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DC Area Drought Official

According to yesterday’s Washington Post, we are officially in a drought.  We are short 7.3 inches of rain since October, 5 inches since January.  The recent rain is merely returning to near normal rainfall and is not addressing the deficit.  Please do what you can to conserve water.  See previous post for some tips:

Please comment to share your own water saving tips.

Shiva-Shakti Tattvas

The shiva-shakti tattvas, the two highest tattvas, are completely subjective.  The shiva tattva is, according to the philosophy, the ultimate reality, the pure “I,” undiminished and undifferentiated consciousness.  As something purely subjective, it is both everywhere and nowhere, in every being and simultaneously beyond them.  It is not dissimilar to Hegel’s Absolute (though I believe Douglas Brooks, who knows far more than I in this area, might disagree with me on this one), which “is and is not,” or Kant’s “unmoved mover.”

Shakti tattva is power — the power to tranform, create, manifest, diversify, cloak.  Shakti is the power to become embodied in objective form.  Shiva and shakti tattvas are thus inseparable.  Ultimate unbounded consciousness and freedom (shiva) only has meaning to the extent the power to move, create, and diversify (shakti) pulses and transforms the subjective into the objective, the unimaginable to the observable.

In our yoga practice and meditation, we seek to use the practices to reveal to ourselves the ultimate pulsation (spanda) between the objective and subjective, the observable and the unknowable, the individual and the completely universal.  One way I experience the first principle of Anusara yoga (open to grace), is taking the mat or my seat with an openness to sense and experience this ultimate pulsation (spanda) and play (lila), so that by using my body, mind, and will, I can better recognize the spirit that shines in all of us and use that recognition to inform how I relate to myself, society, and all beings.

Vegan Cranberry Walnut Oatbran Muffins

At what point does a recipe cease to be the one from the book and become one’s own?  These muffins are loosely based on Martha Rose Shulman’s “Overnight Bran Muffins” from her book Great Breads. Her ingredients are:  raisins, bran, boiling water, eggs, sunflower oil or melted butter, honey, molasses, buttermilk, whole wheat flour, white flour, baking soda, and salt.  She bakes hers at 400F for 20-30 minutes.  If I had just replaced the raisins with cranberries (sometimes I use other berries or dried fruits), or replaced the buttermilk with soy milk or juice, or used all whole wheat flour instead of a mixture of whole wheat and white flour, and added a few spices, it would not have been my cooking.  But when one changes nearly every aspect of a recipe, is it a new recipe?  I just happened to start with this one, but I could just have easily started modifying the recipe on the back of the bag of cranberries for cranberry bread or any one of a number of the recipes I have for apple, cranberry, or bran muffins and came to the same place.

I used chopped cranberries, succanat, walnuts, oat bran, egg replacer, walnut oil, soy milk, ground flax seed meal, whole wheat pastry flour, cinnamon, allspice, baking soda, and salt and changed some of the proportions, the order in which I prepare and mix some of the ingredients, and the baking temperature and time.  Ms. Shulman’s muffins are richer and more classic for having the eggs, buttermilk, and white flower, but the ones I made this morning tasted pretty good, and I recommend her book as an excellent place to find solid, easy to follow recipes.  I honor her recipe as a starting point, the way I honor my teachers on the yoga path, but still bring in my own experience.

Want to make your own?

  • Take a cup of cranberries (these are the last of the cranberries I bought last fall and then froze to use through the winter; you might not be able to find cranberries this time of year, so use whatever you have on hand), chop them in a wooden bowl, toss with a few spoonfuls of succanat (dried fruits or sweeter berries do not ask for the extra sugar) and set aside.
  • Wisk together in a large bowl egg replacer (one egg’s worth), 1/4 cup walnut oil, and 1/4 to 1/3 cup maple syrup (or other liquid sweetener, including fruit juice concentrate).  Soften 1 cup oat bran with about 7/8 cup boiling water.   Mix oat bran into liquid ingredients.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour, 1/2 cup ground flax seed meal, a pinch of salt, and a slightly rounded teaspoon of baking soda.
  • Quickly fold the dry ingredients into the wet without over mixing.  Add the cranberries and then the walnuts.  Bake at 350-360 for 18-24 minutes in lightly oiled muffin tins.  Makes 12.
  • Modify to your delight.  If you are allergic to nuts, skip the walnuts and use safflower or canola oil instead of walnut oil.  Go to Ms. Shulman’s recipe as a starting point and create your own.

I freeze muffins and then take one to work (I transport muffins wrapped in a cloth napkin or a reused bag from nuts or dried fruit)  instead of buying coffee shop muffins.  Saves on packaging, calories, and I know it was made with love.  Keep the coffee store pastries for a special treat or for when you’ve temporarily run out of your own.

Sprouted Lentil Salad

When I came home from teaching today, I put together a salad of sprouted lentils, celery, spring onions, and walnuts, dressed with walnut oil and aged, organic balsamic vinegar.  What made the salad special was freshness of the lentil sprouts, the subtlety of newly ground pink himalayan salt and the little luxury, the balsamic vinegar.  In the summer, it would be great with a new cucumber from the garden on a bed of fresh mixed greens.

An incredibly comprehensive list of energy saving tips small and large

I was reading an article in the NY Times about what one can do to  “green” a home that led me to this list.  There is always something else to learn:  unofficial list of energy saving tips.

FYI, PEPCO Energy Services does offer “green” and “wind” electricity.  Not perfect, but better than regular PEPCO.  I think there are some other alternatives in Maryland.  I have not investigated recently in the District, but switched to the “green” electricity a number of years ago.


I found the 1934:  A New Deal for Artists exhibit at SAAM quite moving.  The exhibit was put together for the 75th anniversary of the New Deal; it is merely coincidence that paintings commissioned by the United States government to depict American life in a time of dire conditions happen to be on exhibit at this time.  It is a good companion to view along with Robert Frank’s Americans at the NGA West Wing — also on view because of an anniversary, not because of its coincidental timeliness.

The art is not great art, and it is stuck in the period in which it was painted, in part because of the nature of the commission.  The depictions of America show any resilience and beauty inextricably intertwined with hardship and struggle.  In its very datedness, the art on exhibit raises questions about what are society’s priorities today, how we are responding to the crisis of war, environmental devastation, and economic crisis and how we could enhance and celebrate humanity and the planet rather than continue to decimate the earth and ourselves.

According to the Friends Committee on National Legislation, approximately 43% of your 2008 taxes will pay for war.   President Obama’s proposed budget has a smaller increase than previous years, but does not lower in any way military spending.  I’d rather my tax dollars were buying art.

“Dry Clean Only” (Don’t Believe Everything You Read)

As I was doing my laundry yesterday, most of which I line-dried, I thought about the fact that I have not been to the dry cleaner in nearly a decade. This is one of the small things I have chosen in order to be a little kinder to the environment.

Some of my clothes, especially things I bought several years ago, say “dry clean only.”  This includes knits made of wool, tencel, modal, or rayon (all of which are natural fibers) and linen and silk unconstructed clothing.  All of these do fine with hand washing (or on the gentle cycle in the washing machine) and being hung up to dry (this also applies to cotton, button-down shirts).   Of course, if it doesn’t say to dry clean then you definitely don’t need to dry clean.

Always believed the label?  How was clothing made of natural fibers cleaned before there was such a thing as a dry cleaner?  Think they look better or it is easier to get them dry cleaned?  Think about the solvents, the plastic, the energy for the cleaning method, and whether you drive to the dry cleaners.  Then make a decision.

Most things do not need to be cleaned by use of poisonous solvents (just because a solvent is “organic” or “natural” doesn’t mean it is good for the environment) and then wrapped in non-recyclable plastic to take home (many dry cleaners will take back the hangers, but will say they need to use the plastic wrap because their premises are too dusty for your clothes to stay clean outside the plastic wrapper).

So look for clothes that say “gentle wash, line dry” instead of “dry clean only.”  If it says “dry clean only” think about whether it really applies.  It will not apply for a wool sweater, most knits, or unlined clothes.  A business suit — yes, it won’t keep its shape unless you dry clean.  Do you really need to wear a business suit?  Will a choice not to wear a suit impact whether some people think you are truly “professional”?  Possibly.  If you decide you need to wear a suit regularly, how many times can you wear it before taking it to the dry cleaners?

PS.  Don’t experiment with things that are new and expensive.  Try it on older clothes and discover whether you need to believe everything you read.

Iccha, Jnana, Kriya

Above (or perhaps beyond, or maybe more elemental, or more universal — words inevitably tangle us in discussing essential philosophical constructs) the six kanchukas (cloakings or coverings) are the five universal elements.  These are suddha vidya, ishvara, saddha shiva, and shiva-shakti.  John Friend suggests that we think of the first three of these tattvas as corresponding to the principles of iccha (will),  jnana (knowledge), and kriya (action).

When I think of the Anusara principles in practice on and off the mat, I think of them in terms of the tattvas, particularly the five universal elements and the five mahabhutas .   Those of you who practice and study Anusara yoga are familiar with the principles of “open to grace, muscular energy, inner/expanding spiral, outer/contracting spiral, and organic energy.”  As part of the physical practice of asana, I think of these alignment principles as corresponding to the mahabhutas (the five great elements of earth, water, fire, air, and space/ether; see previous posts on how I experience the alignment principles as relating to the mahabhutas).  At that level, “open to grace” has physical characteristics.  These principles, when applied consciously, help us to align the physical body with the energy body, so that we can more fully delight in our bodies.  When we are in alignment and experience expansion through alignment, we can more optimally move in and experience the physical and mental realms in a way that helps us recognize the universal spirit in all beings.

The reason I come to the mat, the ultimate purpose of yoga in an of itself and for me as a practitioner, is informed by the five principles of the universal.  The yearning to connect to the spirit is in essence an opening to grace at an elemental, non-physical level (an uber opening to grace).  The next aspect of our practice, which is more important than the physical technical details of the alignment principles, are what John Friend terms “attitude, alignment, and action.”  These are by definition more universal and fundamental than the physical principles and correspond directly to the principles of iccha (will),  jnana (knowledge), and kriya (action).  The essence of yoga, especially from a tantric perspective, is the will (iccha) to embody and experience the union of mind, body, and spirit with a radical embrace of our being.   Knowledge (jnana), when used as a way to align with our true nature, is not to correct, but to better enable us to align our body, both physically and energetically, and our mind so we best can experience and express our will to connect.   The ultimate action (kriya) of a pose or what we do off the mat is a spontaneous offering or an expression of our will to connect, using ever increasing refinement, skill, and knowledge.