Tuesday, August 28, 2012

...mindful sailing and a salad on the side

While with an eye made quiet by the power of harmony, 
and the deep power of joy, we see into the life of things.
Tintern Abbey, Wordsworth

We went sailing this weekend with our friends, George and Shannon. Since the World Cup trials were being held on the San Francisco side of Angel Island, we joined all the other Sunday sailors on the leeward side for a beautiful afternoon on the water.
With each expedition, I learn a bit more about the art of sailing, about the skill, sensory involvement and intuitive leaps required to capture the wind and steer the boat. It is, above all, an exercise in mindfulness. 
In her book, Mindfulness, which we’ve visited in the past three posts, Ellen J. Langer writes: “When our minds are set on one thing or one way of doing things, mindlessly determined in the past, we blot out intuition and miss much of the present world around us. If Archimedes had had his mind set only on taking a bath, he probably would not have discovered the displacement of water. By keeping free of mindsets, even for a moment, we may be open to see clearly and deeply. In an intuitive or mindful state, new information, like new melodies, is allowed into awareness.”
Unlike the straight line motion of a motor boat, a sail boat gets from Point A to Point B in a rather zig-zag course, jibing and tacking all the way. And when the wind shifts constantly as it does on the Bay, then the challenge - and the pleasure - is the marriage of mind, body, current, wind and boat.
A novice, I am learning to feel the wind against my face and steer accordingly, to see the wind and current in the color of the water. Each time, the sails seem a bit less intimidating but no less awesome. I love my time as passenger, slicing through the water with no engine, just the rush of wind and sea spray. Now I’m beginning to appreciate zen and the art of actually sailing the boat. 
Sunday’s voyage with George and Shannon was not only great fun. The outing allows me to keep a promise I made in an earlier post. Every now and then I write about food and throw in a recipe. Health-minded readers have suggested that I consider something other than ten-layer chocolate cakes and such. Our lunch on water included an edamame salad...healthy, easy to make and take on a picnic...whether by land or by sea. 
Bon voyage, y’all, and bon apetit!

Edamame salad, chicken salad with homemade dill mayonnaise, and crackers
in Dollar Tree baskets with a dishtowel liner and a dishcloth napkin:
easy to manage on the boat. Okay, so we had oatmeal/raisin cookies, too.
But, as desserts go, not bad.

  • 1 bag frozen shelled cooked edamame, thawed
  • 1 cup fresh corn kernels or 4 ears of corn 
  • 1/4 cup finely diced scallion
  • 1 diced red pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup canned or frozen (thawed) black beans
  • 1 large or 2 small/med avocados diced
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • scant 1/4 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • juice of 1 lime
  • pinch of salt and fresh cracked pepper
  • 1/2 cup sliced green onion

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Whisk together the grated ginger, honey, rice wine vinegar olive oil and lime juice and set aside.
Place the corn, scallion, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper into a 13 by 9 metal pan and stir to combine. 
Place on the middle rack of the oven and roast for 10 to 15 minutes, just until the corn begins to brown. [NOTE: If on the cob, corn can be grilled, cut off and tossed with the other ingredients with no olive oil.]
Remove from the oven and place in the refrigerator until completely cool, approximately 30 minutes.
Add the red pepper, cilantro and edamame to the corn mixture and toss with the ginger/honey dressing to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning, as desired. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

...thoughts on time and why it isn’t in a bottle

I don’t like the idea of a unitary subject; 
I prefer the play kaleidoscope: 
you give it a tap and the little bits of colored glass form a new pattern.
Roland Barthes, The Grain of the Voice

Oh, my friends of all shapes and colors, my partners in a kaleidoscopic dance, I am still immersed in Ellen J. Langer’s book, Mindfulness. Today’s musing: TIME.  Ms. Langer writes: “Actually, certainty with respect to the meaning of time seems absurd. [It] has been viewed as linear, cyclical, one-dimensional.” And that only accounts for the dimensions we recognize. 

I’m aware of time’s passage. It is carved on my face and hangs in aging muscles. But the concept of time escapes me. I am in good company, though, because really intelligent people have struggled with this man-made construct.

Langer cites several examples. Kant, for instance, viewed time as a means of organizing perception. Then there’s St. Augustine’s more esoteric take: “The present, therefore, has several dimensions...the present of things past, the present of things present, and the present of things future.” The physicist, Ernst Mach, said, “It is utterly beyond our power to measure things in time. Quite the contrary, time is an abstraction, at which we arrive by means of the change of things.” Thanks, Ernst, for reminding me of the wrinkle/chin-fall thing.

I have a degree in fine arts that, on first glance, seems to have been only remotely tangential to my day jobs. Not true. I am a visual learner, a visual processor. Alfred North Whitehead defined art as “the imposing of a pattern on experience, and our aesthetic enjoyment is recognition of the pattern.” I see patterns. This has served me well in design, writing, and mathematics; when organizing my home and when organizing data. 

The file system that is my mind is neither linear nor hierarchal. Instead, picture a tall stack of papers, each containing some fact, some truth, some observation, perhaps a memory or a picture.  A comment triggers a thought and I begin to pull - randomly, it would appear - papers from the stack. Perhaps random is right. I think my methodology may well be the offspring of a weird marriage of chance and chaos theory. 

I've long collected quotes that resonate with my quest du jour and have learned much from wise, well-spoken people. But the day arrived when I knew I had to find my own voice, my own words: the truth of my life is unique to my experience and no one else can mine (or find) this mother’s lode/load.

I am passionate about each of us telling our stories. An ancient tradition found across cultures and belief systems, parables are vessels of essential truths, not spreadsheets of data that can be manipulated. I have no material legacy to speak of but I do have a story. One that is revised with each new experience. Not edited for suitability but inclusive and honest. As honest as subjectivity allows...even this is a journey. 

I hope you treasure your journey. Every step of it. Feeling blessed at the moment? I urge you to pause. That feeling may mean nothing more than things are currently falling butter side up. The seed of blessing is found in every moment. Blessing is defined in the Wictionary as the infusion of something with holiness (wholeness) and spiritual redemption (the removal of selfish desire)". Moments I would've preferred to avoid have brought great blessings. Usually, the greatest. [Does anyone else hear Mr. Garth Brooks singing “The Dance” and “Thank God for Unanswered Prayers” at the moment? Oh, well. To each, her own.]

Not given to giving advice, I am about to do just this: learn your story and begin to tell it: in a journal...on a canvas...in photographs or song. I gave up worrying about results for Lent a few years ago and have not only been happier but more productive. A results-oriented approach lobs killer questions. “What if I fail?” (Like doing absolutely nothing wouldn’t be a failure in itself?) Or “What if I look like an idiot?”  Been there, done that and...

...survived to tell the story.

I’ve bought into process orientation: “How do I do it?” 

How will you? Trust me. The journey is rewarding. 

Jim Croce, I miss you but I'm tickled pink to have your music: your story. As far as that "time in a bottle thing" goes, you said "if" for a reason. We can't shove minutes and hours into a glass jar.  I propose to watch the clock less, break all the bottles and make a really beautiful mosaic. But, then, I'm an art major.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

thoughts on mindfulness

A peek inside the trunk of a fallen redwood tree at Muir Woods...photo taken in 2010

Outside an aspen shimmers and shakes, the only movement in the deep evergreen forest. Tall grasses cover the slope that will carry skiers down to the village in winter. I relish the silence because, at five-thirty a.m., there was none. A persistent little warbler known as an ovenbird launched into song at first light. As much as I love birdsong, this particular voice was a tad strident. In this present quiet, I can slip into intentional mindfulness.

No accident that I can name my current state: I am currently reading Ellen J. Stanger’s book, Mindfulness. She discusses the benefits of mindfulness and its “equally powerful but destructive” counterpart, mindlessness. The following excerpt addresses, for example, the danger of routine. She cites the tape from  an Air Florida plane that crashed after take-off in Washington, D.C. and killed 74 passengers. The pilot and co-pilot, both in excellent physical and mental condition, “went through the pre-takeoff routine and checked 'off' when the anti-icer was mentioned. This time, however, the flight was different from their experience. This time they were not flying in the usual warm southern weather. It was icy outside. As [the pilot] went through the control checks, one by one as he always did, [he] appeared to be thinking when he was not.”

She continues: “Mindlessness sets in when we rely too rigidly on categories and distinctions created in the past (masculine/feminine, old/young, success/failure). Once distinctions are created, they take on a life of their own. Consider: (1) First there was the earth. (2) Then there was land, sea, sky. (3) Then there were countries. (4) Then there was Germany. (5) Then there [was] East Germany vs. West Germany. The categories we make gather momentum and are very hard to overthrow. We build our own and our shared realities and then we become victims to them - blind to the fact that they are constructs, ideas.

My oft-mentioned friend, Mary, posted this yesterday: “There have been times when the angle was quite steep yet I felt solid, and others when only a slight elevation would have made  me slip.”

This thought returned to me with consciousness this morning. I have so often fallen on level ground but remained upright on slippery slopes. Probably because I am more focused on the latter and mindless when maneuvering familiar territory. 

In this moment, I am aware: of my body and its need to be stretched; of my mind and its need to be exercised. Cognizant of the forest unburdened by precepts and time. Grateful for other voices that ripple across the ether. 

May a smattering of this awareness follow me into the noise throughout the day.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

...hate breeds hate

When the past dies there is mourning but when the future dies, 
our imaginations are compelled to carry it on.
Gloria Steinham

The ghost town sits beside the interstate in west Texas. We stopped here last December to stretch and walk in this thirsty place, our only company a tumbleweed that rolled across the sun-baked scrabble. I know nothing of the people who once populated this place, now marked only by a few concrete slabs and two rusty tanks. Google revealed that, as businesses failed, young people left. The older population dwindled. A last stand ended when Ghost Town tours, evidently as dry as the parched soil, halted. This little town died much as my grandparents. Life drew to a natural close and no one was shocked: to every thing there is a season

But some seasons are brief and their endings abrupt. I did not know the nineteen Nigerian Christians who were murdered this week while they prayed. I did not know the soldiers who were killed the next day when the same terrorists began shooting in front of a mosque. I did not know the Muslims who were in prayer inside, their lives forever altered by the attack. I did not know the Sikhs who were murdered last week. Anymore than I know the haters who unleashed their fear as bullets. This I know: at the moment I do not want to consider how many more I don't know. I am tired of the violence. Sick of self-appointed revolutionaries who call for rivers of blood. 

Forgetting is separate from forgiveness because remembering is a part of healing...though not when recollection is mined for grievances to be nursed or excuses to avoid growth. Memory must have wings: to bring the hard questions that must be asked and leave us to our heart work.  

Donne's words - every man's death diminishes me - haunt as they console. The future shatters every minute...for someone, for us all. This morning my heart is joined with those I do not know who are numb, reeling, lost in grief. Hope seems slippery on days like this, a thing of feathers indeed. But I am counting on those wings.   

[There is a] kind of all-embracing universality evident in Mother Teresa’s prayer: 
'May God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in.'  Not just fellow nuns, Catholics, Calcuttans, Indians. The whole world. It gives me pause to realize that, were such a prayer said by me and answered by God, I would afterward possess a heart so open that even hate-driven zealots would fall inside... [My] sense of the world as a gift, my sense of a grace operative in this world despite its terrors, propels me to allow the world to open my heart still wider, even if the openness comes by breaking—for I have seen the whole world fall into a few hearts, and nothing has ever struck me as more beautiful.  David James Duncan

Some people are difficult to love...impossible without the Great Goodness. The best I can do today is not hate.