Saturday, September 5, 2015

Solitude, Sadness, and Self-Love

At some point of time, all human beings feel a deep sense of aloneness. Such a universal experience, and yet, it's experienced in painful isolation, at least internally even if we are surrounded by people who really love us.

I believe that's the point that we need to turn inwards, and be okay with what's there. The fear is many a time greater than the actual experience. Facing inwards, being okay with a vast expansive space. Perhaps similar to floating off into the outer space in an unknown galaxy, no gravity. Where are we, if not anchored by a pulling weight that keeps our feet on the ground? Who are we, if not in relationship to other human beings? What are we? Why do we exist? What is the purpose of our lives? These are big scary questions. And we often stay outwards in the daily hustle to avoid questions that can seem unanswerable.

A few years ago when I had just moved to New York, I was looking for a great book recommendation and a friend gave it to me - Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke. There are 10 letters in that book that Rilke wrote to a young mentee he had never met. I think everyone who reads that book feels like Rilke has traveled across time and space to join us in this realm, and that he wrote that letter to that particular reader. I too felt deeply spoken to, deeply moved by his words. He spoke to me of solitude, of the vast expanse we have inside of us. To paraphrase, he said that most of us spend our whole lives in just one room of the house, whereas there is so much more to discover. He spoke of sadness too, with such respect for how it is to be treated and how it changes us in meaningful ways. Sadness, like solitude, is a universal experience and also like solitude, many of us spend our time in hyperactivity to avoid those feelings.

Through this book, I came to make peace with my sadnesses, and came to love the spaciousness of solitude, that can allow one to feel as expansive as time itself.

Nowadays, I lose myself in hyperactivity fairly regularly, but then something reminds me of this question - what or who am I trying to avoid, when I could be with all of myself all of the time?

I invite you into yourself. Sometimes that can look like meditating, or it can look like taking a walk, or dancing. Meditation changes too, it is a medium to access something eternal and still, and anything we lose ourselves in can create that pathway. Do not be attached to one path, but take the step now that moves your whole being forward. You can enter yourself from many realms - the physical, the emotional, the spiritual all are connected. You can touch your body in a new way and discover that you have changed. Your own hands may be touching differently, infused with awareness of self. You may look in the mirror everyday and not really see yourself deeply. You could do that now.

Whatever you do, invite love into it. Love is attention, time, presence, unconditionality, no judgements. Bring love into yourself, from yourself, to yourself. When we are filled with love, it is what we offer out too. And within us, it can help us hold all our experiences with compassion. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

Letting Go

A while back T and I were moving and we were in a purging frenzy. I donated so many clothes, shoes, household items, kitchen things, and more. Asking myself daily - Do I need this? Do I use it? Am I attached? - I got into a practice of letting go. I had mentally been preparing for this for some time, because I am a recovering sentimentalist. But I was ready. So we purged a LOT. And on the other side, in the new place, it felt good. There was less stuff to unpack (could be lesser still), and less space so it all fit better too.

At times though, I wonder if we went too far. Whenever I am wondering what to wear that I don't need to iron and and will keep me cool in the summer, I might have a flash of memory of a dress I let go of. And I might regret that decision. Or I might stand by it. Either way, I've been reflecting on letting go, and both the joys and pains of it. I've been wondering what it takes.

What does it really take to let go of someone, or of something? Of an experience, or an expectation, or a memory....First I think it takes that mental commitment, the readiness to move on. Second, there has to be an active component - perhaps there is a dropoff to Goodwill, or the burning of a letter. Perhaps it's deleting pictures, or someone from your facebook friend list. And then third, is the rest of the journey with no finite end, which is practicing letting go over and over. Each time you are reminded of the thing or longing for it, you remind yourself why you needed to let go in the first place, and why it was bold and brave and true to do so. Perhaps you have to remind yourself a lot. Perhaps you never look back.

And sometimes you need a fourth stage - if you're truly unable let go, then try acceptance instead. I'm sitting with all of this, from the mundane (missing my old sneakers and excited about new ones!) to the deeply emotional (wishing some of my relationships were deeper or closer, but accepting and being present to what is).

Even our skin sheds completely every twenty-one days. How can we refuse to participate in a process so natural and adaptive? If we didn't, we literally wouldn't heal and be able to recover from wounds. So, in that spirit, I am facing, learning, and trying to let go a little more every day.

I hope there is something you can release today. Maybe a regret about something you did or didn't do,  maybe it's a mug that you don't need anymore. Tell yourself what you need to let go of, and more importantly, why. Then release, and notice how you feel. Or if you're not ready to let go yet, that's okay too, notice that and explore what's underneath.

Write to me about it, if you like.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

When I'm Happy!

I'm happy when I write and I write when I'm happy!

Today I write after many months of not.

I reflected recently in a "sharing about ourselves" that I didn't share I am a survivor of sexual violence. I considered it and I forgot or I chose something else to share. For some reasons. I'm reflecting now on what those reasons were.

One, these words do not define me. Yet, the experience has been significantly shaping of my life path and in fact, laid the groundwork for a later politicization. But that was actually my first politicization.

I have worked long and hard on my journey with shame, throughout my life. It is only now, at 33, that I've come to another place that feels more restful. I have struggled, so I know my own strength.

I think the same about chronic pain. The struggle expands one's worldview and deepens and experience of self. You cannot help but question (God, why? Why me? Can people die from pain?) and you cannot avoid the spiritual or physical work, for that experience is so intense. Then you become very strong. And once you have seen your own strength, you only get inspired to keep working and becoming stronger.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Beautiful Cleanse

Cleanse is a beautiful word. I love the vision and feeling it evokes. When I think about a physical cleanse, it's an image of water rushing through pipes where my body is a long wide pipe, open from both top and bottom.  No ends, just water gushing from the universe into me with force and flowing on & out rapidly.

I have been thinking a lot about cleansing at a deeper level through my recent dietary "restrictions" (I'll explain in a moment).  I got the flu and had other health challenges 10 days into it the first time, so I'm doing it again, re-setting the clock on the two-week cleanse. Today is day 3. I made vegan chai yesterday, this time with coconut milk and coconut sugar. It's quite nice actually.

The foundation of this cleanse is learning new things, and practice letting go as a path to freedom. While this letting go of the old ways brings up feelings of loss and restriction for me, ultimately it is allowing me to expand my self-awareness, which can only bring greater freedom and choice.  These are the lessons I need to learn to evolve as a human being.  Some qualities to cultivate along this path - curiosity / eagerness to learn, humility at not knowing, acceptance of oneself as an imperfect and attached/addicted human being, willingness to try again with beginners mind after getting things wrong.

Some of the more physical and practical things I'm learning -
  • Because of eating much fewer foods and food groups, I was feeling hungrier and emptier a lot of the time. So to supplement, I was scavenging for snacks and sides that would fill me up, and via their absence I noticed all the usual go-to's that I was NOT eating [chai/cappuccinos/mochas (dairy, caffeine, sugar), crackers (processed) and cheese (dairy), not adding yogurt (dairy) to indian meals, chips/cheetos (processed, dairy), chocolate/desserty things (sugar, dairy)].  So basically, a lot of dairy and sugar was making up my snacks / fillers, and now I am eating nuts, seeds, rice cakes, fruit (more protein and fiber). A real shift in my nutritional balance. 
  • I feel highly attuned to how everything lands inside my body - from food to feelings. I notice every headache (or absence of), every stomach hurt (or lack of), and when my heart feels full of joyous overwhelm, or heavy and contracted from sadness. I can better respond to all these sensations and feelings, and I have become more mindful of how I respond. Basically, I'm not eating my feelings as much. Emotional cleansing.
  • During the hardcore cleanse period I didn't eat out at all - this means that I didn't spend money on eating out. Financial health boost, and spending cleanse!
  • Not eating out also means that I know every single ingredient that I consume, having read nutrition labels carefully or having prepared everything myself from whole, unprocessed foods. Having that much intimacy with food preparation and careful consumption makes me treasure my body's insides more, I have more respect for the organs and internal processes.

On a deeper level, this feels like fasting. It feels so, so hard in some moments (not all the time though). I have strong cravings, so much that I can even convince myself that it's okay to have a little tiny something (chai / chocolate...) outside the guidelines. But then I feel like I would be cheating myself, I would miss the opportunity to practice restraint and simply witness my strong attachments/addictions. Yes there are addictions. Although caffeine and sugar are certainly addictive, there are also attachments to the idea of how we eat and drink. I like to read a nice book as I sip a hot, creamy, caffeinated drink. I like to eat dessert after a meal, it feels like it "completes" it. I am witnessing all my weaknesses, and know that God wants to strengthen me inside out. This is a small container of two weeks within which I practice sitting with my feelings of loss and my cravings and I rage at my restrictions, and I still maintain the fast. Breaking it feels like crossing a sacred line.  

What I'm holding to as an anchor this time, is words from Gina Sharpe, teacher at and cofounder of NY Insight Meditation Center: renunciation as freedom.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

10 Principles of a Great Cleanse

On Day 5 I made paalak daal (red lentils with spinach) and aloo baingan (potatoes and egglpant). Ate with brown rice. Yumm times three.

I've realized that there are certain things one must do to create the foundation for a cleanse. I'll share a few of the things Im learning, and would love to know more from others who have done this before.

#1: Planning
I have to plan when I'm going to buy groceries, and when I'm going to cook. This is kind of basic for life anyways, when one is managing multiple priorities - work, food management, family time, social time etc. I recommend buying an epic amount of groceries (including the chia seeds, flax seeds, cans of coconut milk - things don't perish quickly etc.) a few days before you begin such an endeavor. Also get your fresh batch of vegetables and fruit, whatever you're planning to make for your first couple of meals. Cook the first big meal before day 1, so that you're ready to go on the first day and have some ease with starting a new big thing.

#2 Commitment and follow through
When it's time to cook, I gotta cook. If I don't, I'll eat nuts all day and be hungry!! Or, I'll break down and eat something that breaks the cleanse. That won't do. So, not a lot of room for slacking off. This process is teaching me commitment and timely follow through. You gotta do what you gotta do when you gotta do it. The effort is worth the results, and the lessons in discipline are priceless. I have less room/time for mental self-talk and negotiations, because I accept there's no other alternative so I just roll up my sleeves and get to it. This is a powerful skill to wield in other areas of life where you could use it.

#3 Cook frequently and eat fresh
I don't want to make a large batch of something and eat it 3 times a day for 5 days. Nope. I need variety in flavors, and I want to eat fairly fresh food as much as possible, at least during this period, in the spirit of a cleanse. So, that means cooking frequently, and it's been every other day so far. This is fine for now because I'm unemployed (for 5 more days!) and because I like cooking. No onions no garlic also makes the actual cooking much faster and simpler.

#4 Get creative! Change things up
A friend reached out to me after reading my previous blog post, and invited me to cook with her. I hope to do that soon! This makes all this more fun, involves other people so I'm not doing it alone all the time.  I've also been scouring the internet and sourcing friends and cookbooks for new recipes and creative food combinations. I was going to make the daal and eggplant (from day 1) again on day 5, but I added spinach to the daal and potatoes to the eggplant, and used slightly different spices and herbs to mix it up.

#5 Drink a lot of water
I'm really bad at this. I don't realize when I get sluggish from dehydration, and I barely drink water during the day. My nutritionist said to drink 4 big bottles per day. So, I'm carrying my Swell bottle container around, so I'm actually noticing how many bottles I drink. You can do whatever works for you. But having the same shimmering teal tower of hydration helps me remember my intention, as well a practically supports this intention.

#6 Focus on what you're consuming, not what's missing
It's easy and distracting to focus on what's missing. This is a loss perspective, which doesn't serve me in this process. So, instead of thinking about the cheeses and yogurts I am most craving, I think about which vegetables have a naturally creamy taste or texture (roasted smoked eggplant, mashed butternut squash....mmm). Delight in the tasty goodness of what is. And by focusing on what you are actually eating and drinking, you're paying more attention to new tastes and noticing how they feel in your body. This is the purpose - to notice how foods make us feel from within.

#7 Engage with the true spirit of a cleanse
There are so many ways to do this. I could eat gluten-free bread with dairy-free cheese everyday for breakfast. But this is not in the true spirit of cleansing. This is just eating more processed foods that are not wholesome or healthy. The real focus here is to make our bodies conduits - to shake up and release the old stuff stuck inside, and to pour in a lot of water to clean things out and get them moving, and to add nourishing elements that build us up from the inside - immunity, good bacteria, bone health, strength etc.

#8 Get support from your people
This is a big deal for me. I'm making an effort I haven't in a long time, and have been pretty averse to any kind of food restriction. While I'm not thrilled about that part, I am more focused on the things I'm gaining by cleansing. No stomachaches. But I need help, and something I've found useful is to talk to people in my life about it, give little updates on my progress, share successes, and even the struggles. Naming them to a friend helps to externalize them, so that you aren't thinking about the heavenly smell of those fresh home-made biscuits anymore.

#9 Remember: This is your choice 
I can end the cleanse whenever I want. But I am so determined to see it through. Nobody's asking me to do it. My nutritionist certainly recommended it, but I am quite skilled at ignoring what various health professionals have said to me. But I want to do this. I've been mentally and physically preparing for it for a while, and I got to the point of readiness where I was actually excited to do it. So, when it feels hard, I remind myself of 2 things -  1) I chose this. I want to do what's in my control to feel better 2) It's only 3 weeks. I can do this. 3) Once it ends, I will have a new set of choices to make (continue? long-term or short-term? no dairy or reduced dairy?), and also new skills and recipes for my daily life.

#10 Try to have fun with it!
This is a challenge right? Have fun beating it! Enjoy learning new things, pretend you're a chef on a cooking show (I do this all the time), narrate your new recipes to your imaginary audience, invite friends to taste test things, in fact, have a soul food dinner party! Invite everyone to bring one dish that uses allowed ingredients,  and share why they love it and how it feeds their soul. We are most poised for success when we bring ourselves fully into the world, and take the world with us where we want to go. Don't do this in isolation. And don't do it as a chore. Life is meant to be enjoyed, so enjoy everything, even the challenges.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Cleanse! The challenge is to cook simply and eat healthy & tasty

I like to drink chai while I write. It's a fact. It's a ritual as sacred and soulful as lighting a diya before I pray. It's a portal for me to enter a place that is navigated by all senses and inner knowing, not just by sight and mind and logical thought and words. This place is dark and unknown and vast, full of mystery and magic, but also full of fear if you're afraid of the dark, afraid of not knowing.  The chai and diya (tealight) ground me in the mystery and magic, and guide me when I'm lost or afraid, when there are no words and no writing comes out. I'm still me, I'm still here, I drink chai and breathe, feel its warmth in my belly, its cardamon flavors flowing into my soul. I can pause and reflect, and ground before I try again, seeking with my inner self.

On Friday I began a cleanse. This has great potential impact on my inner and outer self. For 3 weeks I'm quitting wheat and dairy, and onions and garlic, completely. This is a big deal for me because I have not done any food restrictions in a serious way for over 8 years. For the last several years I've been 60-80% gluten-free, but never completely. That was too definite, too scary, did not feel realistic and I did not want to live in New York and limit my ability to eat a NY slice of pizza when I felt like it! But, since I've had the time to focus on my healing more intentionally, and do things that normally seemed impossible while working full-time, I have more mental and emotional energy and openness for this effort. I'm excited! And very, very curious as to what impact it will have.

The general plan is oatmeal for breakfast, lentils and vegetables and rice for lunch and dinner, and a solid snack between those 2 meals. Lots of hydration - 4 of those stainless steel bottles. I am allowed caffeine and sugar (which is amazing!) but since there's no dairy, I'm not that interested in coffee or chai without it.

Day 1 meals -

Breakfast: A cup oatmeal with almond milk, and chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds. And 4-5 strawberries. Yummmm!

Lunch: Green moong daal khichdi (pressure cooked with white rice) with ginger , green chillies and lemon, and some simple spices - turmeric and salt. And eggplant cooked with tomatoes. Hella tasty!

Snack: Roasted cashews, raw pecans, sunflower and pumpkin seeds

Dinner: Same as lunch

Snack: More nuts and seeds, and a couple of pieces of dark chocolate

I drank 6 bottles of water on this day!!! A huge area of growth for me, so something I was really proud of and felt great flowing within my body.

This is full of newness, stumbling, learning, and being open to trying imperfectly. By the end of day 1, I actually felt amazing. I felt empty, which was uncomfortable, but it allowed me to see how certain foods fill my belly because I can't stand the emptiness. It's not hunger, it's open space. I slept easily and soundly (have had bad insomnia), and most incredible of all, when I lay down I could feel wind and my feelings flow through me, top to bottom, all the way to my feet. Usually those feelings get stuck in a hard place in my gut, and I can never feel breath flow to my legs. I had energy flowing into my lower body without interruption, and immediately I could see the power of the cleanse. I was committed to seeing it through.

Day 2 was also good. I felt a lot of mindfulness because I was preparing everything I ate, and it was all so wholesome and tasty. I was committed to enjoying delicious foods while cleansing, and I was making new recipes, or simplifying old recipes because it's without onions and garlic.

Day 3 started to feel difficult. When I made the new tasty-healthy recipe I was excited about, it was tasty but not amazing. I have high standards as a cook, and usually will keep working a dish until it gets to finger-licking yumm. This was solid, but not excellent.

New entree (for lunch and dinner): Butternut squash, carrots, green beans, and potatoes cooked in coconut milk, with mustard seeds, curry leaf and some green chillies.

Side: Lightly sauteed kale with orange bell peppers.

Day 4: I was feening for chai. It was Sunday, the city was slowing down preparing for the storm, and on my current funemployment schedule I have a lot of free time. I like to drink chai while writing, as I mentioned, and also while reading. So, I made vegan chai with almond milk, inspired by a friend. It's decent, thought not something I can imagine craving!

Luckily, other people eating decadent things like chocolate lava cake or garlic-sauteed greens did not tempt me.I enjoyed the smells, and their pleasure with their food. For me, I simply felt - this is only for 3 weeks. An experiment, I want to see if I feel better (less/no stomach aches and headaches, and better sleep and energy).  And I want to do it for real, no cheating. I'm really leading with curiosity this time, so eager to know what works well in my body! And I am enjoying the challenge of simplicity :) Which is actually a gift. I'm cooking simpler.

Day 5 is today: I am drinking vegan chai and writing from a cozy bed on this snowy day. This is a treat.

What I'm excited to do more of 

What's up next for cooking: Daal again (maybe red lentils this time, or brown - masoor daals) and eggplant again. That combo sounds simple, solid, and delicious. I am in love with eggplant these days. It's soft and light so very easy to cook, one eggplant makes a good sized portion, and it feels creamy and richly flavorful, which is very satisfying.

I need to expand my snack options beyond the nuts + seeds combo because I get bored easily. I did some online exploration last night, and have thought of rice cakes, plain or with peanut butter.

I also tried to make tahini but it came out bad because the sesame seeds were too old I think, it was bitter and tasted rancid. I'll get a fresh batch and try again. I may also make my own hummus without garlic.

I want to start going to yoga classes 2-3 times a week, which is an important component of any health effort. Right now it's zero/week, so fortunately, the stats can only go up from here. The snow is testing my commitment, so I will do some home yoga today + practice the dance routine I learned at my dance collective this week!

How you can help me! Please.

I am looking for more recipes - vegan and gluten free of course - that use basic ingredients, nothing too obscure or fancy. So, please share your favorites! You can fb message or email me, or call me too! A great excuse to chat - recipe exchange.

Also, if there are some basic exercise things that you do from home, whether regularly or when you're stuck indoors by weather, tell me what they are. I'd like to build a collection of options for myself. My default tends to be sun salutations but like I mentioned, I get bored easily with repeating the same things every day (something to work on in yoga practice huh? cultivating beginner's mind daily)

Stay tuned

In case anyone is curious, I am trying the Low FODMAP  + no dairy diet as recommended by my awesome nutritionist. This diet also excludes a lot of fruit  (anything with a pit/core) and vegetables (like cauliflower, peas etc. - some of my favorites!), so it's not just dairy and wheat elimination. It's apparently a great fit for folks with inflammation in the body (symptoms - stomach aches, headaches etc.) or what is more commonly known as IBS. It is also paired with taking a probiotic daily which helps build the good bacteria for digestion (I haven't begun this yet).

I'm not yet committed to this food plan for life, just trying it out to see if it really works for me. And if the results are compelling, who knows where I go from here.  I'll keep you posted. Cooking and eating occupies a great deal of my mindspace, both because I'm a foodie who likes to cook and eat out, and because I've had such challenges with how foods impact me, even so-called healthy foods. So, doing this cleanse and writing about it are a great way for me to externalize this huge thing, and to share the lessons I'm learning. Thanks for reading! 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Life Purpose, and the Role of Healing/Loving Self within that

So, here's my understanding of how a human being is built, and hence, what the purpose of our life is.

1. There is a soul, a tiny pinpoint of divine flame, in our hearts. This is what we mean by life and consciousness. By its very existence, it affirms interconnection. We are all part of a larger fire of aliveness, which scientifically matches how we understand the universe - generated from a Big Bang, a fireball essentially.

2. Our bodies encase our souls, so we are living temples. Every day, we wash and clean the temple externally, we offer food for nourishment. Because we are also a vehicle for the soul, we treat it in ways that fuel a machine too. Recharging batteries by rest, water, food, and mobility is a part of our function and aliveness.

3. We are not here to live the body, the body is here as a vehicle for the soul's purpose. So, our purpose in life is embedded in the soul. It's already in there, we may or may not consciously be aware (yet), but because it's there and it's our essence, it reveals itself in our natural talents & gifts, what some people call aptitude.

4. What we are here to do and be matches what the world needs from us.  Living our purpose gives us an outlet for own creative energies, and it is a necessary & beautiful cog in the universal wheel. I often hesitated at the thought of indulging my creative desires, but they were deep yearnings, which I felt compelled to follow and release into the world, without which I felt backed up and stagnant.  When I am living using all my gifts, I am flowing with life and able to offer more creative thinking and expansive energy to all that I do, even things that are simply necessary or chores. Sharing our gifts rounds us out, so we are acting in more whole ways.

5. In order to live fully and to contribute the best of our essence, we all need to heal in an ongoing manner. Just like being free as a child is full of playing and falling down and exploring and getting hurt and learning about the world, so it is being a human of any age. We live, we learn, things happen, we have accidents, we make mistakes, other people are living and learning too, and through all our interactions we each have things to heal from - each of which serve a learning purpose. Fortunately, because the soul can never be harmed, everything else can be unlearned or released and re-learned in new ways. Healing is inevitable because we are already whole, always and forever. So, our inner wisdom guides our emotional, mental, physical and spiritual healing, our journey towards becoming pure light.  What we can consciously do to support the journey is listen to our inner selves, and respond accordingly, to the best of our ability. This process involves a LOT of people and requires a lot of support.

6. As we heal, we grow. We grow in all possible ways. Our hearts are bigger, stronger, more flexible muscles. We can open more, we can do more, we can receive more, we can follow the guidance we receive, we have greater capacity to learn new things. All of these abilities enhance our life-purpose fulfillment. We are able to recover more fluidly from setbacks, and we can do all this while retaining our glowing essence. This process evolves us as human beings, and that's the greater purpose of living - living our full potential, recovering our full humanity, and offering something that makes the world better. We love ourselves, we love the world, we work to heal and beautify our home, and it loves and nourishes us back. We have received, we continue to give.... the cycle of life is an expanding spiral.

7. Loving ourselves is an important part of this recipe. It is not selfish, it is our responsibility, and a part of our contribution to offer the best possible version of ourselves to the world. Nobody else can do that for us, and everybody feels the impact if we don't do that work on ourselves. Loving ourselves is similar to a parent loving a child - taking care of basic needs but also moral and emotional development, living by our values, taking feedback and self-improvement work, playing, laughing, and building good friendships.

Thank you to everyone who has been offering so much insight and clarity to me, as I have been deep in life-purpose questions. I offer this blog post from all of those learnings, and with gratitude for your wisdoms and sharing.