My Job is Meditation

By definition, “work” is the exertion of energy. Most people describe their work as something they do because they need the money that it provides. Even the lucky few who LIKE their jobs still describe their days as draining. But do we have to experience our work as something that depletes us?

Today, I had the insight that in fact, work can be something that fills us up! I have a 15-month-old daughter that I watch full time, and I have just begun working as a full-time nanny for a younger baby. Two babies have needs, and quite often these needs happen at the same time, in conflicting ways (for example, one needing to be cuddled + bottle fed while the other starts to poop and needs to go to the potty right away)! It would be understandable if I described my days as “toiling away”. But thankfully, I have been remembering the insights described in my post about Concious Parenting and have been able to do what needs to be done while at the same time resting in peaceful surrender. Looking into the cosmic eyes of these two beautiful babies, I did not feel like my energy was being depleted today. In fact, I felt like they were both lifting me up– giving me MORE than I had started with.

I once met a woman named Ammachi (who is known as the “hugging saint” because she spends every moment of her life traveling the world to embrace everyone she comes across with warm, loving, maternal hugs). People line up by the thousands to receive her hugs, and some wonder why it doesn’t seem to drain her. Instead, she seems even more ecstatically giving as time goes on, and everyone who comes in contact with her seems to be able to feel this joy penetrating every corner of the room. Perhaps the people that she gives hugs to are lifting her up as well. Perhaps real GIVING is something that does not deplete us, and in fact leaves us feeling more full.

I’m happy that my income-producing work is something that I’ve realized I can do in this way. Giving (and thus receiving) love. Accepting what is happening in the moment with complete surrender + joy. This is my job. What do YOU do?

Advertisements

Liver Recipe that is TASTY… Not Just Tolerable!

Ever since I got pregnant, I have been having a severe problem getting enough B12 (to the point of severe bruising + constant dizziness/fatigue). Supplements don’t do the trick for me, and even eating meat doesn’t help unless I eat a LOT of it. I reluctantly gave up being vegan and went straight for the most efficient + plentiful source of B12: BEEF LIVER. The only problem is that I hate liver! The smell, the taste, the concept… it all = eww. But it gives me so much energy and makes me feel amazingly healthy, not to mention dramatically increases my breast-milk production, and is CHEAP! So I’ve been searching for a way to eat it without having to hold my breath the whole time, and I believe I’ve found it at last.

This is a liver recipe that is actually edible. Dare I say… DELICIOUS? It is suitable for a main course, even when you’re having company over! I would eat it in a house and I would eat it with a mouse, and I would eat it here or there. Say, I would eat it ANYWHERE!

I adapted it from this Indian masala recipe, taking out the sugar and just making it a little easier for the lazy/busy people out there (like me). The spices don’t have to be these exact measurements– feel free to play around and substitute!

Ingredients :
1 pound grass-fed beef liver
2 medium-sized onions (chopped)
2 tsp garlic powder
2 cups cooked + strained lentils
1 tbsp ginger
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
6-8 tbsp oil (I used homemade chicken schmaltz)
salt to taste

Directions:
– Boil the liver in salted water till it is almost tender (10-15min)
– At the same time, cook all other ingredients (except for the lentils) in a covered frying pan on medium heat.
– Drain the liver and cut into tiny slices.
– Add the liver and lentils to the pan.
– Lower heat and simmer uncovered, about half an hour.
– Prepare to be amazed!

COOKING TIME = 45min.
SERVING SIZE = 6-8 servings

On the Sabbath, I Smell Like Jasmine

I remember reading a story about a mother who would welcome the Sabbath by wearing a special perfume on that day. I don’t know where this story came from, but I really liked the idea and it stuck with me. I envisioned the woman’s family recognizing that sweet scent, and knowing that the warmth of Shabbat was there. At some point, I decided to take this on as a personal practice. I picked Jasmine oil as my special scent because it felt peaceful and also wasn’t a scent that I normally used (normally, I smell like lavender, cinnamon, or just plain old patchouli hippie).

When my husband and I lived at Twin Oaks (an eco-village of 100 people on 600 acres), we would celebrate the Sabbath together by camping out by the river and praying/meditating all day. I loved how the jasmine scent that I wore gradually faded throughout the day and by sundown was mostly gone. Now that we are living together with a baby in a “normal” neighborhood, I put on my Sabbath jasmine oil and remember those beautiful days by the river. It also brings my attention back into the present moment, as a reminder that this day is not about doing, but is about BEING.

I came across the following description of the scent:

Jasmine fragrance is associated with inner feelings and aspirations. It is intensely floral but with a feminine modesty. Jasmine is a mood enhancer and aphrodisiac. Jasmine is a scent so unreserved that it purifies the emotions. It has been known to relieve melancholy. As a well-used scent, Jasmine provides strength in matters of spiritual love. It has a soothing effect on the inner-self and lends its scent well to meditation and contemplation.

Seems appropriate.

Plushie Seder Plate!

While thinking of ways to make Passover more fun for kids (and babies), I got the idea to make a festive seder plate that is entirely made out of plushie toys, paper mache, and other crafts. I made a paper mache “shank bone”, cloth lettuce bunch + yarn “parsley”, plushie “charoset” (the pink ball things), squeak-toy “horseradish” (the yellow thing) and a plushie “clump of horseradish”. I had a decorated wooden egg rattle-toy that I used as the roasted egg. Then I made a couple pieces of matzoh out of cardboard (probably tastes similar to the real stuff!) + decorated them with crayons. The plate itself was a plastic serving tray that I painted. Everything was made from recycled materials and my 1-year-old LOVED playing with it when I was done!

Birthing as Awareness Practice

I was the type of person who would immediately dose up on pain killers at the first sign of a headache. But when I became pregnant, I knew that I wanted to have an “all natural” birth without any drugs or interventions. How could I possibly prepare for such a thing? I mean, I was headed toward the most physically intense experience of my life and I couldn’t even handle a little headache! I watched “Birth As We Know It” and “Orgasmic Birth” (both excellent films), and read “Birthing From Within” from cover to cover. These things were very inspiring, but I knew that in the heat of the moment, there was no way that I’d be thinking about that “inspirational thing I read about inner strength that one time”.

At some point I realized that there was actually nothing I could do to make myself have an ideal birthing experience. Everybody’s birth is different, and you can’t know beforehand how it will all unfold. I realized that I would have to learn how to be ok with whatever happened, even if it happened in an unexpected way. I started practicing being ok with THIS MOMENT, in every new moment (without a story about what happened before and what might/should happen next). I just kept noticing my body sensations, what I was hearing/seeing, etc., without focusing on my thoughts about any of it. And something awesome began to happen. I noticed that my experience of reality was largely based upon my interpretations of what was actually happening.

For example: In the past when I would get a headache, I would immediately start thinking something like “Oh no! This is a headache and it is gonna suck!”. But I noticed that without that description, there was just the sensation in THAT MOMENT, and it changed from moment to moment. When I started to think “This is pain, and pain is BAD!”, I would start to tense up my body and mind, and THAT was what actually made the experience so horrific. Without the story, it was just a squeezing sensation, and eventually it passed.

Ok, sure. But can that really work during CHILDBIRTH?

Yes! But you might have to practice it a lot beforehand for it to become second-nature. All throughout the last couple months of my pregnancy, I spent most of my time noticing my body sensations and what I was hearing/seeing/experiencing, and noticing that my thoughts about all of this profoundly altered my experience of it. I practiced being aware in every new moment that I remembered that I could. I had no real background in meditation, but I have come to understand that this is what I was doing. I was basically meditating for 2 months.

So when the time came to give birth, I felt a calmness and a trust in my body. I experienced every intense sensation that came along with labor, without a story of “pain” or “suffering”. And thus, I did not experience any of it as pain or suffering! I went into a deep trance, and envisioned being in a cave with drums beating. I felt a powerful spiraling energy moving through me, and I trusted that it knew what to do. All I had to do was to let it move through me, without tensing up or trying to stop it.

A “contraction” is that intense spiraling energy pushing through you, and people experience it as pain when they try to fight against it by clenching down on it or “being tough” to get through it. It is like huge waves in an ocean, and you can either try to fight them (and lose), try to ignore them (and they will hit you anyway), or you can RIDE them!

I was surprised to find that I didn’t need all the hysterical screaming like you see in movies. I made some low groaning noises when I felt moved to, as the energy was moving through me. Much of the time I remained silent. The midwife said that she couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen a woman with such focus during labor. To me, it felt effortless because I was not DOING something extra; I was merely letting myself have the experience. At one point I made a noise and she said something like “was that a contraction?”. Her speaking brought me out of the trance and I realized that perhaps I should let everyone know that I had already gone into the final (pushing) phase some time ago. My nurse, midwife, and husband all swooped over as soon as I told them. I thought it was funny because I felt like their presence was totally unnecessary. I was doing fine on my own, and feeling powerfully awesome. Moments later, little Ariana burst into the world.

Later, I realized that just because I had already gone through the intensity of labor did not mean that I had to stop using this meditation practice. Now, when I am experiencing each new moment, and noticing how my thoughts change my experience of it, I have so much more enjoyment from life. Some people have esteemed gurus as their “spiritual teachers”. I had pregnancy as mine.

Fun Passover Crafts!

I put together a fun + meaningful haggadah, and now it is time to decorate the covers! I decided to do collage art, because it is something that the baby can participate in (ripping paper, yay!) without causing toooo much of a mess. Later, we’ll decorate the inside pages with crayons, and tie the pages together with colorful ribbons. Here are a couple of my favorite ones so far, and “how to” instructions below…

happy helper

FREE YOURSELF cover (look: she’s holding matzoh!)

MATZOH cover… mmmm

How To Make Your Own Haggadah Covers:

You will need:
– 8.5/11 card-stock paper (fun colors preferable)
– pictures to collage with (magazines, family photos, drawings, etc)
– scissors
– glue

Begin by finding the perfect pictures to create a picture that is both fun to look at + meaningful to you. Lay it out on the card-stock page to make sure it looks right before you start to glue. When the covers are finished + dry, use a hole-puncher to make 3 holes down the side (and do the same to the pages of your haggadah). Tie the booklets together with decorative ribbons. Enjoy!

Haggadah For A Meaningful Passover Seder

I wanted a haggadah with less dogma, and more meaningful/interactive stuff. I liked bits + pieces of several haggadot, so I decided to put together my own. I used a lot from Rachel Barenblat’s (“Velveteen Rabbi”) haggadah, and a lot of it I wrote myself. I left space for my family to decorate with crayons. Feel free to use some (or all) of this haggadah for your own Passover seder!

It begins with:
“Passover is the Jewish springtime festival: a time for renewal, returning, and rebirth. A Passover seder is a ritual feast in which we take time to fully experience each new taste we encounter, and (much like in a Japanese tea ceremony) everything is done purposefully, with awareness.”

Here is my haggadah for your downloading pleasure!
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1S1MUFmy6je3VJTM0zUjFVRLCL-5WcwHNFlTx85CfaG8/edit?hl=en

Gauguin painting attack brings back memories

I came across this article about a woman attacking a painting by Paul Gauguin at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., while screaming “THIS IS EEEEVIL!” The woman was clearly delusional, as she was also claiming to be in the CIA and have a radio in her head.

My first thought was that if my artwork was violently attacked by schizophrenics, I would feel flattered. Then I remembered that something like this actually happened to me once. Not by schizophrenics, but by a wrathful ex-lover who burned a painting of mine and left a fragment of it in my mailbox. The feelings I had at the time were mixed: Sadness that this person was trying to hurt me, but also excitement about the new experience of something I created suddenly not existing anymore. I held the fragment in my hand and knew that what I had to do was give it new life– let it be reborn after being burned, like a phoenix rising up from the ashes.

I glued it onto a new canvas and turned it into the painting below, depicting the tower of Babel. I picked the “Babel” theme, alluding to miscommunication + humans trying to connect but just being a little off so they can’t understand each other.

Now that I’m married and have a baby attached to me 24/7, the drama in my life is of a much different flavor. I sometimes miss the freedom I had as a wandering young traveler, but right now I am reminded of the sorts of craziness that go along with it and appreciating where I am now.

Yummy Kasha Protein Bars recipe (gluten-free sugar-free!)

I wanted to have a healthy protein-rich snack that I could easily eat while out on adventures with the baby (and that she can eat too, without getting crud all over her clothes). Protein bars seemed like the way to go, but packaged stuff is all made from horrible ingredients, or overpriced. I decided to look up a recipe for gluten-free/sugar-free protein bars, figuring I could probably just make my own bars for cheap… and couldn’t find ANY decent recipes!

So I made my own…

I picked buckwheat groats (kasha) as the base ingredient, because it is gluten-free and has many health benefits. I used peanut butter as my protein source, but any nut butter could be used. For extra protein, you could also add stuff like nuts, seeds, flax, etc. I didn’t use sweeteners, but you certainly could if you wanted to, and I added a suggested measurement to the recipe for those who would find that helpful. You could also add all sorts of fun additional flavors like: cocoa powder/nibs, coconut flakes, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, cinnamon, vanilla, etc…

Chewy Kasha Protein Bars
prep time: 15min. cook time: 25 min.
serving size: makes about 20 3″x3″ squares

ingredients:
– 3 cups kasha (buckwheat groats)
– 1 cup almond milk, coconut milk, or water
– 1 cup peanut butter or other nut butter (cashew, almond, etc)
– 1/2 cup flax seeds
– 1 tbsp butter or coconut oil (optional)
– 1 tbsp agave or juice concentrate (optional)
– pinch salt
– fun additional flavors like: cocoa powder/nibs, coconut flakes, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, cinnamon, vanilla, etc. (optional)

1. Bring the water/milk, flax seeds, and 2 cups of the kasha to a near boil (save 1 cup of dry kasha for later). Add the butter or oil. Reduce heat and cook until thick (about 10 minutes).

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked kasha with the remaining 1 cup of dry kasha, and all the other ingredients.

3. Spread the dough evenly on a 12″x16″ well-greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Cut into bars or squares when cooled.

Skinny-Dipping Rainbow-Haired Orthodox Jewish Chicks

I have a fantasy of becoming a fully observant Jew, following all the “rules” in a way that is meaningful, bringing awareness into every action I take, and dressing the part (covered hair and all). I like this idea partly because I think it is sexy, partly because I have a perverse sense of humor, and partly because I imagine that living that way actually WOULD be extremely fulfilling emotionally + spiritually.

Sometimes I think that what’s stopping me is that the main people in my life aren’t observant whatsoever. I end up doing things like going out on Friday night with friends because I don’t want to miss out on the fun. I end up cooking my step-son breakfast on Saturday morning because he’s only with us on the weekends and I don’t want him to think of me as some weirdly religious evil step-mom who refuses him hot breakfasts. I don’t like the idea of hanging out with my alternative progressive feminist friends and them looking at me like I’m a loser while asking “so… WHY are you wearing that scarf thing on your head?”. I picture my husband in the background rolling his eyes while I attempt to dress modestly, making comments like “Hey but aren’t you that chick that I met on a commune, skinny-dipping and insisting we be polyamorous? Isn’t this a little out of character for you? Aren’t you just playing dress-up?”

And he’d be right. It would be totally weird for me to cover my hair out of “modesty”, because I don’t really get the whole modesty thing. I pretty much prefer to be naked or wearing a bright multicolored tutu and fairy wings at all times. I don’t see nakedness as inherently sexual or something that needs to be hidden. I’d also have a lot of problems with other Orthodox viewpoints (on subjects like gay marriage, gender roles, etc).

Because of my alternative/radical views on most subjects, I end up doing “Jewish stuff” with the more “open-minded” Jewish crowd. But my problem with that is that these groups are often small, unorganized, meet irregularly, and are less observant than me (with everyone driving on the Sabbath to go get more bacon-wrapped shrimp). I want to find a temple that feels like a home, and a group to worship with that feels like a family. Reform Synagogues feel too watered-down + “churchy” to me. I want the prayers to be in Hebrew. I want the people to be REALLY REALLY INTO IT and not just waiting around or reading along together in monotone voices. I feel like the passion is being hoarded by the ultra-Orthodox folks, and that I’m way too weird to hang out with them. When will I reach the end of my Blind Melon video and find my tribe of skinny-dipping rainbow-haired Orthodox Jewish chicks??

I realized today that the problem is that I have been imagining that there is only ONE correct way of being observant. I often think of the orthodox folks as having some sort of “magical authority” over what Judaism “IS”. But I also really like the quote “I practice my religion exactly the same way my ancestors did: I make it up as I go!”. I find absolutely nothing wrong with changing rituals to make them more meaningful to me. So now what I have to do is start being more observant, in a way that works for me, in a way that MEANS something to me. I will start by keeping the Sabbath EVERY week. I’m not sure what that means yet… but I am excited to find out!