The Antidote Is Awe

cure for stress, coffee ritual, easing worry, finding peace,

My husband and I seek refuge on the porch each afternoon in a ritual known simply as “time for coffee.” Somehow just out the door we’re a step away from the pull of obligations and worries. Here we feel centered by the light through the trees or the sounds of birds or the strange lumbering grace of a bumblebee in the flowers.

Our lives, and yours too, are twisted into knots so complicated we can’t see where they start or end. Those complications are made of bills to be paid, old arguments that didn’t heal, long hours and too little sleep, by endless political bluster and the fallout it causes. It’s good to let go of those tangles, even for a while.

Today on the porch we watched an insect we’d never seen before. It skittered without visible wings, its body open like the spokes on a wheel or the arms of a star. It looked improbable as an undersea creature swimming in the air. We gaped in quiet wonder until it was out of sight.

A few moments of awe are all it takes to remind us that our lives aren’t about those knots. We are pulsing, breathing wonders ourselves in a world bursting with miracles.  It takes looking closely at only one thing to see those miracles, whether watching a spider spin her web or looking at fungi that seemed to spring up overnight.  We exist for so short a time on this beautiful planet. We clamor over concerns when our lives may be better measured by how much awe we allow ourselves.

I have things to do, but it’s time for coffee. I’m heading for the porch. Hope you do the same.

We are, perhaps, uniquely among the earth’s creatures, the worrying animal. We worry away our lives, fearing the future, discontent with the present, unable to take in the idea of dying, unable to sit still.   Lewis Thomas 

Reprint from my farm site Bit of Earth Farm

Eat Your Dandelions

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Image courtesy of thaowurr.deviantart.com

“You EAT them?” a little boy new to the neighborhood asks. He leans forward for the answer, his face ready to constrict in doubt.

Children already well acquainted with our family’s springtime ritual stop picking.

“Yeah!” they eagerly assure him, “They’re really good.”

They aren’t referring to a new vegetable in our garden. They’re talking about dandelions.

Herbalists tell us exactly what we need grows nearby. Those plants we call “weeds” may in fact remedy what ails us. They are so common that their properties are easily overlooked in a culture searching for packaged wellness. Plantain, mullein, comfrey,mint, mugwort,St. John’s wort, chicory and purslane spring up wild in my untreated lawn and garden. Weeds, but also powerful healers.

Today we’re picking dandelions in full flower. It isn’t about finding a remedy. For me the harvest is has to do with celebrating spring and affirming the beauty around us. For my children and our neighbors it’s about fun. I wait until the blooms are at their peak. Then I call friends and neighbors to announce, “Today is the day!”

Children spread out across the yard holding little baskets. A girl squats in front of each plant, pausing a long moment before she reaches out to pluck a flower from its stem. The  oldest boy in the group walks by many dandelion plants to pick only those growing in clusters. And the newest little boy falls silent, as the rest of the children do, taking delight in the seriousness of the harvest.

European settlers brought the dandelion plant to this continent for food and medicinal purposes. The perennial spread easily across most states. It’s a testament to the power of herbicide marketers that such a useful plant became so thoroughly despised. Standing under today’s blue sky, I look at exuberant yellow rosettes growing in bright green grass and feel sheer aesthetic pleasure.

After the children tire of picking we sit together on the porch and snip off the dandelion stems right up to the flower. We mothers look over their busy heads—blonde, brown, black—and smile as we watch them stay at this task with the kind of close attention children give to real work. One girl remarks that the flowers look like the sun. Another child says her grandmother told her that in the Old Country they call the plant by the same name as milk because of its white sap. The newest boy chooses to line the stems neatly along the wide porch planking, arranging and rearranging them by length.

Every aspect of a ritual holds significance so I pay attention to the warm breeze, the comfortable pulse of friendship, and flowers so soft against my fingers they remind me of a newborn’s hair.

When we’re done the flowers are rinsed in a colander, then it’s time to cook them. I’m not a fan of frying. There are better ways to preserve the flavor and nutrients in food. Consequently I’m not very skilled. But this is easy. The children, their mothers and I drop the flowers in a thin batter, scoop them out with slotted spoons and fry them a dozen at a time in shallow pans.

After the blossoms cool slightly on paper towels they’re put on two platters. One is tossed with powdered sugar and cinnamon, the other sprinkled with salt and pepper. Handfuls are eaten in the kitchen while we cook. Then we carry the platters outside. Children run off to play in grass polka dotted with bright yellow flowers. We adults sit on the porch laughing and talking.

It’s suggested that we should be eating healthfully prepared dandelion greens and roots rather than indulging in delectable fried blossoms. That sentence fades into a quiet moment as a breeze stirs new leaves on the trees and lifts our children’s hair. I feel enlivened. Everywhere, around me and inside me, it is spring.

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Gather dandelion flowers from areas free of chemical treatments or fertilizer. Pick in a sunny part of the day so the flowers are fully open, then prepare right away so flowers don’t close.
Cut away stem, as this is bitter, leaving only the green part holding the flower together.
Douse briefly in salt water (to flush out any lurking bugs). Dry flowers on dish towels while you prepare batter.
Ingredients
3 to 4 cups dandelion flowers, prepared as above
1 cup milk (dairy, soy, almond, coconut, any variety)
1 egg (or equivalent egg replacer product)
1 cup flour (slightly smaller amount of any whole grain alternative)
½ teaspoon salt
oil (frying is best with healthful oils which don’t break down at high temperatures, try safflower oil, coconut oil or olive oil)
Method
1. Combine milk, egg, flour and salt in wide bowl. Mix well. Heat an inch or two of oil in skillet (350-375 degrees).
2.  Drop a dozen or so blossoms into the batter, stir gently to coat. Lift out with slotted spoon or fork. It’s best to hold the bowl over the skillet as you drop each blossom into the hot oil.
3. Turn flowers over to brown on both sides. Remove with slotted spatula to drain briefly on paper towels. Continue to fry remaining flowers using same steps. Toss cooked dandelions with sugar and cinnamon. Or salt and your choice of savory flavoring such as garlic, pepper or chili powder.
4. Making flower fritters is a speedier method than frying individual flowers. Simply drop flowers and batter into the oil by the spoonful, then turn like a pancake. Serve with jam, maple syrup or honey. Or try savory toppings like mustard, ketchup or barbeque sauce. These fritters are endlessly adaptable. Try adding sunflower or sesame seeds to the batter and serve with either the sweet or savory toppings.
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Image by photobri25.deviantart.com

What You May Not Know About Dandelions

The common dandelion, Taraxacum officinal, has been used in traditional medical systems around the world to boost nutrition as well as treat conditions of the liver, kidney and spleen; slow abnormal growths; improve digestion and more. Recently science has taken a closer look at this often scorned plant. No surprise, traditional wisdom holds up under scrutiny.

~Dandelion root stimulates the growth of 14 strains of bifidobacteria.1 This is good news, because bifidobacteria aid in digestion. Their presence in the gut is correlated with a lower incidence of allergies.2

~Dandelions appear to fight cancer. Researchers testing for biologically active components to combat cancer proliferation and invasion note that dandelion extracts have value as “novel anti-cancer agent[s].” Their studies show dandelion leaf extract decreases growth of certain breast cancer cells and blocks invasion of prostate cancer. The root extract blocks invasion of other specific breast cancer cells3  and also shows promise inhibiting skin cancer. 4

~Dandelions work as an anti-inflammatory and pain relieving agent.5

~Dandelion extract lowers cholesterol. This, plus its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities leads some researchers to believe that the plant may reduce the risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).6

~The plant’s leaves are an effective diuretic.7

~Dandelion shows promise in diabetic treatment. It slows the glycemic response to carbohydrates, thereby helping to control blood sugar.8

~Dandelion extract increases the action of estrogen and progesterone receptors. It may prove to be a useful treatment for reproductive hormone-related problems including PMS.9

~ Leaves, roots and flowers of the humble dandelion are fully edible. USDA National Nutrient Database analysis proves that a festive array of nutrition awaits any lawn harvester. One cup of chopped fresh dandelion greens are extremely rich in vitamins K, A and C as well as good source of vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6,  calcium, iron, ,magnesium, manganese, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.10

The flavonoids found in dandelions are valuable antioxidants and free radical scavengers.11

 
1 I. Trojanova, V. Rada, L. Kokoska, E. Vikova, “The Bifidogenic Effect of Taraxacum Officinale Root,”  Fitoterapia vol 75 issue 7/8 (December 2004), 760-763.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15567259  (accessed 8-29-09)
2  Bengt Bjorksten, Epp Sepp, Kaja Julge, Tiia Voor, Marika Mikelsaar, “Allergy Development and the Intestinal Microflora During the First Year of Life,” The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology vol 108 issue 4 (October 2001), 516-520. http://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(01)96140-8/abstract  (accessed 8-29-09)
3 S.C.Sigstedt, C.J. Hooten, M.C. Callewaert, A.R. Jenkins, A.E. Romera, M.J. Pullin, A. Korneinko, T.K. Lowrey, S.V. Slambrouck, W.F. Steelant, “Evaluation of Aqueous Extracts of Taraxacum Officinale on Growth and Invasion of Breast and Prostate Cancer Cells,” International Journal of Oncologyvol 32, num 5 (May 2008), 1085-1090.  http://www.spandidos-publications.com/ijo/article.jsp?article_id=ijo_32_5_1085  (accessed 8-30-09).
4 M. Takasaki, T. Konoshima, H. Tokuda, K. Masuda, Y. Arai, K. Shiojima, H. Ageta,  “Anti-carcinogenic Activity of Taraxacum Plant,” Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin vol 22, 6 (June 1999), 602-605.  http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.cpl.org/ehost/detail?vid=1&hid=108&sid=b7ce94b0-1484-4aef-a5a8-73e1efddb194%40sessionmgr104&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=cmedm&AN=10408234  (accessed 9-1-09).
5 H.J. Jeon, H.J. Kang, H.J. Jung, Y.S. Kang, C.J. Lim, Y.M Kim, E.H. Park, Anti-inflammatory Activity of Taraxacum Officinale,”  Journal of Ethnopharmacology vol. 115, 1 (January 2008), 82-88.  http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.cpl.org/ehost/detail?vid=1&hid=108&sid=4b56dd3a-f9b3-4444-b85d-80d79eb1f3ce%40replicon103&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=cmedm&AN=17949929  (accessed 9-1-09).
6 Jinju Kim, Kyunghee Noh, Mikyung Cho, Jihyun Jang, Youngsun Song, “Anti-oxidative, Anti-inflammatory and Anti-Atherogenic Effects of Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale) Extracts in c57BL/6 Mice Fed Atherogenic Diet,”  FASEB Journal vol 21, issue 6 (April 2007), 1122.  http://wf2dnvr17.webfeat.org/aNuiM141/url=http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=1&hid=5&sid=a168be9f-0a5c-41c6-b86d-2a9c3677c6f4%40sessionmgr4&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=aph&AN=25598840   (accessed 9-1-09).
7 Bevin A. Clare, Richard S. Conroy, Kevin Spelman, “The Diuretic Effect in Human Subjects of an Extract of Taraxacum Officinale Rolium Over a Single Day,” Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine vol 15, issue 8 (August 2009), 929-934.  http://wf2dnvr17.webfeat.org/aNuiM14/url=http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=1&hid=9&sid=a26346e7-f010-44fc-88ea-891214f7539a%40sessionmgr10&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=aph&AN=43671001     (accessed 9-1-09).
8 Secil Onal, Suna Timur, Burcu Okutucu, Figen Zihnioglu, “Inhibition of a-Glucosidase by Aqueous Extracts of Some Potent Antidiabetic Medicinal Herbs,” Preparative Biochemistry & Biotechnology vol 35, issue 1 (February 2005), 29-36.  http://wf2dnvr17.webfeat.org/aNuiM141/url=http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=8&hid=104&sid=982fd009-501c-4a90-9ce3-7d5475b2ed05%40sessionmgr4&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=aph&AN=16133864    (accessed 9-1-09).
9 Zhi Xu, Ken-Ichi Honda, Koji Ozaki, Takuya Misugi, Toshiyuki Sumi, Osamu Ishiko, “Dandelioin T-1 Extract Up-regulates Reproductive Hormone Receptor Expression in Mice,” International Journal of Molecular Medicine volume 20, 3 (2007) 287-292.  http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=19007317   (accessed 8-27-09).
10 USDA Agricultural Research Service, USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 21, (2008) NDB # 11207  http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/cgi-bin/list_nut_edit.pl  (accessed 9-1-09).
 11 Hu C. Kitts, “Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale) Flower Extract Suppresses Both Reactive Oxygen Species and Nitric Oxide and Prevents Lipid Oxidation in Vitro,” Phytomedicine 12, 8 (August 2005), 588-597. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16121519?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DiscoveryPanel.Pubmed_Discovery_RA&linkpos=2&log$=relatedarticles&logdbfrom=pubmed  (accessed 9-1-09).

This post is reprinted from an article that first appeared in Natural Life Magazine

Let The Youngest Teach You Mindfulness

child-paced, slow down, slow to appreciate,

Image from jesse.millan’s Flickr photostream

Ask any child. When adults meet them for the first time, standard questions include, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” right after classics like, “What grade are you in?” and “What’s your favorite subject?”

Such questions, unintentionally, gauge a child’s progress toward adulthood. That’s because adults tend to be future oriented. We’re distracted from the present moment by the need to plan and work toward any number of goals—what to do about dinner, how to juggle next week’s schedule, when bills can be paid. These distractions take our attention away from what is in the here and now. When we think ahead so often we have less time to notice, let alone appreciate, what makes up our lives minute by minute.

What is impatience except denying the value of the present moment? The watercolor effect of rain on the window, the meandering quality of a child’s conversation, the long wait for a pot to boil—these can be occasions to experience impatience or opportunities to breathe deeply and be present, gratefully.

Leaning so often toward the future unconsciously demonstrates to our children that later is more important than now. Yet as we know, later never comes. As long as we’re alive there’s always “later” to strive toward. Worse, we are surrounded by advertiser-driven messages telling us that we aren’t there yet, that we need to do more or become something more in order to have friends, be successful, find love.

The nature of early childhood is the perfect antidote to this hurry-up attitude. That is, if adults truly pay attention to the lessons the youngest model for us. Young children who are not yet pulled by the adult world’s messages are oriented to the present moment. When forced to disregard what is vital to their bodies and spirits—pretending, daydreaming, playing, snuggling—they rebel. They are who they are, where they are. They’re not caught up in the future tense which dimishes the here and now. They demonstrate the oldest way of knowing.

Pay close attention to the youngest children in your life. Let them help you learn solutions to our cultural overdrive.

As we slow down we have time to truly know each other and to truly know ourselves. We’re more aware of the messages our bodies send us and can act on those signals before they become symptoms. We have time to reflect. Time to remember our dreams when we awaken. After all, time is the only true wealth we have to spend.

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Image from kla!’s Flicrk photostream

How To Time Travel

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My oldest is getting married. Yes, that outs me as old enough to have become a mother the year I graduated from college.

That itself seems strange, because I feel pretty much the same as I did at 14, back when I used to sneak out of the house wearing a halter top under whatever mom-approved top I wore over it. It’s such a distinct feeling that when I walk past my reflection in a store window I don’t instantly recognize the person hustling along, the woman carrying my purse and wearing my jacket. I have to remind myself, that’s me. My skinny insecure 14-year-old self is history.

Why can I access that time in my life so easily? Because I really remember being 14. Everything was new. Testing out the forbidden, suffering daily angst, uncovering adult hypocrisy, lying on my bedroom floor memorizing music lyrics. And vivid memory is the key to time travel.

In essence, our lives are made from what we notice and remember. When you look back at any particular phase of your life what you recall is constructed from what captured your attention, particularly those times when your emotions as well as your senses were engaged.

It’s a nasty surprise to realize how few truly full memories we manage to form. That’s because we only efficiently latch on to memories when we pay attention. We’re more likely to do so when the experience is new. That’s probably why we seek out emotionally charged thrills (roller coasters or white water rafting), get so much out of travel, and remember firsts like our first kiss or first attempt driving a stick shift.

The emotional and sensory experience of one’s first baby makes for lasting memories. Ordinary moments remain imprinted on my body as well as my mind from my son’s early years: a newborn slumped against me in sleep, a toddler crouching on sturdy legs to watch a beetle, an inquisitive child taking everything apart. As I watch this tall and capable young man go through the many rituals surrounding his upcoming wedding, I feel as if I exist in multifaceted time, sensing the layers of his childhood simultaneously with the present.

I know it’s easy to miss the simple grandeur all around us. I do it all the time. I get distracted, I multitask, I’m too busy to make eye contact and when I do I might very well be thinking of something else. But we have to live in the fullness of our lives right now. That means engaging in the sights, sounds, tastes, thoughts, and feelings unique to our own experience.

This moment, this day is yours to remember. Pay attention in such a way that you can time travel back to visit it.

And if you’d care to, describe in the comments the sights, sounds, and feelings of a memory that lets you travel in time.

Meaning of Life According To A Laundry Wench

 

Laundry Zen

I don’t meditate at an ashram or study ancient tracts.

I do laundry.

I’ve found a certain peace in this mundane task. When my family cries out, “Where are you?” I answer from the laundry room, “I’m looking for the meaning of life.”  (If I’m cooking, I answer, “Saving the world.”)  I used to say this sarcastically.

Sure, sometimes I resent the messy parts of motherhood. I was raised to believe I could be anything I wanted to be. Right now I want to be right where I am, but when I’m gripping a pair of mud-encrusted socks my United Nations career aspirations do provide a stark contrast.

Wisdom gathers slowly. Very gradually I’ve learned that meaning can be encountered in everyday tasks. Even laundering. Gratitude comes to mind first. Conveniences do the real work. Right now my washing machine is purposefully churning away dirt and worse with my homemade laundry soap. Being clean is a luxury I take for granted.  I don’t have to haul and boil water, then scrub clothes with caustic lye soap. Generations before me labored this way. What’s saved is the most precious resource, time. It’s up to me to honor that resource by the way I spend my time elsewhere.

I’ve found that doing for others without expecting notice, let alone acclaim, also deepens my perspective. The simple physical act of sorting and folding causes my thoughts to drift effortlessly to my family.  As our children grow, laundry tasks change.  Booties give way to socks. Diapers to undies. We tuck matching outfits together for one child, clean away evidence of bedwetting for another, soak out menstrual blood for the newest of women. Their hand-me-downs remind us cousins and friends. The fibers themselves hold the bodies we love.

We may loathe inside out shirts and socks wadded into tight fists, but turning them right side out again is a simple gesture of kindness. The cycle of reciprocity may be largely invisible when children are small but my children are old enough to be of real service around our home and farm. Yes, I unfold their shirts but they bring in the eggs, stack firewood, wash the floors, and shovel manure. It’s a good trade off.

Sometimes symbolism pops up as a teacher.  My underwear works its way into a sleeve of my mate’s shirt, asking me how much closeness we have shared recently.  A disregarded sock toy hides behind the laundry basket till missed and appreciated again.  My oldest son, a man now, keeps T-shirts that are too small.  They mark the path behind him as he forges ahead in his quiet, earnest manner.  Sometimes the lint tray is resplendent with fuschia or blue fluff when a new towel graces the drier.  We’ve made clay from this dryer lint which, when cured, looks like artfully molded felt.  I guess meaning is wherever we see it.

Oddly, I was pleased when our drier kept giving out.  The repair guy came to our house so often that the company gave up and exchanged the machine for a new one.  By then I was used to hanging laundry outside. It didn’t take much extra time.  I loved to see the clothes swaying in the wind, them fold them against my belly as my grandmother used to do.  There is a cycle apparent in laundry just as there is in nature.  As clothes wear out in that circle of wear-wash-fold, wear-wash-fold, they remind me of eternity. I try to repurpose old pillowcases and jeans to give them a better shot at that eternity. And I still hang clothes most of the year.

The last gift of insight offered by laundry? Humor, a hint that one is on the right path, is often present when I pay attention to ordinary life.  I ‘lost’ something the other day. It wasn’t something I’d go around asking about.  I’d been wearing rayon pants at the time. I laundered them without a thought to my missing item.  I noticed nothing different when I pulled them on at the start of another busy day.  But then in a crowded elevator I saw something white creeping from the inside of my pant leg and, in a moment of ill advised curiosity, pulled it out.  It was my missing pantyliner, adhesive backing now mottled with lint. Apparently it had survived the rigors of laundering and nestled in my pant’s leg the whole day waiting for the right moment to give me the gift of laughter and humility. (I don’t think anyone on the elevator noticed what I was doing, but my snickering was hard to miss.)

Every task has truth to teach, something I hope my children learn from weekly chores.  The other day while my youngest child was washing the kitchen floor he said, “I can see pictures in the tiles that aren’t there from farther away.  It makes a difference how you look at things doesn’t it?”

Yes, yes it does.

Reprinted from The Mother

Save Moments In A Memory Jar

make a memory jar, how to save family memories,

Today is a wonderfully ordinary day. Lots of laughter and no squabbles. Will we remember any of it? Probably not.

It’s hard to understand why we hang on to some memories but not others. The process isn’t about how much effort or money we expend trying to make something memorable.

Long-term retrievable memories are built by what we notice, fully notice, with our minds as well as our bodies. (They aren’t made when we multitask.) Look back at any particular memory. What you recall is constructed from the sights, sounds, tastes, thoughts, and feelings unique to your experience. The way you pay attention to those elements forms your memories. The shocking part? Looking back and realizing how few rich and full memories we really form.

That’s because we only really latch on to memories when we pay attention. When we’re engaged in the moment. Recall the last really memorable meal you had. It probably wasn’t one you ate in the car or standing at the kitchen counter. It was one you savored with full awareness of flavor, texture, scent. Most likely there were other important elements as well. Perhaps it was a meal shared with a new friend or made from a challenging cookbook. Perhaps it was a last meal you had before a loved one passed away, a meal you now try reconstruct in detail.

Emotion plays a part in memory formation. And our five senses are integral when forming strong memories. Particularly smell, perhaps because the olfactory bulb is closely connected to the hippocampus (related to learning) and the amygdale (related to emotion).

For years I’ve encouraged my family to take “sensory snapshots.” We may be standing out back together, having just finished stacking firewood (because togetherness on our little farm often has to do with work) and I urge them to remember the moment in their bodies as well as their minds. We notice the scent of blackberry and milkweed blossoms, listen to frogs croaking in the pond, feel the evening’s coolness on our skin, look at the fireflies beginning to arc through the dusky sky. I don’t just want the moment to linger, I want to be able to retrieve it long after today. I want to hang on to our easy banter and feeling of shared accomplishment.

That’s where memory-storing traditions come into play. Yes, it’s easier than ever to take photos and videos. But there’s something about writing down our impressions that augments the process of locking them into place.

One tradition you might want to start in your family is a memory jar. Grab any jar, name it the Memory Jar, and keep it in an accessible place. Filling it is pretty easy. Encourage your family members to scrawl memories on any piece of paper, sign their names, add a date if they can, and stuff these memory scraps in the jar. Let the youngest ones dictate their memories to you and pop them in as well.

You’ll be interested to note what different family members regard as significant enough for the memory jar. Good grades on a test probably won’t get in. Watching the neighbor’s puppies born probably will. Your five year old may stuff in a new memory each day, your teenager may add one only at your prompting, you may tend to write down funny things the kids say. But if they’re not noted and saved, chances are they’re lost.

It’s helpful to have a “no grudge” rule. Memories don’t have to be happy, of course. The most powerful are probably those that aren’t. Your daughter may write,

“I was really scared when Max fell off the slide. We went right from the park to the hospital. We waited a long time and I fell asleep watching a TV high on the wall. Max got a green cast on his arm and I was first to sign it. I was mad my name didn’t come out too good because it’s not easy writing on a cast. The letters are kinda bumpy. We were so hungry Mom stopped for ice cream on the way home. I got peach, Max got chocolate chip, Mom got a smoothie. I think it would be fun to have a cast too but I don’t want to fall off a slide to get it.”

There are plenty of options that go along with opening and sharing the tidbits from your Memory Jar. You might choose to have a memory ceremony once a year. That’s a day when the jar is opened and the memories are read. You might want to do this on Thanksgiving, New Year’s Day, or every July 13th because that’s your family’s yearly Dad Finished His Tour of Duty party.

And you’ll want to store these memories safely. It’s easiest to start a new jar every year. Label last year’s jar and tuck it in the back of your closet. If you’re ambitious, carefully scrapbook each slip of paper next to photos or turn them into a photo collage to hang on the wall. Or, your family may prefer to keep adding to a collective jar of memories without going over the contents together, happy to make the jar a sort of time capsule to be opened well into their adult years.

While a memory jar is well-suited for family use, there are other great ways to use this random-memories-on-scraps-of-paper approach.

For couples, why not start a Memory Bank? This is best made with an opening no bigger than a piggybank. This way the memories each of you contribute can’t be fished out and read in private. It’s a way of noting little tidbits about your lives together without the pressure to contribute. Of course a “no grudge” rule is still important. And when a Memory Bank is shared by a couple, it’s best to make it a long-term project. Vow to keep it sealed until your 25th anniversary or some other far off date. By then neither of you will care if she contributed 95% of the memories, you’ll both simply have fun going over recollections you thought were long gone.

Perhaps the best impetus for storing and retrieve memories is in partnership with the oldest members of the family. On each Father’s Day card I used to share a reminiscence about my childhood to let my Dad know how much he factored into my happiness then and my resilience now. I thought I was doing it for him but I know now that sharing these memories was one way I strengthened a link with someone so dear to me.

preserve memories with your elders, keep a memory book, daily log book for seniors,

You can keep track of up-to-date memories with the elders in your family using a Memory Book, one that’s always open. A large format blank book is especially good for this purpose. With each visit write down a recollection (old or new) to paste in the log book. Add drawings and photos. If you’ve exchanged memorable phone calls, texts, and other communications remember to add notes about them when you visit. The Memory Book is a warm reminder of your affection. It’s also helpful if your loved one is in an assisted living facility or nursing home because other visitors can flip through the pages, starting conversations by talking about these and other memories while making new ones.

Thinking about the ways we form and hold on to memories is inspiring me to have more fun with my family than stacking firewood!

Don’t Say It, Draw It: Non-Threatening Sketching Inspirations

Quick, draw something important to you. Try to do it in five minutes or less.

Is it an object, a person, an idea, a goal, a value, or something else entirely?

drawing to explore feelings, drawing as meditation,

Image courtesy of jhannah42590.deviantart.com

Those of us who don’t draw often (or ever) may be uncomfortable taking pencil in hand to create an image. But if we draw something without criticizing, erasing, and apologizing for the result we find that the process itself pulls us out of our habitual patterns of thinking. Like a form of meditation, sketching can take us to a still point in ourselves.

We may rely heavy on the written word throughout the day but our species used images long, long before formalized symbols such as words. Images are much more primary. When we generate those images we’re going deeper, beyond the chatter and clamor of daily life.

drawing for non-artists, why we draw,

Back in college I was assigned a psychology class project. It was supposed to demonstrate Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow insisted that most people are focused on basic needs, fewer are able to move up to higher level needs, and the rarest make it to what he called self-actualization.

I designed my project to be simple and get me a good grade. I also hoped that it would disprove Maslow just a bit. I had nothing against the guy, I’m just not fond of stuffing people in categories. And besides, I already I knew people whose most basic needs were barely met, but were damn close to the top of the scale. They not only cared deeply but consistently reached out to help others. Or they worked tirelessly for a greater good without ever seeking acclaim. Or they lived creatively and according to their own unique vision, inspiring others by example.

My project was easy. I asked people to make a quick sketch of something important to them. I asked college students, people on the bus, neighbors, strangers in coffee shops, college professors. Invariably they insisted they couldn’t draw. (Neither can I.) At least a third of the people I asked turned me down. Drawing is apparently pretty threatening. Or short blonde college students are, not sure which. But those who did participate created pretty interesting results. I got the expected number of humorous liquor and sex-related drawings from guys, shopping and chocolate drawings from girls. (These were hardly character-defining, after all, it was a spur-of-the-moment request.)

Many more drawings focused on subjects like family, educational goals (probably related to the preponderance of college students in my project), and activities of all kinds.

A surprising number of people drew something less tangible. Love, compassion, happiness, making a difference, God, higher consciousness. These were represented by abstract drawings or symbols.

The majority of people weren’t content to let the images speak for themselves. They also used words. They added labels, explanations, entire sentences—seeking to make their meaning clear.

Back then, I presented my project as evidence that Maslow’s hierarchy wasn’t proof positive that we’re all pedaling along on different tracks. I postulated that we operate across many levels depending on all sorts of variables. That assertion annoyed my professor, who was not amused by a student who dared question an icon in the field and who did so in a paper filled with drawings. He wrote nasty remarks all over my paper (right over the drawings I collected) even though I closed with a lovely quote by Maslow.

“The concept of creativeness and the concept of the healthy, self-actualizing, fully human person seem to be coming closer and closer together, and may perhaps turn out to be the same thing.” Abraham Maslow

The range of images drawn for my college paper were very similar to those collected in a project by Catherine Young for the Schoolof Visual Arts MFA Interaction Design Program. Catherine explored how people around the world represent what makes them happy.  The response to Draw Happy  was so great that the project remains ongoing, with hundreds of participant’s drawings.

Canada drawhappy.wordpress.com

Germany drawhappy.wordpress.com

Portugal drawhappy.wordpress.com

I have no beef with Maslow. But I’m still interested in what drawing does for us as whole beings. Those of us who aren’t artists might consider drawing as an unexplored avenue. Down this particular road are new ways to express ourselves, expand our creativity, and take a break from our relentless multitasking.

I harbor fantasies of indulging in illustrated journals and like to pore over an enticing selection of books on the topic but the fact is, I don’t even write in a journal. And my vows of sitting down to sketch at least once a week have never taken hold.

But there are much easier ways to spur ourselves to draw.

How can you add some non-threatening sketch time to your life?

Draw rebus pictures     Chances are you don’t write to-do lists out by hand. And most people text rather than write notes (let alone postcards). Try this. Occasionally write these things longhand using rebus pictures. You’ll inject some personality in a fun, cartoonish way. Rebus, if you don’t remember from preschool, are simple pictures used to replace words. Even a quickly rendered image is pretty easy to recognize.

tlc.howstuffworks.com


Draw studies     Keep a supply of blank note cards or a tiny sketchbook for this project. You might choose to draw only saltshakers, or lamps, or shoes. DaVinci did all sorts of studies of this sort. He drew page after page of noses, bird’s wings, running water. This is a daydreamy exercise that invites you to find all sorts of nuances in your subject. You may not only become proficient in drawing saltshakers, but may notice saltshakers wherever you go.

drawing as self-discovery,

Draw the same thing repeatedly     Draw something you regularly encounter. Draw the tree in your back yard as it appears in different seasons and times of day. Draw that souvenir bottle on your windowsill–in light and shadow, surrounded by clutter, filled with flowers. Draw the same scene over and over from different angles, as it might have appeared a hundred years ago, as it might look to a creature that sees only in temperature, or from a worm’s eye view.

drawing to release stress,

autumnwhisper.deviantart.com

Draw your feelings     We don’t have a lot of creative outlets to express reactions to bad news, personal disappointments, big changes, grief, haunting regrets. Our feelings don’t go away while surfing the net. Whip out some colored pencils to illustrate your fervent opinion in satisfyingly jagged lines. Render your angst in exactly the right shade of gray, magenta, and orange. Or pull together your fractured ideals in a twisting vine that reaches across a wall you’ve drawn brick by brick. Chances are your mood will lift. Drawing might just empower you to take bolder action.

sketch your way to peace,

Marendo Müller

Draw on memories     The past continually inhabits the present. Try bringing it forth non-verbally by sketching it. Draw a favorite toy from childhood, the necklace your mother used to wear every day, your view of the chalkboard back in fifth grade, the door of your first apartment. You’ll be surprised what these drawings evoke.

drawing memories, drawing feelings,

molicalynden.deviantart.com

Draw abstractly     Take away the burden of recreating representational images. Draw a favorite smell, a new idea, a mood, a strong impression left when waking from a dream already forgotten, a taste, a laugh.

sketch your way to relaxation

Alfons Anders “Begegnung”

Doodle  Doodling is great practice for those of us who don’t want to call what we’re doing “drawing.”  And this non-directed activity is a great way to allow your brain to idle while creative impulses emerge.

“A drawing is simply a line going for a walk.”  Paul Klee

Resources

Drawing Lab for Mixed-Media Artists: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun

Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You

The Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission to Be The Artist You Truly Are

7 Ways To Access Your Body’s Unique “Knowing”

developing body based awareness, raising consciousness, paying attention,

Ever notice that the smallest children seem to be one with their bodies? Unlike us, they don’t value their thoughts over their senses. They also don’t get caught up in ruminating about what isn’t directly part of the moment. Past or future: irrelevant. Other people’s opinions of their appearance: irrelevant. They are tuned to the sensory world around and within them.

This state of awareness may be similar to the state that was essential for our earliest ancestors, whose attention to the here-and-now ensured survival. Eons ago, hunter-gatherers had to be alert for scents, sights, and sounds of potential food or danger. Chances are this alertness included respect for the body’s way of knowing—unease felt in the belly, anticipation in the throat, restlessness in the limbs—signaling awareness transcending overt indicators. And they had to be able to respond appropriately and meaningfully in an instant. Pausing to consider their options would have let the antelope get away or given the bear time to attack. The people who were most attuned to their body’s perceptions (inner as well as outer) were more likely to live, passing along those abilities to the next generation. We have the same capacities today although typically they’re pushed well below our awareness.

Powerful nerves connect our brains with our digestive system, heart, lungs, and other organs. And this communication is sensory. It isn’t top down, with our brains bossing around our bodies. Instead 90 percent of the information goes the other way, with the gut informing the brain.  The network of nerves along our digestive system is so significant that researchers call it the enteric brain.

Our impulses and emotions are influenced (perhaps generated) by the nerves in our gut. Our brains then work to logically explain the emotion, as Candace Pert explains in her groundbreaking book, Molecules Of Emotion.

Our intuition and reasoning is also influenced by our enteric brain. This ability to know without thinking about it is what Malcolm Gladwell termed “adaptive unconscious” in his bestseller Blink. We constantly process data from all around us (as well as within us) below the level of conscious awareness. Accessing and understanding this information is part of what makes us safe and happy.  What we call feeling good is a sense of accord with this innate bodily knowing, transmitted to us directly as a visceral sensation.

We drive ourselves and our children away from this awareness when we emphasize head over body, when we value thoughts but dismiss that knowing  in our very cells. We worsen the problem when we adopt the standard practice of valuing one hemisphere of the brain over the other.

So what are some ways to tune ourselves to this bodily knowing? 

1. Notice how the youngest children perceive reality. They have an innate ability to assign unique meanings and interpret creatively. They haven’t yet learned the boundaries of acceptable/unacceptable forms of knowing. Simply watching, listening to, and living within the reality of a very young child can stretch your perceptions and re-awaken your awareness.

2. Avoid the distraction of multitasking. This fractures your attention into tiny (often useless) pieces.

3. Devote time each day to simple practices which cultivate awareness. Daydream. Contemplate a flame, or the evening sky, or a tree. Meditate. Take a walk that’s focused entirely on sensation—-the feeling of your feet as they touch and push away from the ground with each step, the whoosh of air in and out of your lungs, the temperature of the outdoor air as it contacts your exposed skin. Eat slowly. Look into a loved one’s eyes.

4. Practice using your intuition. With regular use, your gut sense and intuitive hunches will become more reliable. Try using the classic Intuition Workout by Nancy Rosanoff.

5. Check out what Eugene Gendlin calls focusing.   We’ve been talking about the feeling of knowing that lies deep in us, related to the way our bodies carry concerns or life situations. According to Gendlin’s book Focusing, these perceptions can be accessed using specific steps of clear bodily attention. This opens up knowingness as it is “felt” and garners direct information that comes from the center of one’s being.

6. Pay attention to your dreams. When you waken, spend a few moments relishing the feelings and images you just experienced in the dreamworld. Let them enter your waking body and waking consciousness. They are specific to you, and have unique purpose that transcends analysis. They are another form of direct knowing.

7. Ask your body questions and “listen” as answers arrive in the form of images, physical sensations, memories, or emotions. You may want to ask a headache why it’s occurring or ask your throat why it feels tight. Learn to recognize metaphors in your body’s answers.

“My belief is in the blood and flesh as being wiser than the intellect. The body-unconscious is where life bubbles up in us. It is how we know that we are alive, alive to the depths of our souls and in touch somewhere with the vivid reaches of the cosmos.” D.H. Lawrence 


How To Listen & How To Be Heard

what's real listening, are you listening, how to pay attention, being ignored,

Katerina Omelchuk “Beginning”

“Do you really want a dead cat on your desk?”

When a teacher took a parent’s phone call at the end of another busy school day, she was taken aback by the question. She couldn’t figure out why a first grader in her class came home telling his mother that their recently deceased family pet had to be on the teacher’s desk the next morning.

Then she realized what must have happened. At the beginning of each school day, children clustered around her desk in the few minutes available before the bell rang. They were all eager to talk.

“Fish sticks are yucky so I want to change my lunch ticket.”

“Want to see me do jumping jacks?”

“This picture of me and my bike is for you.”

“Here’s a note from my mom.”

Any of us would suffer from limited focus if we tried to listen to kids clamoring for attention while also monitoring a classroom. To compensate, this teacher tended to look only briefly at the child doing the talking. She often told them to put whatever they had to offer on her desk. Thinking back, she realized she never even heard the little boy say that that his cat had died. She just gave him an automatic response. “Put it on my desk.”

It doesn’t feel good to be disregarded. It shuts us down, diminishes our sense of worth, even leads to misunderstandings that can be epic in scale.

And you know when you aren’t being really heard.

It goes both ways. We may not be heard often or heard well. We also may not be very good listeners.

Like that teacher, we’re often wedged into circumstances that aren’t conducive to listening. The potential distractions are greater than ever. Ear buds in, smart phones on, screens blaring in all but a few restaurants and waiting rooms, we multitask our way to fractured attention. And limited listening. As a result we don’t hear, really hear. And we don’t feel heard.

We can consciously enhance listening skills. It’s about paying attention, tuning in to others, and limiting distractions. That helps us to hear and to be heard.

Psychiatrist Daniel N. Stern is an expert on attunement, particularly as it develops in infancy. And Dr. Stern’s research has led to this resounding conclusion. When a child or adult doesn’t give as well as receive sufficiently empathic responses they tend to resort to less healthy methods of filling their needs.

A woman who took one of my non-violence workshops turned in a paper containing an excerpt from the book Soul Work: A Field Guide for Spiritual Seekers, which explored Stern’s work. I take the liberty of including a passage here. Check yourself against Stern’s scale of attuned responses in your interactions with your partner, co-workers, children, extended family, and friends.

Scale of Attuned Responses

Beyond Unresponsive: The person you are talking with interrupts you in the middle of your sentence and shifts to a different topic.

Unresponsive: The person obviously isn’t listening, only waiting for you to stop talking. When you finish, the person shifts to an entirely different topic.

Indirectly Unresponsive: The other person says or implies, “Well, you shouldn’t feel that way.”

Self-Referential Free Association: The person says something like, “Oh yeah, that reminds me of the time when I…” or “Well you think you had it bad—listen to what happened to me,” and makes no other reference to anything you have said.

Free Association: The person responds to your statement by going off on a tangent and making only an indirect reference to what you said.

Impersonal/Nonnurturing: The person indicates she has heard you but offers no sympathetic or empathic response. Basically her stance is, “That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”

Superficial: Although the person responds by saying, “Yeah I know what you mean,” she does not sound sincere or empathic.

Adequate: The person shows evidence that he heard what you said but does not show interest or follow up your statement by encouraging you to expand upon it.

Responsive: The person not only hears what you said but also inquires further so that you can elaborate. He asks questions that demonstrate interest.

Resonant: The person indicates that she emotionally resonates with what you have said by responding with statements that show she is trying to imagine what you are experiencing (e.g., “I can imagine that you feel terrible…”).

Really listening and really being heard. It spares us from more than a dead cat on the desk. It’s an eyes open, hearts open path to wholeness.

Half Life

We walk through half our life
as if it were a fever dream

barely touching the ground

our eyes half open
our heart half closed.

Not half knowing who we are
we watch the ghost of us drift
from room to room
through friends and lovers
never quite as real as advertised.

Not saying half we mean
or meaning half we say
we dream ourselves
from birth to birth
seeking some true self.

Until the fever breaks
and the heart can not abide
a moment longer
as the rest of us awakens,
summoned from the dream,
not half caring for anything but love.

Stephen Levine, from Breaking the Drought: Visions of Grace

 

how to listen, how to know if you are heard, attuning yourself to real responses, what it means to listen,

Alfons Anders “Begegnung”

 

 

 

We Are One Being

all people are one, all life is connected,

Wikimedia Commons: Dan Groover

We are one being, linked in profound and essential ways even though we rarely pause to consider them.

The surface of Earth is seventy percent water just as we are made up of seventy percent water. This is the same water that has been on Earth for four and a half billion years. It flows in and out of each one of us. In cycles too infinite to imagine this water has been drawn up in plant cells, swirled in oceans, circulated in bloodstreams, sweated, excreted, wept out tearfully and drunk up thirstily, formed into new life, risen into vapor, and locked into ice. The saliva in your mouth is made of water molecules intimately shared with beings that lived long ago and will be shared with all who come after us.

We breathe about 600 million breaths in a lifetime. The air we rely on is a balance of nitrogen, oxygen, argon, carbon dioxide, and a dozen or so other gases perfect suited to our existence. It circulates through endless forms and uses, moved by the wind of our planet and by each exhale of living beings—-trees, crows, humpback whales, and newborn babies. It recycles just as the calcium in your jawbone may well have been quicklime poured on a criminal’s grave, a garnet on a nobleman’s finger, cheese carried by a nomadic herder, and a coral reef in a tropical ocean.

Nothing about our bodies is separate from what’s around us. We are nourished by what has grown from the sun’s energy and we remake ourselves constantly, replacing millions of cells every second using only the materials that have been on this planet for millennia.

Quantum physics tells us that a principle called entanglement explains how particles, once linked, can remain connected even when physically separated by vast distances, possibly even by time. Entanglement occurs between living beings as well, both human and animal, indicating a greater connection same call a morphic field and others call a holographic universe.

On this planet we are linked to every particle and every life form so intimately that science is beginning to echo what poets and sages have been saying for thousands of years. We are one.

all people are one, all life on the planet is connected,

Wikimedia Commons: Dan Groover

Each person is truly your kin. Our human connection begins with common ancestors. Genealogist Gary Boyd Roberts estimates that everyone on the planet is at least a 40th cousin. That’s because the family tree expands as each generation traces back. You have eight great-grandparents. Their parents had 16 parents. Go back 40 generations and you’d find a trillion grandparents at a time when there were fewer than 15 million people on the planet. That means we share 40th great-grandparents. In that way you are connected to eighty percent of the people on this planet. That includes the guy driving the delivery truck right outside your window and the woman thousands of miles away struggling to find water to drink.

The smallest children seem to recognize that existence is an “alive poem.” They find kinship with rocks, animals, as well as people. Our human family, built on kindness and cooperation, seems to be getting closer. We are helping one another heroically. We are waking to the ways our Earth sustains us, working harder than ever to restore justice and ecological balance. We are reaching out to share, laugh, explain, argue, and find kinship with people whose nationality, religion, race, and political affiliation don’t matter as much as their friendship. Perhaps we are entangled in a universe so holographic that we are now beginning to feel, really feel the oneness that has been there all along.

life on Earth connected, all people are one,

Wikimedia Commons: Dan Groover