Art and Culture

Happy New Year (and vegan Hoppin’ John variant)

Having grown up in the New York metropolitan area without much in the way of traditions of any kind, I was not familiar with Hoppin’ John.  I am fairly certain that the first time I heard of it was from a college friend whose family has been in South Carolina since before the Revolution.  As it is not part of my tradition, I do not feel bound to any particular recipe (I am sure it is sacrilege in some circles to leave out the ham/bacon) or to eating it at any particular time of day (e.g., immediately after the clock strikes 12 midnight).  It would not be Hoppin’ John, though, if I did not know its tradition and know where I was deviating from tradition.  (Though this would entail a much longer blog than is within my time frame today, this balance of freedom from tradition and needing to know and honor tradition is very much an issue for the Western yoga practitioner.)

1.  Soak a cup of dried black-eyed peas for at least several hours or overnight.

2.  Dice one small onion or 1/2 large onion (about a cup), a few celery stalks, including the leaves, and mince a couple of cloves of garlic.

3.  Heat a few tablespoons of a flavorless oil (peanut, corn, or safflower) in a pressure cooker (my preferred method for saving energy and time) or a stock/stew pot.

4.  Saute seasoning vegetables along with a few hot peppers until onion is translucent.  I used the last habanero from my harvest and so left it whole.  You can use fresh or dried chilis in an amount to your taste/tolerance for spiciness.

5.  Stir in a cup of brown rice until rice is coated with oil.

6.  Pour in 1/4-1/2 cup of white wine and stir until absorbed (as if making risotto).  [You could use stock instead.  If you are using white rice, skip this step, which serves to partially cook the brown rice, so that it will take the same amount of time as the black-eyed peas.]

7.  Crumble in some dried thyme (preferably from your own garden) and a bay leaf or two.

8.  Drain and rinse the soaked black-eyed peas and stir into the cooking pot until all ingredients are combined.

9.  Add one 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes and 2 1/2 – 3 cups of vegetable stock or water.  How much liquid depends on (a) whether you want a soupy consistency or one more like pilaf or risotto; (b) how liquid are the tomatoes; (c) whether you are using a pressure cooker (less liquid needed) or cooking in a pot.

10.  If using a pressure cooker, cover and bring to full pressure, then lower heat and cook at full pressure for 28 minutes.  Allow natural pressure release (about 15-20 minutes additional).  If cooking in a regular pot, bring to a boil, stir, then lower heat and cook for an hour or more until rice and peas are tender, stirring occasionally.

11.  While rice and peas are cooking, mince a few cloves of garlic.

12.  Rinse and chop several handfuls of greens (collard or curly kale are best; don’t use spinach or chard, they are too tender).  Heat oil and garlic together.  When garlic start sizzle, add damp greens and saute until greens are wilted and dry.

13.  When rice and peas have finished cooking, stir in sauteed greens and bring back up to full heat.  Adjust seasonings, adding more salt and your favorite hot sauce to taste (or allow guests to add their own hot sauce at the table).

I don’t know whether having eaten this will bring me luck and prosperity, but I’ve started the year with lots of vitamins, minerals, fiber, flavor, and cooking, which for me means health, love, technique, tradition, flexibility, and joy!  Try this, make your own, read all about Hoppin’ John, or call a friend from the South who must eat Hoppin’ John on the New Year and learn about the tradition and what it means.


Eco-Tourism v. Eco-Travel

Last night I dreamed that I was taking a group of yoga students to the Galapagos.  I was already on my way, and the dream information did not include the decision-making process that started the venture.  Instead of being excited, though, I was feeling anxious and guilty about bringing my inherently destructive presence (the one that eats, defecates, urinates, bathes, wears sunblock, requires built shelters, and, to travel, uses fossil fuels) to a place that we value for its uniqueness in nature and relatively pristine qualities.  I woke thinking it was absurd to have had that dream; couldn’t I have enjoyed myself just a little without feeling overwhelmed by questions, doubts, and guilt?  Why on earth did my unconscious serve this dream up for me?  Is it going to make me live a less environmentally conflicted life (that won’t even begin to happen until I move into a much smaller dwelling unit, my house being my biggest infringement on the environment)?  Probably not.

For Christmas this year, I’ll be doing my own version of eco-travel — going to New York City.  I’ll be taking the train both from DC to NYC and, on the day I go out to visit my parents, from the City to the Island.  To get around NY, I’ll walk or take public transporation.  I’ll eat mostly vegetarian/vegan food, some local and organic.  I’ll drink tap not bottled water (which is easy to do in NY).   I’ll have my bamboo utensils, cloth napkin and carry cup for the meals I don’t eat in a restaurant and my own carry bag.  I’ll have handkerchiefs instead of paper tissues.  I won’t have the hotel wash the linens until I leave.  Oh yes, I’ll be consuming and enjoying.  I’ll be eating and looking at art and seeing theater and/or music and/or dance and will inevitably do some shopping.

Where is your balance?  Are you comfortable with it?


Coming Snowstorm (and Heyam Dukham Anagatam)

As I think about whether I will be able to get up to Willow Street to teach my last classes of the session, how much shoveling I will need to do , whether the next forecast storm (middle of next week) might create challenges for my planned trip to NY, etc, etc, my favorite (well, in the top 10) sutra of Patanjali, sprang to mind:  heyam dukham anagatam, 2.16, which means roughly:  the pain that has yet to come can be avoided.

I have several translations/commentaries of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras in my library.  All have a different spin on what this means in practice.  What I know is that it is at least partly about being in the present and taking things as they come.  One should still practice and plan.  By practicing and planning, we are better prepared for inevitable pains and challenges.  (For those of you who are giddy with excitement with the thought of a “white Christmas,” this Sutra still helps.  Part of the pain that can be avoided is disappointment when expectations are not realized the way we hoped they would be realized.)  Once we have prepared in a healthy way, though, there is no point in agonizing about what might come, in being in pain in the present because of the possibility (or even inevitability) of a future pain.

The snow seems inevitable.  I am charging my camera battery.  I’m picking what is probably the last of the chard and the baby leeks from the garden, and I am getting ready for Serenity Saturday restoratives.  As long as I can walk to the studio — eight inches is just plain fun, not impassable — I’ll be there with a warm and full offering.  In the meantime, I am enjoying my day instead of worrying about the potential barriers to enjoyment.


A Trip to the Spa, Restorative Yoga (and Serenity Saturday at Capitol Hill Yoga)

A few weeks ago, when I was planning how to use my “use or lose” vacation time, recognizing that I could not take a long vacation because of the pressures of a project that is supposed to go fully public at the end of the year, I scheduled a long spa treatment for this afternoon.  When I woke up and reviewed the day of the week and the month to remember what was on the schedule for today, I remembered my spa appointment, and the thought of surrendering to luxury and relaxation brought a big smile to my whole being.  I got up and meditated, did a little asana, and started getting ready for work.  I will shortly walk into the office and work hard to make it possible to leave early without stress.  I planned this mini-retreat for myself because I know I get overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the parties and the expectations of the holidays and that some time out would help keep me in good cheer for all that was to come.

I have also been doing lots of restorative yoga in the evenings before bed — especially after a day when there has been a party — just to settle down and let myself release all the chatter.  If you are feeling like it is all a little too much (whether you think the holidays are the best or end up with challenges, it can still be a bit much), take some time to practice vipariti karani (legs up the wall) and a few of your other restorative poses.  If you’re in town, do join me (friends, family, and guests welcome) at Serenity Saturday at Capitol Hill Yoga for two blissfully uninterrupted hours of restorative yoga.


The Terracotta Warriors of Emperor Qin (and Iccha Shakti)

I went today with my younger sister and brother-in-law to see the Terracotta Warriors exhibit at the National Geographic Museum.  Even with only a few of the warriors and photographs of the site, it is possible to imagine the sheer magnitude of the vision of thousands of these life-sized images living underground at the tomb of the Emperor.  I then thought of how vast must have been the Emperor’s yearning for power and the wildness of his vision of this extraordinary tomb for it to have become manifest.  Trying to expand my imagination to understand the reality of such ambition and creativity I thought of the principle of iccha shaktiIccha shakti is the very will of consciousness to be, to creatively manifest, to become diversified embodiment out the universal.  Ego and will are not themselves bad, but our very freedom allows us to choose a path that is out of alignment with the principles of joy and unity.

The Terracotta Warriors show the immense possibilities of exercising will.  In their very existence and the manner of their coming into being, they evidence both enormous cruelty and disdain for life and a wondrous manifestation of human creativity, collaboration, and effort.  One of the goals of yoga, in teaching us the possibilities of our own freedom and creativity, is to lead us to choose a life that is progressively better aligned with nature and with all of beings.  This is the path of one who practices, and I find it ever a challenge.


Robber Barons v. Philanthropists (a memory triggered by reading the 1994 New Yorker article on SYDA Yoga)

When I was in eighth grade, my history teacher, Mr. B,  assigned to the class engaging in a debate as to whether Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Mellon were philanthropists or robber barons.  We were put in teams and told which side we had to argue.  When we were given the assignment, I went to Mr. B privately and said it was not possible to argue one side or the other.  These men were only able to be philanthropists at their level of giving because of the money they had made as robber barons.  My teacher said that was an unacceptable position.  I was to argue the position I was assigned, I was wrong that it was not an either or debate.  I should understand that what was critical to this debate was which aspect was the elemental identifying characteristic.

Where I think was our real difference of opinion was that Mr. B thought that one could/should not recognize both enormous evil and enormous good in the same person.  If one was evil, then the good was essentially irrelevant.  If one had done tremendous good, then it should not matter if there was bad along the way.  I tend to see the whole.  I take the good where I find it (for example, I have found great truth and utility in the writings of Swamis Muktananda and Chidvilasananda although I would not recognize either as my “guru”), but do not expect the “bad” to be absent or non-coexistent with the “good” and tend to be outspoken in my recognition of both.  I still sometimes get in trouble for this.