Art and Culture

Gifts of Onions (and Eternal Truth)

A couple of weeks ago, a good friend gave me a box of perfect vidalia onions.  She had been given two boxes.  She said, “These onions were so good; I wanted to give them to someone who would truly appreciate them.  I first thought of you.”  I was delighted, “yes, I’d love some vidalias.”  They are exquisite.  I’ve been making delicate sautes, grilling them, dicing them into salads, and marveling at their sweetness.  I passed a few on to others that both would fully appreciate the onions as a culinary matter and also know my friend, who is a former co-worker.

Last night I went to take class at Willow Street and was talking a little with the work study students at the desk after class before heading home.  “Would you like some onions?” asked one of the work study students, who does great work with the Fresh Farm Markets around town.  “Oh, how lovely, no, no thank you,” I replied, “A friend just gave me a box of vidalia onions and I have shallots, baby leeks, spring onions, and garlic chives in my garden.”  “I think you have enough in the allium family already,” she agreed, “would you like a cucumber?”  “A cucumber?  Yes, that would be great.  I’ve only gotten one ripe one so far; they aren’t liking the cool wet.”  She gave me a cucumber and a zucchini from a farm visit she had done that morning, which made my evening (I am so easily pleased).

This morning I wondered about these offers of onions.  It is not as though it is a regular thing for me twice in a space of a couple of weeks to be given bounteous offers of exquisite onions.  Did it mean something?

Onion comes from the same latin root as “union.”  Unlike garlic, in whose family onions belong, onions grow a single, undivided bulb, which is the likely reason for the development of the word onion.  From sketchy researching on the internet, I find onions are also the symbol of “good” and fullness — hence the onion domes in architecture.  The ancient Egyptions thought the onion a symbol of eternity (layer upon layer of being) and truth.  Yes, I like thinking these onions (those I took home and those that were gifted instead, no doubt, to some other appreciative soul) were meant to bring me to think of good, of union, of the eternal truth in gifts and shared pleasure in sharing delicious, healing, fresh food with friends.

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World Wide Knit in Public Day (and Vikalpa Samskara)

World Wide Knit in Public Day is this weekend — June 13th (and 14, 20, and 21).  What will you be knitting?  I have started a pair of leg-warmers.  The pattern was really for ankle warmers, but I have chosen to make them longer than the pattern suggested.  The nice farmers who raise the sheep, spin and dye the yarn, and sell it at the Dupont Fresh Farm Market, called them “yoga socks.”  The yarn is beautiful.  The sample pair looked like something I would want on my feet in colder weather.  The project was small enough to tuck into my carry bag.  Definitely a go for summer knitting (unlike the three-quarter finished mohair shruggy that has become a lapful of furry stuff).

“Why are they so short?” I asked.  “We had originally designed them to be longer, but our teacher said we might need to grab our ankles?” they explained.  “When would you do that, when it would not matter whether you were touching fabric instead of your skin,” I puzzled out loud, not out of criticism, but really wanting to know, thinking maybe in Pilates.  The farmers could not really think of a reason.  I bought an extra skein along with the kit to make the — oh, let’s call them footless socks — calf height.  The yarn has a bit of a stickiness to it, so they are not slippery.  They will be good to wear for yoga.

I’ve never knitted on double-pointed, size 2 needles, in the round before, though I happened to have four in the house (picked up at a yard sale for a $1 a decade or two ago and put in the sewing box).  I tend not to knit from patterns for whole projects.  So I had a little learning to do.  The pattern did not explain how to use the double-pointed needles; that knowledge was assumed.  I am not used to the contraints of following a pattern.  Doing so, on occasion, though, forces me to learn a new technique.  It took my a couple of hours to get into the rhythm, but now I’ve eased into the project.

I sometimes seek the same type expansion with cooking.  Though easily able to cook something delicious without a recipe with most ingredients, sometimes I pick out a complicated recipe just to expand my skills in the kitchen.

Yoga, most of all, benefits from a combination of free exploration and attentive development to the knowledge imparted by a teacher.  We are most full and expanded when we combine experience and teachings.  We receive the teachings and then we practice again and again to make it not just our own experience, but part of our being.  This process is called vikalpa samskara.

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Why Should You Care? (Computer Censorship and the Dalai Lama)

Why shouldn’t you care?  Enjoy having freedom on the internet to read this blog, among others? To learn about what is happening in the world and to explore and expand your learning?  To connect on Facebook and Twitter?  Think 300 million people shouldn’t be censored?  Consider signing the petition to Dell and HP to tell them they shouldn’t install special blocking software in computers for the China market.

http://act.credoaction.com/campaign/chinese_internet/?r_by=4431-391488-o3sh29x&rc=paste

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“Enjoy Your Day, Regardless of the Weather”

So said the meteorologist, when I called to check the weather yesterday before getting ready to go out for work.  I thought, “it is easy to enjoy your day, ‘regardless of the weather’ living in a nice house with enough money for heating and cooling, working inside, and getting food flown in from wherever, if the garden isn’t doing well.”

I am awed and fascinated by the weather, although living this almost entirely protected and secure (from the elements, less so from other people) urban life, it is an almost vicarious relationship.

One of the reasons I love gardening is that it links what the weather — a rainy and cool spring like we are having; a drought, like we had for the past four years; violent thunderstorms; a snowy winter — with what food grows well, how my wildlife supporting little garden in the front thrives, helping to tie me back to the earth.

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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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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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