Mindfulness and the Eucharist

I was paging through Peace is Every Step  to see if I could find a good reading for mindfulness with my program kids today, and I came across this, which is not perfect to share with them but which I love.

The practice of the Eucharist is a practice of awareness. When Jesus broke the bread and shared it with his disciples, he said, “Eat this. This is my flesh.” He knew that if his disciples would eat one piece of bread with mindfulness, they would have real life. In their daily lives, they may have eaten their bread in forgetfulness, so the bread was not bread at all; it was a ghost. In our daily lives, we may see the people around us, but if we lack mindfulness, they are just phantoms, not real people, and we ourselves are also ghosts. Practicing mindfulness enables us to become a real person. When we are a real person, we see real people around us, and life is present in all its richness. The practice of eating bread, a tangerine, or a cookie is the same.

When we breathe, when we are mindful, when we look deeply at our food, life becomes real at that very moment. To me, the rite of the Eucharist is a wonderful practice of mindfulness. In a drastic way, Jesus tried to wake up his disciples.

from Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

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January Goals

Ha! It is preposterous: I meant to talk about goals sooner than almost-the-end of the month. But you know, I’m busy and I’m practicing a nonjudgmental stance.  I’m doing the best that I can with the skills that I possess.  These are the intentions I’ve been holding this month:

  1. Use at least one new recipe a week.  So far, so good! I was thinking that I wanted to do more cooking out of my cookbooks, but there have definitely been some pinterest recipes in the mix.  So far we’ve done this spaghetti squash recipe, the two delicious soups I mentioned last time, a “tamale pie” from this cookbook that came out weird but was delicious, and these turkey burgers.  For a potluck, I made this bangin’ flannel hash. My goal was not to photograph my food, so I did not do so, but our meals were awesome.
  2. Only buy groceries once a week as needed for recipes.  This represents a shift in the way I’ve tended to buy groceries, which has been somewhat haphazardly or on-the-spot according to my mood.  I believe that it will save us money in the long-run, but we’ll see how that goes when we add it all up.  In any case, it feels very sane and orderly.
  3. Refrain from eating out.  I’ve got to say, I’ve done pretty well with this. We did get biscuits for breakfast one crazy Saturday morning, but other than that, we’ve eaten at home for the most part.  Next month I might see if I can refrain from buying lattes also. Having delicious leftovers at home has made it a lot easier to stay home and eat.  (Also fun: “leftovers buffet” with a friend.  A thrifty pal was happy to support my desire not to buy dinner at a restaurant meeting we were both attending, so she brought over some of her leftovers and helped us have a leftovers party.  And then we bought beer at that meeting–I felt like that was an okay compromise.)
  4. Walk or bike to campus unless it’s raining.  I have only had two opportunities to do this because classes just started back last week (and I’m only on campus twice a week).  I am one for two on this one and will probably not make it tomorrow either because of my schedule.  However, I think it’s a worthy goal and I will continue to aspire to it.
  5. Articulate my limits–say “no” to some things.  I have done this!  I backed off from a commitment I’d made in December to tutor a new student. I felt able to do that because I knew I wasn’t leaving the kid high and dry because I could recommend another tutor. I would like to get better at saying “no” even in the absence of a rescue plan.  I am genuinely horrible at it could be more effective at practicing self care by limiting my obligations.

I like the idea of having time-limited monthly goals to “try on” and see if I’d like to incorporate for a longer amount of time.  I think that I will definitely keep these and probably add one about my sugar intake for February.  I’ve also been keeping up with my 365 project of mandala-doodling, with an almost-perfect record (not that perfection is the point).  It’s been a good month!  I would like to remember these things when I’m feeling overwhelmed with my last semester of grad school (which, to be fair to myself, is legitimately overwhelming for lots of reasons).

ImageOn the non-grad-school reading list is You Grow Girl by the same fabulous woman (Gayla Trail) who wrote Grow Great Grub, which I talked about last time.  I am really stoked to start my garden.  Last week–four days before we had a wintry mix–it was seventy degrees outside, so I spent some time mulching and generally tidying up my space.  I’ve sent out an email to my fellow community gardeners to see if anyone wants to go in on a seeds order, but I haven’t heard from anyone yet.  It’s not too long before I need to start up some seedlings, so I hope that someone bites soon before I buy way too many seeds just to get a variety.

And today I received Peace is Every Step in the mail, which is honestly not strictly “non-grad-school” reading (since I bought it to share pieces of it with a group I’m running this semester), but I figure a little mindfulness reading, no matter how requisite, is good for the soul.  That is much of what I’m trying to make this blog about, anyway!

I feel good and whole.

What I’ve Been Doing (Right)

Like many people, I struggle with a very critical inner voice, one who never hesitates to point out all of the ways I fail to meet my own goals.  I meant to take some time off of my internship this week in order to relax and give myself a little time to do some pre-job search tasks before jumping back into the fray–but I ended up going each day.  I had my reasons, and I think I made the right decision (and in any case, it was the decision I made), but my inner critic made sure to remind me that I really fall short at work-life balance.

While I appreciate that I have this voice–she is wise in many ways and reminds me of my values–I am also trying to work on cultivating a more moderate, kind, nonjudgmental voice.  That voice will validate some of my impulses–like, it’s okay that I chose to take advantage of learning opportunities that presented  themselves last week. This is the time that I have for that. It is possible to both work hard and take care of myself.  That voice will also point out ways that I actually was successful at self-care as well.

And I did take my time for self care!  Let me tell you about it.

garlandI drew many mandalas (at least once a day!) as a mindfulness practice.  I have some work to do to make this activity more mindful (doing it away from my computer, for example), but I’ve really loved losing myself in the short moments of drawing these little designs.  When I can, I will write a post that walks you through the process that I take, inasmuch as there is a prescribable process.  Since I’ve been able to take the time to make a lot of these, I fashioned them into a garland to send to my sister for her birthday.  She loves mandalas and colors them a lot as part of her own self-care routine, and I have enjoyed thinking about her while doing these.  I’ve learned a lot about gentleness from her.

I saved one of the mandalas to send to a student of mine who I’ve been emailing with recently. She’s a special kid (but not a kid anymore) and I’m glad to be connected to her again. I wrote her a little note and included a star-shaped blossom. Being back in touch with this young person has given me the opportunity to re-articulate to myself some pretty important beliefs.  Chief among them is that we deserve, fundamentally, to be fulfilled, to find joy, to live well.

I’ve also been cooking.  I made this great Thai chicken soup (essentially Tom Kha, but without the lemongrass). I needed to make chicken broth because I finally ran out of the broth I made months ago and froze, so it made sense to make a chicken soup with the meat left over. I was pretty pleased with my version of “Thai seasoning,” which this recipe called for but which I could neither find nor really wanted to purchase.  It included fish sauce, sesame oil, cayenne, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, red pepper flakes, and lemon pepper, along with the lime juice.  I think it was a good deal spicier than the recipe called for, which meant that it was exactly how I like it.  And now we have a ton of leftovers between this and the black-eyed peas and collards soup I made for New Year’s Day.

okraAnd I’ve been reading.  I haven’t been reading what I’d planned to read (The Gift of Therapy by Irvin Yalom or Swamplandia by Karen Russell), but I’ve really enjoyed two books on gardening.  The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour has a wealth of information about gardening in general and especially interplanting and succession planting.  Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces by Gayla Trail is incredibly accessible and inspiring and has a ton of practical advice for people like me who have limited space for food gardening.  I am really excited to start seedlings and watch life happen.  Between dreaming about my garden and cooking more mindfully, I’ve started to think about what it might mean to eat with an abiding respect and promotion for full and exuberant life.

So while I have continued to work hard, I have been taking my time and committing to the slower, deeper life I want to have.  And in all of that was quiet presence with my partner and snuggling with my pets.  Take that, inner critic.

How have you been taking your time lately? What do you do to take care of yourself?

Taking My Time

I have always loved New Year’s.  I remember my father grumbling once about this “pagan, arbitrary celebration” and interjecting my appreciation for celebration of an end of one thing and a beginning of another, for a sense of accomplishment and promise.  Sometimes the accomplishment is just surviving; sometimes the promise is that the next year won’t be quite as miserable.  Be that as it may, I like the ritual.

I am, however, a New Year’s Resolution agnostic. Oh, I’ve made them. I’ve been that person at your gym.  I lasted ’til April or so, then fell off the wagon, then tried again in August.  I love the idea of setting an intention, of making promises to myself–but I am in the skeptical camp on account of my own failure at the gym.  Change–real change–takes a fair amount of studied analysis of what’s working and what’s not working, what motivations are competing, and so forth.  I wish to lose weight, save money, and simplify my schedule; but those goals, thus articulated, are not that useful. I could make them smarter–and I will–but that’s not what I’d like New Year’s to be about.

I was spending time with a cluster of sweet girl friends today, and one of them brought up this other way of thinking about New Year’s resolutions, wherein one considers the whole of her life and chooses a theme word or phrase.  While the social worker in me wants my goals to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound, the poet in me–arguably the dominant voice, let’s be honest–loves the notion of the theme that permeates everything, the guiding metaphor.  So that is what I’m going to do.

When I start thinking about my obstacles to change for losing weight, saving money, or simplifying my schedule, I notice that I breathe a little faster, raise my shoulders to my ears, and feel almost claustrophobic. I immediately start thinking about the next thing on my list, how I don’t have enough time to do everything that I want to do. I eat unmindfully because my head is crammed with deadlines; I spend money for convenience for the same reason. I rarely slow down. That’s why I think this year’s theme will be Taking My Time.

One small mandala each day, mindfully.

One small mandala each day, mindfully.

I like the language of Taking My Time for a few reasons.  It obviously invokes slowing down, which could apply to my propensity to jump to conclusions as much as it does to hurrying from Point A to Point B. It also suggests that my time is mine. I often feel guilty for taking time for myself or saying no to something that will overwhelm my schedule; consequently, I don’t do much of either.  I also like how it is reminiscent of taking it a day at a time and living in the moment.

To that end (and not contradictorily!), I have chosen a very small, very doable 365 project of drawing one mandala each day as a mindfulness practice.  And I have other goals (SMART ones, even!) that I think I’ll take a month at a time.  January’s goals focus on food routines in our home–something I’ll talk about another time.

Happy New Year.