Author Archive: Elizabeth

Living with Illness and “Spiritual” Journeys

This Sunday, William Penn House is hosting a potluck and discussion on life changing illnesses and spirituality.   Whatever your relationship with “spirit” or religion (such loaded terms in our history) and whatever your individual practice, I think (especially knowing the dedicated, loving persons who are speaking) this talk will be illuminating.

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Daylight v. Day Lights

A year or two before Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth was released, I went to a panel discussion and film (alas, I cannot remember the title of the film) about global climate change.  One of the speakers was a Nepalese attorney who was working on a case in the World Court that sought to address the impact of various corporate practices on the Himalayan snow cap.

One of the things this man said continues to resonate with me:  “Why is it,” he asked, “that Americans are always turning on lights in the day time?  Do you ever think about how much energy we could save and dangerous, climate-changing emissions we could stop, if we just relied on day light during the day instead of adding unnecessary electric lights?”

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“A Balanced Diet, in Moderation, Is the Best” (Yoga of Eating Part IV)

Geeta Iyengar, in Yoga, A Gem for Women, sums up the proper diet according to Ayurveda as follows:

“A balanced diet, in moderation, is the best.  Ayurveda says that the stomach should be filled with two parts of solid food and one part of water, and that one part of the stomach should be kept free for the movement of air.  Food which is not congenial to the system should be avoided.  Too oily, dry, spicy, and sour foodstuff are not good for the system.  A diet which is balanced, light, varied, and well cooked is ideal for health.”

In other words, to be healthy, we should eat fresh, varied, well-prepared, tasty food.  We should eat with sufficient awareness to know enough the effects of what we eat on our energy level, sleep, digestion, and ability to move and think that we know what is good for our system in small, large, or any quantities (and eat mindfully in accordance with that knowledge).  We should not eat to the point of fullness and beyond (this is a common suggestion in the West for losing weight, i.e., stop eating when you are full or right before — think getting away from the unrealistic American portion size).  Any other dietary practices should serve to find this place of moderation and enjoyment, the two real keys to health and happiness with and in eating.  Diets that take us away from balance will be hard to follow, unhealthy, and cause all sorts of other shifts in our mind-body.  What is best for you depends on your own knowledge of yourself and your environment.

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What Wakes You Up in the Morning

A little after 5 this morning, the sound of the unexpected rain brought me out of my dream state.  I was not ready to rise, so I realigned myself into a good savasana and just listened — following no other thoughts — until the morning musical awakening arrived at 6.

I could have thought of it in this language:  the rain woke me up and I couldn’t get back to sleep, but I was still tired so I lay in bed until the alarm went off.

Hotels, I think, were on to something when they started offering “wake up calls,” though the sound of the phone ringing in the middle of an intense dream can be shocking.  When did we start naming the sound we use to bring us from dreaming to waking “the alarm?”  What perspective does it give to our day to think we need an alarm to start it?  Why not at least “alert” or “signal” for the days when the only technology (think about that piece of it) was a jarring sound?

I have been thinking a lot about what wakes me up since Becky passed away.  For 21 years, either Henrietta or Becky was lying on or next to me purring before any electronic signal could go off.  They knew when it would go off and every morning sought a little petting (and then food) before they heard any signal to start the day.  They incorporated it into their rhythm and created a good waking routine around my schedule.

Some of my waking with the cats instead of the electronic sounds must have been me ready to be shifted from sleeping to waking by the cats’ attention, because I am still waking 10-20 minutes before Bose technology utters an automatic sound (usually yoga chants) to make sure I get off to work.  I also know from conscious attention to the effects on my sleep from when and what I eat and what I put into my day and until how late, that when I am keeping my eating, practicing, and sleeping schedule steady, I have no need to be called awake by something outside myself to start the day.

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Borage and Bee Balm and Licorice Mint

Enjoying some edible flowers (pansies, marigolds, nasturtiums, chive and basil flowers) and found myself wishing I had borage and bee balm in my garden.  I’ve tried in the past, but they tend to take up more space than I have for what they offer.  Perhaps I will try again anyway.

Found a seedling of Korean licorice mint at the Fresh Farm market at Penn Quarter yesterday.  If it takes, it should be a nice addition to the mint, lemon balm, and verbena I use to make infusions (hot and iced).

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On Reading Patanjali (to help get ready for work)

This morning my sit was full of lots of random thought waves.  This was no doubt, in part, due to my having four meetings,  a call, and a lunch scheduled.  When I was finished, I went into the library, picked up the Christopher Isherwood/Swami Prabhavandananda version How to Know God and opened it randomly to see if it could help guide my thinking today.  I opened to  sutra I.40:   “The mind of a yogi can concentrate upon any object of any size, from the atomic to the infinitely great.”  My first thought was, “how nice.”  My second thought was, “I need to look at another translation; that does not sound quite how I’ve read it elsewhere.”

I opened my trusted B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali.  The translation there is “Mastery of contemplation brings the power to extend from the finest particle to the greatest.”

These translations are not so different from each other.  It was also most timely for me to read this classical sutra in connection with what I have been contemplating in the Pratyabijna Hrdyam.

I read the Isherwood translation as saying that as long as one concentrates as a yogi with full and loving attention, then all actions are in union (yoga).  I understand the Iyengar translation to say that mastering yoga allows one to perceive in the most individual, differentiated being or object, the infinite universal.  With that knowing, just as the Kashmir Shaivist teachings say, one is living liberated (jivanmukti).

However I read this thread of teaching, it is most relevant for how I live and what I must do today with the worldly commitments I have made.  With the intention to stay present with yoga concentration and aims, I now head to my day of meetings.

The sanskrit is: “paramanu parammahattvantah asya vasikarah”

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Food is the link between self and spirit (Taittreya Upanishad and the Yoga of Eating Part III)

The Self in man and in the sun are one./  Those who understand this see through the world/ And go beyond the various sheaths/ Of being to realize the unity of life./ Those who realize that all life is one/ Are at home everywhere and see themselves / In all beings.  They sing in wonder:/ ‘I am the food of life, I am, I am;/ I eat the food of life, I eat, I eat./ I link food and water, I link, I link./ I am the first-born in the universe;/ Older than the gods, I am immortal./ Who shares food with the hungry protects me;/ Who shares it not with them is consumed by me./ I am this world and I consume this world./ They who understand this understand life.’  Taittreya Upanishad, 10.5, trans. Eknath Eswaren.

As one who is immersed in the joy of growing, selecting, creating, and tasting food and studying and practicing yoga, it is no suprise that the Taittreya Upanishad (which Eknath Eswaren subtitles “From Food to Joy”) is one of my favorite readings.

The Taittreya Upanishad explains the five sheaths or koshas that make up the self — the food body, the energy body, the mind body, the intuitive body, and the bliss body.  What we take in with our senses and what makes us flesh and blood can, with right observance and practice, lead us to a consciousness of self as joy and spirit embodied.  This is the yoga of eating and of food.

For more details on the Taittreya Upanishad, please see Jon Janaka’s article, “I am the Food!”

Other sources:

Upanishads, trans. Patrick Olivelle (Oxford World Classics 1996)

The Upanishads, translated for the modern reader by Eknath Eswaren (Nilgiri Press 8th Printing 2000)

The Ten Principal Upanishads, put into English by Shree Purohit Swami and Wm. Butler Yeats (Faber and Faber, London, Reprinted 1952)

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Fine Day in the Garden

Yesterday I went out into the garden first thing and fed and deadheaded and trimmed and harvested and pulled seedlings and rearranged and swept for several hours.  One of the most delightful things about planting decoratively with herbs and greens is that trimming and pulling things back transforms directly into meals and gifts for neighbors and friends.  My visitor to the garden walked away with bunches of oregano, lemon balm, and mint and lemon balm with roots to plant in her own garden.  We drank a cool lemon-mint infusion (mixture of spearmint, peppermint, lemon balm, and lemon verbena) and ate a few strawberries (some from the garden, some from the farmers’ market).  Later in the day, my lunch included a salad with lettuce, radishes, baby spinach and chard, spring onions, and various herbs.  For dinner, I used chard, beets, and green onions to make a stew of chickpeas and greens.

With today’s rain, everything will keep flourishing, and I’ll be out there doing the same later in the week.  My morning visitor and I agreed that one of the great delights of gardening is that the garden always welcomes more attention.  The garden never asks to be left alone; it drinks in whatever attention and nourishment we are able to offer and returns it with grace.  There are few things that both are comfortable with steady attention and fully nurture us the more attention we give.  I find that meditation, too, always gives and receives graciously steady attention, which is one of its great gifts and joys.

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Some Books on Food I’ve Been Revisiting (Yoga of Eating Part II)

I have been revisiting these cooking and gardening books from among my varied collection as I prepare for the “Yoga of Eating” Workshop.  In addition to having recipes and/or gardening techniques each teaches about health, ecology, plants, and seasonal eating, is written in a way that would appeal to both novice and expert cook/gardener alike (including some recipes in the gardening books), and some have very pretty pictures.  The key words for this focus in the titles:  enjoyment, art, healthy, ecological, seasonal, healthy, earth, practical — essential attributes/attitudes/directions for eating with yoga consciousness.

Cookbooks:

Bishop, Jack, A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen:  Easy Seasonal Dishes for Friends and Family (Houghton Mifflin2004)

Sass, Lorna, Recipes from an Ecological Kitchen, Healthy Meals for You and the Planet (Wm. Morrow & Co. 1992)

Shaw, Diana, The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook (Clarkson Potter 1997) (Your Guide to the Best Foods on Earth:  What to Eat; Where to Get It; How to Prepare It)

Tiwari, Maya, Ayurveda:  A Life of Balance (Healing Arts Press 1995) (The Complete Guide to Ayurvedic Nutrition and Body Types with Recipes)

Waters, Alice, Chez Panisse Vegetables (Harper Collins 1996)

Kitchen Gardening:

Bremner, Lesley, The Complete Book of Herbs:  A Practical Guide to Growing and Using Herbs (Dorling Kindersley – London 6th Ed. 1993)

Gilberti, Sal, Kitchen Herbs:  The Art and Enjoyment of Growing Herbs and Cooking with Them (Bantam 1988)

Guerra, Michael, The Edible Container Garden, Growing Fresh Food in Small Spaces (Fireside 2000)

Lloyd, Christoper, Gardener Cook (Willow Creek Press 1997)

Pavord, Anna, The New Kitchen Garden (Dorling Kindersley Am. Ed. 1996) (A Complete Practical Guide to Designing, Planing, and Cultivating a Decorative and Productive Garden)

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