The Hardest Thing To Do

Devoting to a meditation practice reaps the highest rewards I’ve ever experienced. Sitting on a cushion, walking in the woods, gazing at the ocean ~ a practice comes in many forms, but time alone, emptying hamster-wheel aggravations, worries, conflicts…anything redundant and mindless…this quieting is luxuriously restorative.

Understanding that our outer world perfectly reflects our inner state is what we need to bring us back into the present moment and connect with stillness. Knowing all we have to do is let go and allow what will be, to be…without judgment or control is the hardest thing and the easiest thing to do. 

When I don’t meditate, I’m anxious, reactive, uncentered, and less trusting that everything will be just fine. I struggle, feel depleted, am problem-focused, and less empathetic. Miss Crankypants.

When I do sit in stillness, even for ten minutes, this is what happens:

* My natural rhythms of eating, sleeping, and being productive emerge and I feel energized.

* Making healthy choices (nutritionally, physically, and emotionally) becomes effortless.

* I see the world as resilient, miraculous, and peaceful.

* Incredibly talented, bright, and successful friends, creatives, innovators, optimists, and solution-creators enter my sphere. 

* I am increasingly recognized financially for my contribution and value I help create.

I don’t know who said this, but it’s so true: If you can’t find five minutes to meditate, then you need an hour.

How can I help you…begin to still your mind, shift you from struggle into ease?

OMG. Can you BELIEVE what he just did?

It’s madness I say! All this talk!

Be yourself.

Follow your bliss.

You can be or do anything you want.

…and then…

Did you SEE that dress she was wearing?!

Yeah, but you can’t make money at your art. You have to get a real job.

THIS is how it’s done.

I’m not good / pretty / rich / smart / connected enough.

Pure insanity! …this cognitive dissonance of declaring that we simultaneously have freedom and also must abide. Can we not see the disastrous effects judgment – certainly of others, but most insidiously of ourselves – wreaks? Is there any way out?

I wonder…

What could happen if we:

* unfurl, instead of bind

* celebrate, instead of constructively criticize

* unarm, instead of protect

* radiate, instead of compete

* affirm life, instead of deny it

* loosen, instead of furrow

* shoot from the hip, instead of prepare

* witness, instead of evaluate

* accept, instead of tolerate

* breathe

What if we stopped judging every little damned thing we see? What if we stopped deciding if everything fits neatly into either the Good or Bad column? What if that voluptuous woman wore that dress like no one’s business, painted her way into a living, and did it all on her own terms?

THEN would we shut up that petty little voice in our heads?

What if, I mean, really now…imagine if The Last Judgment wasn’t some day of reckoning, some hierarchical accounting of our sins, layered with the gross humiliation of guilt and blame and deeply rooted shame…and instead was simply…

The very last time we ever judged?

The Defense & Annihilation Of Paula Deen

I believe Paula Deen is scared to death. Not from diabetes. She’s scared to death of her SELF. That public self she launched into a multi-million dollar brand, that grew from passion into the beast that’s overtaken her other self: the private, real-life one.

Faced with a choice – to come clean, take responsibility for her health, to own the role her public self had in creating the disease she now suffers from like, unfortunately, so many Americans – faced with this choice is facing the annihilation of her ego.

And by ego I refer not just to the prideful one, but also the Freudian one, the one that drives us, the one that’s referred to compassionately in Buddhism as Monkey Mind. THAT self is threatened with complete destruction, the self she pieced together over the course of a lifetime, born of family expectations and societal validation and the trappings of money and fame and the kind of insecurity we vainly attempt to balm with status symbols and false paths and idols.

The self that when threatened clings oh, so desperately to the very illusion that’s crumbling beneath. Holding on to the identity she and we, yes – we, perpetuated by watching her show and buying her products – the TV personality, celebrity chef, virtual friend to millions of viewers…Lord knows when we’re threatened we hold on FOR DEAR LIFE.

To look herself in the mirror, indeed, to engage with that small, inner voice, the one that speaks late at night in forlorn moments when we feel alone, confused, helpless against the onslaught of life’s injustices, the one who says, “I KNOW what I really am,” is to risk losing everything, to begin the process of watching her entire construct crash to the ground.

That risk seems too great for her. It seems too great for many of us when we’re in the grip of denial, so instead she’s sandbagging against the flood, trying like hell to hold on.

We feel betrayed, duped! We are indignant and outraged! And rightly so, for with power comes responsibility and although we dole out our reprimands unevenly, we want accountability from our heros, dammit.

After our outrage – at her choices and their implications to those who look to her for guidance and leadership (because as superficial as celebrity is, we still revere our basketball players, movie stars, and top chefs as great leaders to be emulated) – after our outrage subsides, let’s take a moment and contemplate the denial we ourselves have participated in – when our marriage failed and we weren’t ready to admit it yet, when a loved one passed away too soon, when we were fired from a job because we couldn’t recognize it was time to move on, or…just like Paula, when illness struck and we turned a blind eye to our own culpability.

No one is free from the reach of denial…and denial is just a way to duck the sting of regret…

When we had a chance to say I love you but stewed in resentment instead. When we could’ve maintained an exercise program, but gave it up because it was too inconvenient. When we chose french fries over salad, for the third time this week.

Have your feelings about Paula Deen. Be mad. Feel disappointed.

And let it go.

Then allow compassion to rise up and replace blame. Forgive her and ourselves for not doing the best we could. For sometimes choosing to hold on to the illusion because letting go of who we think we are scares the bejesus out of us.

Who would we be without the illusion? Without the identity we cling so tightly to?

But that’s the very thing we should do. Forgive and let go, because it’s never too late to start over and discover who we really are. Not at any age or any stage.

Remember, the harder the attack, the stronger the grip. So, let go and let healing begin. Not just for her, but for all the ways we halt our life force from flowing. Forgive ourselves for what we did to cause harm to ourselves and others and…

Let love heal us.

I Need A Latitude Adjustment

Alarm clocks are inhumane.  I’ve better ideas on how to be roused from dreamland, and they don’t include whirring or obnoxious bells and whistles that’re better suited to the arcade or some Monty Hall dealmaking.  Only an early morning flight to somewhere the tomatoes are luscious or the hot springs are bubbling warrants setting it.  I’ve long been perplexed why anyone would want to be jolted out of blissful slumber at all, much less for the sake of getting to a jay-oh-bee.  My body knows when it’s time to rise, even when I’ve abused it by going to bed in the starry wee hours, but I probably fell into bed with the ringing of the P*Funk All-Stars in my ears anyway.

Indeed, the body knows.  It knows when the moon’s glow is full again, when I need protein, when a 10-minute nap will revive me.  Often I can even tell time by the sun’s slant and shadow.  I guess I’m just keyed into natural cycles, and my geography: I’ve lived most of my life around the 40th parallel. But I’m wondering if this corporeal keenness is on the fritz lately.

fiddleheads It was only 6 weeks from seed to sprout – from deciding the most peaceful state in the union would harbor me for a spell to trading in my Brooklyn apartment for a four bedroom farmhouse on the midcoast – and it was there I found myself in March, unbundling from the snowiest, most glorious winter I can remember – but…something was off.  My internal guidance system’s controls were spinning and I couldn’t get my bearings.

spring lambs South Thomaston, MaineI’ve been totally kerfuffled by the Maine spring, what with global warming, the extension of Daylight Savings Time, and the fact that this was the longest transition from winter to summer ever.  At 4 weeks away from the longest day of the year, it was a balmy 48 degrees.  And today, 3 days from the solstice, I am scarf-free for the first time in 8 months.

It’s been tricky syncing up on the 44th: I cash out-of-state weather checks and they bounce.  The northeastern spring sauntered instead of sprung, and the sun rises a few degrees differently here.  Like a blindfolded child trying to pin the tail on a spring lamb, I fumbled around, grasping for signposts.

asparagus spring greenDo I pick fiddleheads, asparagus, and rhubarb or break out the sandals?  I’m used to sunny evenings happening later in the season, not in March when it’s still cold.  The cherry blossoms, forsythia and daffodils of late April are more familiar when they’re poking up through a last snow dusting and I’m not used to May nights that dip into the 30’s.  This June, I christened 2011 as the year of my Cashmere Spring.  Who knew that moving 400 miles north would result in such discombobulation?

So I pull that woolen cardigan tight and recalibrate my inner compass, scoping for environmental clues, seeking time’s relativity in the external: the groundhog who’s sniffing around the side yard, the sailors in Camden who raced to see who’d get their schooner in the harbor first, the riverside fields getting their brown winter coats burned off.

Once I equipped myself to navigate instinctually, it dawned that it’s not a monologue, it’s an intimate conversation.  That spring cleanse revealed both my body’s intelligence and its blind habits far more than what I knew existed.  I’m adjusting my interior thermostat these days, acclimating to Mother Nature’s seasonal stimuli and the ways we manipulate it to accommodate our modern busy-ness.

Now if I can only get those bustles out of my hedgerows.  (don’t be alarmed, it’s for the May Queen.)

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Another one of my change-of-season musings: Everything Is Illuminated

The Most Radical Thing I Ever Did: A 21-Day Cleanse

I’ve taught English in Mao’s hometown, walked 800 km – solo – across a large European country, fallen in mad love, packed up all my toys and moved to snow country to write a book without knowing a soul.  But ask me to give up ice cream?  Baguettes?  Morning cuppa joe?  Bacon?  Juice glass of vino?  No freakin’ way!

So I approached it gradually.

I bought Kris Carr‘s book, Crazy Sexy Diet, in January.  I cleaned out the fridge in February.  I bought an Omega Juicer in March – the Jag of juicers!  Small steps.  It’s like weaning myself off the bottle, only it’s not just the milk I’m relinquishing.  It’s practically everything I put in my mouth.  I was shooting for Lent (tried giving up sweets then, but I wasn’t quite ready.  The sight of my first brownie signalled failure.)  But spring time is about renewal, rebirth, rebooting our systems, yes?  So, on March 30th, I launched full throttle into a master cleanse: no wheat, no dairy, no animals, no coffee, no alcohol, and my Achille’s heel – no sugar.  No sugar! How in the wholly Himalayas was I gonna do that?  Was I to feel like Sisyphus?  Atlas?  Or an orange jumpsuit-wearing prisoner relegated to a bowl of gruel?

I couldn’t have done it without Ms. Carr’s book.  She led me gently through each day with a prayer, an affirmation, medical guidance, upbeat encouragement and expectations of what toxins feel like as they’re expelled.  Thank goodness for her hand-holding and thank the snow gods for the meditative months that led up to this undertaking.  I spent the winter shedding and I was ready for the final heave ho!

green-morning-glory-juice-440.jpg
With all those restrictions, what did I eat and drink?  Water with cayenne & lemon upon rising.  Green & herbal teas throughout the day.  Oatmeal with soy milk, seeds and flaxmeal for breakfast (my usual, anyway).  2-3 glasses of green juice daily.  (Kale, romaine, fennel, carrots, beets, grapefruit, parsley, celery – whatever was on hand).  Lunch was usually a version of Mark Bittman’s celery & fennel salad, sometimes adding in turnips, beets, carrots, daikon, orange segments, pine nuts – anything I could slice on my Muji Mandoline.  Dinner was some version of a grain/bean/veg combination:  steamed or lightly sauteed broccoli, chard, mustard greens, collards – brown rice or quinoa –  white beans, green or red lentils, chickpeas.  I’d also snack on almonds, dried plums & cranberries, sesame crackers, apple slices with nut butter.  I consulted a couple of macrobiotic  and Japanese cookbooks on the shelf for more ideas, to keep it interesting.  Having lived in Japan, I find much of their cuisine keeps with this particular dietary lifestyle.  I miss eating there – no other country has satiated me more at the table.

kale chickpea salad
I wondered if I would feel deprived, but Kris presents this cleanse in such a positive light that it truly felt like I was gaining health and well-being.  The coffee was easy – I’m really more of a tea drinker – and the caffeine withdrawal headache only lasted a week or so, and was fairly mild.  I kept super-hydrated and slept really well – better on both counts than usual.  Maybe removing the caffeine/sugar roller-coaster was all I needed for deep and rejuvenating slumber.  I awoke an hour earlier than normal, around 5:30, and experienced an unusually high amount of energy each day.  I treated myself with a few lavender baths, worked out more at the gym (weight-lifting & laps, only – no cardio machines for me: boring.)  I chose physical activities that were fun, not a chore, so daily walks and hikes were mood boosters.

Noticeably, my portions grew smaller as I was satisfied with less.  I realize that I eat emotionally, hungry for more than just caloric nutrients.  But somehow I was more tuned into my body and could put my fork down appropriately.  Buying, preparing, and cooking my meals was faster and easier.  Strangely, I found more hours in my day, as I was more mindful in every aspect of diet and digestion.  Wow – I realized how we always wish for more space in our day, more time to carry out our to-do lists, but I had energy to burn!  Granted, I’m not employed outside the home and I have no children to raise, but really – was all this uumph always available, yet hidden underneath crusty loaves and triple creme sheep’s milk?  I feel like I could run a marathon, a business, and a small country now.  And that’s just on Tuesday.

As I watched my scale groan less, I felt buoyant and effervescent.  I started having profound shifts in perspective.  But not before THAT ONE DAY.  Oh, yes: that one day the Dragon of Craving rose up inside of me, in an all-consuming fire (is this what heroin addicts go through, seriously?). WINE! I MUST have a drink! Give me spaghetti Bolognese! A burger! – a juicy, rare burger, with cheese and bacon and… it didn’t matter that I wasn’t hungry; I was suffering an irrational rage.

15I can’t describe the power of this monster inside, but I held on to my commitment and found relief: opting for popcorn in  sacrificial appeasement.  Then I got as far away from the kitchen as possible. I climbed in the car (leaving my wallet at home to avoid a sudden bakery raid), drove to the beach, walked over the boulders and along the shoreline, breathing in lungfuls, and called a friend.  I was the queen of crank that afternoon, but friendship, water, and the sea air calmed, soothing that savage craving.  May none of you ever meet that beast.

That was my only rough moment.

Well, except for the Morning of Traumatic Sobbing.

Interspersed with the cleanse were 3 days of green juice fasting.  I’d do six days on, one day fasting, repeating over 3 weeks.  And what happened the day after my first fast was incredible.  It was an emotional release like no other.

Simultaneously, I’ve been asking/praying for clarity.  I want revelation.  I want to see where I’m going, or at least have an inclination about what’s next.  My recent intention, to write in a wintry place, completed once March arrived and I started feeling anxious.  Stay?  Go?  Love?  Work?  Home?  Travel?  So much monkey mind I couldn’t see through the fog, so I began asking for what I wanted, an arrow, a sign, a clue.  All while eating carrots & celery sticks.

Clarity: paradoxically hard to describeWell, you know what they say? Ask and you shall receive.  Careful!  It came in spades.  Every day brought striking clarity, bold visions, answers to long-buried questions.  One in particular, during meditation, a word appeared, so I moved to the desk and began writing about it. Before I even finished a sentence, I was sobbing.  Hard and clean, not hysterical, but fully.  Now, I don’t cry; I hold on tight.  Last time I really cried was four years ago, and now tears were flushing out an unresolved memory from childhood that, it was dawning on me, I hadn’t grieved back then.  It has held me back and I don’t want anything holding me back.  Remarkably, there was no anger (at myself or anyone else), just release and mourning.  And a big pile of tissues afterwards.

Compassion washed in, and I settled.  Putting pen on paper, I wrote twenty, yes – 20 – pages and excavated decades old detritus.  Phew.  When we let go, we really let go.  Goodbye past, hello bright future!

Those 21 days witnessed the passing of so much:  defenses that no longer serve me, fears that aren’t scary anymore, eating and drinking patterns that are harmful.  What I’ve learned is enormous.  I now know that bread is as numbing as wine.  That my sugar addiction has inflamed my shoulder for more than 25 years, and if I eliminate it as best I can, it no longer hurts.  THIS alone is a miracle, and it’s ridiculous it took me this long to find out.  Chronic pain clouds our sunshine, and pain’s absence liberates.  My skin and dairy don’t make a good partnership – in fact, I was mistaken for a twentysomething the other day (I’m 43) and countless people have remarked on my glowing and youthful skin.  That’s worth the price of admission, alone.

I supplemented my regimen with drybrushing, taking vitamins & aloe juice, lots of positive thinking, journaling, meditating, putting my Netflix habit on hold, getting a massage, getting an enema (more on that later), using essential oils, reading up on raw food & veganism, and exercising a bunch more than usual.  Swimming laps and sweating it out in the sauna were divine.

What I didn’t experience were hardcore toxins getting expelled (bad smells, pimples, aches, etc…) and I think that’s due to a generally healthy diet from the start. I don’t eat much meat, fast food, or processed boxes & bags that sell in the center aisles anyway.  I do like my Ciao Bella gelato and Newman-O’s, however…

This may sound silly, but the most dramatic thing I learned is that we are what we eat.  Yes, I’ve always known that.  But when we medicate ourselves with not just alcohol or even caffeine, but with pasta, butter, toast, cheese … we suffer for it.  Eating animals that have not lived or surrendered their lives in compassionate hands means we’re digesting violence, fear, unmindfulness.  Sugar is a replacement for a lack of sweetness, perhaps.  I don’t mean to be preachy or change anyone’s mind.  Live and let live.  I just want to share the extraordinary sensitivity that I’ve developed both physically and emotionally.

Do I miss the old flavors?  My taste buds have actually changed.  Drinking a glass of white wine is like sipping sugar-water.  Eating bread feels like I’m stuffing.  That drawer full of cheese?  I can feel it weighing me down already.  I had no idea that what once brought me pleasure actually was a buffer to living and what I want now is to live like I mean it.

Have I since incorporated some of those taboo ingredients?  Sure, but I’m keenly aware of their effect on body and mind, and make those choices consciously.  Food tastes better.  Almonds are delicious!  That farro and grilled spring veg plate at Eataly?  Delectable!  A small piece of high quality 78% chocolate?  Hits the spot!

Radical?  Yes.  And I’m so proud of myself for accomplishing it.  I didn’t know I had it in me.  Will it last?  I’ll let you know…and in the meantime, I would love to hear if you’ve ever done one or thought about it, if you have any questions or want to share with me your experience.  It was a journey of eye-opening magnitude for me!

Victory Edition 1919 War Gardening and Home Storage of Vegetables

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