humble place, and it doesn’t mean we don’t care.  Rather we care enough to let the people we love experience their own journeys and be accountable for their own choices.

Being accountable may impact outcomes and it may not.  Relationships may deepen or they may not.  Jobs may become more satisfying or they may not.  We’re not in the movies after all. And as long as we can only control ourselves this will be true. But I believe that everything feels better when we clean up our side of the street.  With a sense of greater clarity and integrity we can gradually (or not so gradually!) move toward situations that sustain and nurture us.

So if you are someone who watches Groundhog Day with nary a wish for a do-over I’m very very glad for you.  Please get out there and share your sense of joy and fulfillment with the world.  But if you yearn for something better, you can make it so.

It all starts with you.

Oh and it seems that Punxsutawney Phil did see his shadow, and I guess that means six more weeks of winter.  Sorry folks.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

Oh my! Peach Pie!

And a Little Bit of Growth

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Considering we are taking off for Montana in a few days and are all about using up our refrigerator contents, my impulse buy the other day at Trader Joe’s was probably a bit ill-advised.   I just couldn’t resist the wonderful smell of the ripe peaches (even though I’m not much of a peach eater), so that crate of peaches came home with me.  Check out these beauties:

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So, what to do with the peaches?  I went to my usual sources, Smitten Kitchen and Barefoot Contessa, for some inspiration and I found a peach pie recipe from SM and a peach crumble recipe from Ina.  At first I was leaning toward the crumble because my inner voice (you know, the one that tells you all the reasons you can’t do something?) was suggesting that I could never pull off making a great fruit pie.  It’s hard to make a good crust.  It takes so much time. What about that lattice pattern on top?  And anyway, who is going to eat this?  Can it even freeze?  Is my pie pan the right size?  Wow.  I was all up in this when I had an “aha” moment care of Oprah.

A Fortuitous Super Soul Moment

While I was perusing peach recipes yesterday I was simultaneously catching up on this week’s Oprah Super Soul Sunday episode, and her guest was author and screenwriter, Steven Pressfield.  He is probably best known (outside of super soul circles) for his book, The Legend of Bagger Vance which was also a movie with Matt Damon and Will Smith.  The topic of the show, however, was how he understands the  creative process and the resistance we all have in response to our efforts to achieve greater consciousness, fulfillment and success.  His philosophy is outlined in his book “The War of Art”.   What caught my attention though (and how very timely) was his assertion that these inner voices, like the Debbie Downer in my head around the peach pie, are all about fear and exist as levels of resistance in direct proportion to the potential for growth in consciousness.  No argument from me.  This is stuff I know and believe.  The antidote?  Correctly identify the voices as irrelevant to the business at hand, and just do it.  So I did.  And here it is:

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With perfect flaky (gluten-free!) butter crust:

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And juicy, tart peaches:

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An absolutely perfect summer dessert!

In truth, making this pie wasn’t any more complicated or difficult than many other things I have made  (that glazed lemon pound cake comes to mind), but for some reason tackling it felt like a task that was beyond my skill in the kitchen.  As I plowed ahead, step by step, I got in the flow and the nagging voices receded.  My kitchen didn’t look so hot, but when I popped that pie in the oven I suspected that it was a winner.  This time I didn’t let the what-ifs stop me and right now, I’m pretty sure that David’s office staff is enjoying a fabulous dessert with their lunch.

I know that this is a pie and not a big life decision but the experience of feeling “not up to the task” for me anyway, can show up around all kinds of endeavors.  And how very limiting that is.  I even suspect that the impulse buy/Oprah show wasn’t that much of a coincidence but instead the universe putting an opportunity and a little encouragement in my path.  This time I was paying attention and got the message.

And that is sweet indeed.

Surviving or Thriving?

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Friends of ours here in Tucson belong to a community garden, and they have been eating produce predominantly sourced from their garden for a while now.  During  a recent visit to their home we sampled some of these goodies and took a walk to their garden.  We seized the opportunity to get some pointers as we had begun gardening ourselves.  They shared many tips but often with the caveat “although there can be a lot of variability”.  I think I’m starting to know what they mean.

This morning’s visit to the garden started me thinking about the variability in our garden-why some plants were thriving and others merely seemed to be surviving.  And that led to thoughts about my own journey from surviving to thriving.  But first the plants.

The most obvious variability in our garden has to do with the two very different growing environments we have.  With temps in the 80’s and 90’s the raised bed is a dry, hot desert environment;  the greenhouse is moist, warm and humid.

The basil in the greenhouse is thriving.  So is the cilantro in the raised bed:

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These plants are at ease in their respective environments with little outward appearance of  stress.  What they need is what they have, not too little and not too much.  Balance and growth.

We also have examples of plant “siblings” that were provided with identical (at least in ways we could control) growing environments, but only some are thriving.  Consider these zucchini plants:

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One is  thriving (getting there anyway) and the other is clearly just hanging on, either not getting enough or getting too much of something.

Or these tomato plants:

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This survivor is making a valiant effort to keep going, leaning toward the sun, taking whatever nourishment is available from the soil and absorbing the water.  But again it’s clear that something is out of alignment for this plant.

As  “master of the garden” I will try to help the survivors start to thrive.  I have the tools at my disposal if perhaps not quite enough knowledge at this point.

So what do we need to thrive rather than just survive? I think it’s pretty much the same thing as the plants-more of what feeds us and  less of what doesn’t and lives that are in alignment with the deepest parts of ourselves.  That sounds simple but it’s anything but easy.   In order to get there we need to be our own master gardeners–no one else can know what we need to thrive.   And once we know what we need do we even have the courage to make it happen?

My journey involved changes in marriage, friendships, where I live and how I spend my time.  These transitions often caused pain for me and people I care deeply about.  I trusted (or maybe just hoped) that understanding would come my way.  Sometimes it has and sometimes it hasn’t.  Through all of it though I believed that I would not only find more peace and joy for myself, but that I would be a more hopeful and positive presence in the lives of others.

Upon starting this blog, a frequent comment I received was “you’re beaming” or ” you look so happy”.  And that’s the thing about thriving.  It’s not something that’s easy to define and it looks different for each of us.  But as with the plants in the garden, I think we all pretty much know it when we see it.