Thursday, January 4, 2018

Karma Cooks

Chop, Chop!
      Grandma loved to cook. She also spent much of her time thinking, talking and reading about cooking. When we went out to restaurants she had the habit of asking people at neighboring tables about their selection, "That looks delicious; what is it?" She had an undeniable way of equating loving care with food. Consistent with her sense of hospitality she supported her family as a career waitress. When she wasn't out serving food at a bustling restaurant she could be found in her own kitchen, feeding her family, and a regular crew of drop-ins. Browsing through her well used Betty Crocker cookbook (which I feel fortunate to have inherited) I recall her nurturing ways.
Unlike both of my grandmothers I did not have a household of mouths to feed, nor did I live through the Great Depression. I've never followed a recipe from Betty Crocker, and wouldn't know what to do with a frozen chicken. Contrastingly, my interest in cooking grew from working in beautiful yoga focused settings, emphasizing the path of karma yoga. Karma yoga is also known as "seva" or selfless service. The idea is to serve from the heart which is accomplished by tending to the present moment with compassion for all. It's one of the branches of yoga that seeks to develop habits of mindfulness during ordinary tasks. Whether working in a kitchen or just feeding yourself everyday, food preparation is one of the many practical ways to practice yoga.

Garden to Table
My first experience with karma yoga was at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Massachusetts. During the 3.5 month commitment at the center I had a rather tumultuous relationship with my kitchen shifts. I was often fixated on experiencing the more pleasant parts of the day. Yoga classes, lectures, outdoor time and freedom were all waiting for me. If only I could check the mundane, time consuming, kitchen chores off my list. Despite the advice we received about doing our work with love and presence, my mind was often watching the clock. "Cut up one more bag of potatoes and then I'll start enjoying this place."

In addition to not getting the point of karma yoga, I was content in assuming the best about the origins of my food. My emphasis on being healthy had little regard for the planet. Yet, there would always be someone initiating a food reflection. The reflections acknowledged everything and everyone involved in making the meal possible. Just another thing I muddled through,"Yes, the food had to go through a lot to get here, let's eat already!" Looking back at my tender young self gives me a sense of compassion for those who may feel similarly today. During my karma yoga experiences, I always enjoyed participating in a vegetarian lifestyle, but inevitably resumed an all-inclusive cuisine once I returned to the "real world."

Cookbook Revolution
I did not anticipate transitioning to a vegan diet at the age of 45. However, the realities of animal agriculture, climate change and land misuse became suddenly unpalatable to me. If animal agriculture is the main cause of deforestation, why was I supporting it? Factory farming practices were not getting any less  cruel, corrupt or unsustainable. My strategy of eating only grass-fed burgers (which provides a better life for the cow) failed to address the misuse of the resources needed to create a happier cow. Although my taste buds were a bit worried at first, my craving and addiction for meat and dairy products has subsided. To my surprise, I have even developed a distaste for animal products.

One of the big reasons I participated in the animal food chain for so long was to avoid offending or inconveniencing others. The idea of seeming ungrateful was unthinkable to me. Now that I see how the meat and dairy industry harms people, animals and the planet, I'm no longer concerned about being overly polite or unnecessarily accommodating. If a simple, "no thank you" offends someone, perhaps the examination of good manners falls on them. It may sound picky or precious to abstain from certain "foods," but personal freedom is something I feel very fortunate to exercise and celebrate.

Karma yoga planted some mindfulness seeds that have finally taken over my kitchen. It's not a stretch to expand concepts of nourishment to include: caring about the health of farmers, the land and water, needless suffering of animals, and the elimination of harmful chemicals in our food systems.

Even though I won't be following any recipes from my grandma's cookbook, I will be using her nurturing intentions. She was a karma cook of another generation. Access to organic food, resources and information allow me to continue her legacy, by turning up the heat on love, the main ingredient in all of her dishes.

~May all beings be free from suffering~

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Hustle-free Holidays

Lights & Reflections
     In American Christmas culture it seems like one either identifies with the Grinch, or Saint Consumer Claus. For many years I chose to follow the ways of the shopping saint. As a youngster, it was deeply important that I purchased and/or made gifts for nearly everyone in my life. I would inevitably fail at the task. The fun of having matched some people with a special gift was canceled out by the disappointed of not including everyone.

I couldn't keep up (and lost interest), in finding stuff for all the people I loved. I wanted to stop the obligatory treasure hunt, but was afraid of being judged and misunderstood. So I continued for a while longer, hoping I would eventually turn into the person Santa expected me to be. The more I tried to participate in gifting, the more disconnected I felt from the beauty of the quiet season.

Practicing Presence
Eventually, not playing Christmas gifts became a celebrational decision for me. It's been over 10 years since I stopped equating love with presents. Not even the modified ways of consuming Christmas have caught my interest. When I hear things like, "Oh we don't buy gifts for everyone anymore," it still sounds like unnecessary shopping. It's been suggested that I could simply buy gift cards, subscriptions to magazines, shop online, or participate in the name drawing game. When I report that I've opted out on all the above, I'm usually met with blank and uncomfortable stares. It's an unintentional conversation stopper.

Now I find my resonance enjoying colorful lights, seasonal smells, and turning up the music. It's a great time for connecting with people, being alone, and getting outside into nature. I feel joy for those who are joyful at this time. I also feel sadness and despair for those who continue to suffer in great ways, all over the world. Heartfelt connection can also be hard felt. There seems to be an abundance of opportunity to feel it all. Making the silent nights, the most holy nights, for letting it all settle in.

Birthday Suit Stocking
Lately I've been wondering if my birthdate has anything to do with the kicking and screaming I sometimes feel like doing during the holidays? After joining the world on Christmas Eve, I was put into a stocking the nurses made, and sent home. The gift of being alive was my first and greatest present, but I'm sure it must have involved some kicking and crying.

I often receive condolences regarding my birth date. When required to show someone my driver's license, it's frequently  followed by that familiar head shake. "What a bummer." "You must have gotten so ripped off."  Sometimes I feel obligated to defend my inner-child, by letting them know about my loving and generous family. Though these corrections never seem to register. "Still, that sucks having your birthday on Christmas!" In reality, it was as if my holidays were on steroids. Two presents, a cake, and birthday singing! It doesn't matter. Somehow, "You must have gotten screwed," never fails to be uttered in some form or another. Maybe folks are just trying to comfort me? Do they really think that receiving the maximum number of presents is the whole point of holiday enjoyment? If so, I should probably be the one doing the consoling. Thankfully, I have developed a good sense of humor around all of these "poor you" assumptions.
Looking outside, I see the snow falling, and feel happy that this is enough. I'm grateful for the people in my life, everyday experiences, access to clean food and water, the ability to get adequate sleep, creating and promoting health and find daily inspiration from mother nature. May we all find time to celebrate the light within ourselves, and each other. Making room for all who celebrate this time of year, in all the different ways.

~May we all live in presence~

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Everyday Explorers

Let it Crack.
     A discount airline with a squirrel on the wing returned me from California last week. During the slow taxiing to the gate, I contemplated arrival on a cold Minnesota night. Everything felt so extreme. A week in the Los Angeles area with temperatures reaching over 100°F, emphasized that feeling. From one extreme to another, and that was just the weather.

A satisfying dose of summer travel has helped me shake up some familiar habit patterns. New scenes are so effective in getting my full attention. Encounters with traffic jams and waterfalls were able to show me where I tighten up, and where I feel most free. Friends and family reflected back where I've grown and where I still need to do some planting. Some emotional uprooting helped clear new paths of understanding with loved ones. Oh yeah, and a sprinkling of misunderstandings just to round it all off.

Passing Moments.
When in travel mode, surroundings are often perceived as extraordinary. Food seems extra flavorful, color palettes stand out even more, and everyone seems abnormally interesting. Monotony doesn't really exist in traveler's mind. Unless of course you stay long enough, which I usually do. With exposure, everything starts to crack a little. And luckily, as Leonard Cohen pointed out, 'that's where the light gets in.'

Noticing what I bring to a situation, whether or not I unpack my attachments and conditioning, is always eye opening. What outdated notions did I bring along? Is there a compost bin where I can toss these worn out ideas or behaviors? Staying current with ourselves and each other is as valuable as getting up to date.

Thankfully, conscious breathing is the ultimate portable travel tool. Mentally, emotionally, and anatomically, we are continually in the process of inflating or deflating ourselves. We see our response to the moment when resisting an inhale, holding onto an exhale, or being at ease. In any moment, is your body breathing with acceptance or resistance? It takes frequent trips inside of ourselves (surfing our own everyday extremes), to go where many have never been. For everyday explorers, continually arriving and taking off is found in the vast terrain of the present moment.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Finding Grace in Losing Face

Even the Buddha loses his head.
     While learning about massage and bodywork over the years, one common precaution tends to echo throughout the modalities. When people receive bodywork, you never know what will arise. This brings to mind a 10-day cranio-sacral (subtle bodywork) course I once attended. Although the seeds were being planted, I think I was the only one in the group who didn't believe that 'your issues live in your tissues.'

Fast forward a bunch of years... my issues are definitely alive in my tissues. Sometimes this awareness happens during meditation, yoga, or massage. I've also had the honor of witnessing many others dive beneath their thoughts, into the somatic experience of being alive. As the fascinating book, The Body Keeps the Score explains, there's so much more to our operating systems than what we are consciously aware. 

Exploring the subtle and energetic body is no small adventure. In fact, a deep yoga practice doesn't always sound like an easy invitation. Lately, I've been doing a great job at keeping it on the lighter side. When something deeper does arise, I'm pretty quick to put a harsh spin on it, dismiss it entirely, or cut the practice short. My mind has been negotiating a stay in the shallow end of the pool, avoiding those attention saturated, subtle body experiences.

Cutting myself short in this way started translating into some pretty unskillful and distorted communication with others as well. Of course! Seeing this direct connection has helped me slowly deepen my own experience again. I want to practice being a better listener, for myself and others. If I do lose my head, I'd like it to be because I'm inhabiting my whole body.

Getting back to some multi-layered, body focused practices can bring tears, extreme discomfort, unexpected irritation, indescribable joy, and much more. I can no longer doubt what deep listening and allowing can bring to light. Instead of wasting precious energy on creating detours and road closures for myself, I now see the importance of holding the uncomfortable even more gently.