January 31, 2011

Mondays Musings -- Meditation

A couple of weeks ago, Rebecca and I wrote that we were participating in Winter Feast, a 40-day worldwide meditation practice.
Although the Feast asks for people to commit 40 minutes a day every day of the time period, I tried to commit to a more realistic expectation -- 20 minutes of meditation at least 4 days a week.

I am proud to say that I have sat every day since the beginning, today being the 15th day;
I started at 20 minutes and have increased to 30 minutes on most days.

Things have changed during that time. I've gotten more comfortable and less fidgety sitting quietly and I look forward to the sit. I have had to cut back on some other activities to fit meditation into my schedule. I am OK that I have decreased computer time in the morning but not so happy that I am also exercising less days a week. For now I won't pressure myself about that. Yet I want to fit both mediation and exercise in my regular schedule and will deal with that after my practice seems more regular. I don't want to place the two in competition.

The most important thing is for me to -- just show up. What I call -- Tusch to the Cush.
This same advice is often given to artists and writers. So I try not to be concerned about the results and just go to the meditation cushion consistently as I do to my desk to write on a regular basis.

Self-criticism is my biggest obstacle
I can still fret... I'm not doing this meditation thing right, I'm not doing this well.
But all I really want to do is sit quietly and comfortably and focus on breath or my mantra (repeated phrase).

Meditation teachers often describe our busy thoughts as Monkey Mind.
I think of my own mind-clutter like a Walmart shoppers crowd on Black Friday, a jostling mess of humanity.
And I turn to meditation to slow down a bit.

What I prefer is to think of meditation as me being  in a small boat on a narrow calm river.
The current is slow and smooth and no effort is needed to move forward.
But there are many things along the shore lines that draw my attention. From colorful laundry, to barking dogs, to individuals and groups of people talking companionably, or arguing, or calling out to me. My job is to not get engaged with any of these things or interactions. Notice them and move on.

What that translates to is for me to simply acknowledge any thoughts, worries, images, plans, or aches and pains that I experience while sitting  and then to gently return to my focus (my breath or mantra).

As the teacher Sharon Salzburg says, "If you have to begin again a million times in the course of one sitting that's the practice."

Well, I am practicing being quiet daily. It is both easier and more difficult than imagined.

Wondering what you think -- do you meditate? Why or why not?

January 28, 2011

Photo Friday

A mother-daughter project.
We both post a photo every Friday - no description, just a moment from the week we want to capture and remember.

Inspired by SouleMama's {this moment} and 3191 (blog and book).




January 27, 2011

What I Do, Part 2 - Food Not Bombs

Read my first post on what I do (an overview) here. Over the next few months, I intend to write more about the specifics of some of my current projects and interests, as well as more generally about what it means to be a Scanner.

I've already mentioned a few of the ways I try to live my beliefs... including eating locally, growing my own food, and dumpster diving. Some of these changes mostly just affect me, others have a larger impact. I guess I'm always looking for ways in which my own small changes and actions can have a larger ripple effect .

One project I'm involved in that I hope falls into that category is Food Not Bombs. Food Not Bombs is an international organization with autonomous regional chapters like the Binghamton chapter which collect food that would have otherwise gone to waste (through arrangements with natural food stores, grocery stores, food pantries/food recovery programs, and yes, occasionally dumpster diving) and use it to prepare meals which are then shared with the community. 

Like other programs that offer community meals, one of our intentions is to help those most in need. But some of our other goals differ - we strive to reduce food waste, build community and bring people together (by allowing anyone to participate in preparing, eating, and cleaning up after meals), and also to serve food that is both tasty and nutritious.

So how have we done with these goals?
  • We have absolutely reduced food waste by using food that would have been wasted to prepare meals. All leftovers are given away or taken home by volunteers and all food scraps are either fed to our chickens or composted. 
  • There is a strong sense of community at meals. I love coming and eating and chatting with different people each week. One of my favorite parts of each week is listening to the person who brings and plays a different musical instrument each week. This was not something we arranged, but something that grew spontaneously out of this community.
  • We serve vegetarian food. Most of the meal consists of well-seasoned fresh vegetables (we do incorporate canned and frozen veggies as needed, but that is usually less of the meal), grains, and beans. We provide exposure to a type of food that many regulars on the community meal circuit do not get anywhere else and try to get people to realize that vegetables are both healthy and delicious! We also share our recipes and cooking tips with anyone who is interested and many people try our recipes at home. Volunteers also learn a lot about cooking and safely utilizing food that others might throw away.

While Food Not Bombs has no formal leadership structure and is a non-hierarchical organization, it seems common in many chapters for a few individuals to take on the majority of the responsibility. While we have many wonderful volunteers, I think Dan and I have fallen into that position and gotten a bit stuck there. There are pros and cons to this, but at this point my goal for working with Food Not Bombs is to make myself obsolete. I'd like to continue to be involved because I enjoy it, but know that the chapter would be able to continue with or without me. Towards that end, I intend to continue trying to help develop leadership in others and examine whether there are ways that I am unconsciously clinging to power and control (and try to let go of them).

I hope this will make the organization stronger, grow my skill set a bit, and free up some of my time and energy to work on other projects. Because there are always other projects.

January 24, 2011

Baby, It's Cold Outside...

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Winter Is Certainly Here and I have a tendency to complain about it.
And when I recently posted on Facebook that it was minus 8 degrees Saturday morning, I certainly got a lot of responses. Well, it was minus 20 this morning!!

I am not a winter person. I don’t like going outdoors when the temperature is in the single digits and less so when it is in the negative zone. Most of the year I don’t use a hair dryer and only do so when the temperature is below freezing. I hate driving up Belden Hill when it is blowing snow and I still remember sliding out on black ice four miles up I88 on my commute into Binghamton and that was at least ten years ago.

It no longer makes sense for me to drive to a local state park to go skiing or snowshoeing because when I do go out it is for such a short time. I’ll go up and down the hill behind our house a couple of times and then rush indoors for a cup of hot chocolate.

In July I wrote here:
I intend to not grasp summer. And I’ll try not to complain when it is SO hot and humid...to remember that this summer weather is what I crave when months later I’ll complain about icy winter roads. But now I want to get outdoors to breathe in the summer air, to pick a few weeds out of the garden, to pluck a few berries off a backyard bush to top my cereal, to read on the back deck. Summertime...the living is easy...the time is now.

So, I do appreciate summer and spring is my favorite season….the season of promise and new blooms, of fresh bursts of color, of the re-awakening of smells and tastes, the time to shed the coat, to be outdoors more. I get impatient for spring to arrive.

But with focus on my One Little Word, Present…it is my intention to be more Present in winter. To both be mindful of winter's positive seasonal attributes and to be aware of the Gift of each day.

Some of my favorite winter activities include:
Reading novels  in the living room with the woodstove cranked high, cooking and eating a pot of hearty soup accompanied by good bread, more Netflix watching, more online volunteering (Voices of the Future at World Pulse), working on organizing old family photographs and scrapbooking and participating in online workshops and classes (I’ve already mentioned Strathmore’s free art journaling workshops and One Little Word at Big Picture Scrapbooking). I also taking an online class via Ed2go.
And  traveling, getting away from the cold. I am.looking forward to seeing family in FL and being warm.

Alan has a number of winter activities outdoors like stacking wood, and preparing equipment for maple syrup season. He continues to walk/run most mornings outdoors -- while I am indoors "jumping around" with an  aerobics DVD.

One of the winter activities I most appreciate watching Alan do is plant. The photos are of him planting onion seeds. This week he planted 200 onion seeds of three different varieties. He'll tend them for the next few months and they will be ready to plant this spring. Alan said that last year he didn't start onion seeds till February -- and showed me that the results, onions that we store and are eating now, were smaller than they could be. To me, the whole process is magical and hopeful. In essence, we are now eating in winter 2011 the seeds that Alan planted in winter 2010.

Add to the reality, the provocative metaphor....What will I start this winter and grow throughout the year? 

How does your life change seasonally?
Where do you spend winter? What do you like/dislike about winter? And what are you starting to grow now that you will tend through the year?

January 19, 2011

Meditation Tool - Meditation Timer

I always appreciate tools that make my meditation practice easier in some way. I often use my digital watch as a timer when I meditate, but it takes a little while to set, especially if I don't meditate for the same period of time each day. The electronic beep ending my session is also a bit unpleasant.

Recently I have been using a very helpful tool my dad passed along in lieu of the watch timer. It consists of two mp3 files - one of 5 minutes of silence and one of a singing bowl chime. I've created a playlist in iTunes using these files with 3 segments of silence and 3 chimes, for 15 minutes of meditation ending in 3 bells. I can add more tracks of silence at the beginning to make my session longer, or select a later silence track to start on if I want to meditate for a shorter time. You could also burn the tracks to CD if that works better for you.

The only thing to watch out for is that your computer speakers are on and set at a suitable volume. I have gotten into the habit of playing the chime once or twice to adjust the volume before I start. You could also put a chime at the beginning of your playlist to begin your meditation that way, and it would also alert you if the volume were turned off or too loud.

January 17, 2011

Winter Feast for the Soul 2011

If you've been reading this blog from the beginning, you may know that both of us participated in Winter Feast for the Soul 2010, a 40-day commitment to spiritual practice inspired by a line from a Rumi poem:
"What nine months does for the embryo,
forty early mornings will do for
your growing awareness."

The recommended commitment is for 40 minutes of spiritual practice each day for 40 consecutive days; we both modified the commitment a bit to suit our needs and schedules.

Barbara posted a bit about last year's Winter Feast here and here.

Last year's feast ended in February and we are both participating in Winter Feast for the Soul 2011 from January 15 - February 23, 2011. We decided to share a bit about last year's experience and our intentions for this year in the form of an interview with ourselves.

What was your commitment last year?

R - I aimed for a minimum of 15 minutes of sitting meditation per day. I also allowed myself to do text contemplation instead on a few days when I did not have time to meditate or resisted doing it.

B - I intended to sit quietly/meditate for a minimum of 15 minutes a day on at least 4 days a week.

How did you do? 

 - days of meditation - 29 (13 days, 15 min; 16 days 20-25 min)
 - days of text contemplation - 4
 - days of neither - 5
 - days I forgot to record - 2

B - I didn't record it... I think I started strong and then slowed way down.

How did it feel?

R - Depended on the day - some days meditation feels good and other days it drags on and can be quite frustrating to watch my mind jump around so much. It felt helpful to have stronger motivation to sit more frequently.

B - I felt my usual resistances to commit time for silence and contemplation. I liked the call of the Winter Feast -- to connect with a worldwide movement for peace.

Did you continue after? 

R - I did, though the frequency abated pretty quickly. I continued and continue to have a sporadic meditation practice throughout the year.

B - Me too.

What is the benefit of participating in Winter Feast specifically?

R - Before the Winter Feast, I rarely spoke about my meditation practice to others because I wanted to meditate for myself, not to be able to seem good or holy to others, or to build up my ego. I still have some hesitation about that, but have come to realize that if bragging and fear of humiliation can get me to the meditation cushion, that is the most important part for me.

Side note: There are many other online challenges which serve the same purpose for other practices and projects, such as writing and knitting.

B - I appreciate this quote of Thich Nhat Hanh, “If we do not change our daily lives, we cannot change the world.”  Committing to a meditation practice and devoting time during the day to other foundational activities (exercise and writing) energizes me and I like the idea of connecting with other people around the world who also want to create a more peaceful world. For me, this challenge motivates me to begin again... and committing for a specified period is helpful.

What is your commitment this year?

R - My commitment is similar to last year's - a minimum of 15 minutes of sitting meditation per day, longer if possible, with a few opt out days of text contemplation. I intend to match or beat my record from last year - meditating 29 or more of the 40 days and doing text contemplation 4 or more days.

B - I would just like to sit quietly more often. On most days I'd like to meditate or do yoga. I hope to incorporate the practice back into my life this year, not just for 40 days. And 40 minutes still seems too long for me to manage. I like Rebecca's option of text contemplation -- and I will either reflect on a daily reading or read or listen to one of the many talks on the Winter Feast website.

What do you plan to do the same as or differently from last year?

R - I want to keep talking about it with other people since the bragging does seem to be motivating for me, and some interesting conversations came out of it last year. I also want to utilize the recordings and resources on the Winter Feast website, which I did not do last year.

B - I want to check in with Rebecca more and for both of us write about Winter Feast here. I invite readers to join in and comment. Also, I will try to meditate during the morning... I have the tendency to put it off and then it seems like a pressure, another item to check off my to-do list. I feel clearer and calmer if I sit in the morning.

I want to be optimistic yet realistic.... in terms of my expectations (hence the 15 minutes rather than 40, the goal of at least four days a week and not expecting seven).

We'll keep you posted on how it goes!

January 14, 2011

Photo Friday

A new mother-daughter project.
We both post a photo every Friday - no description, just a moment from the week we want to capture and remember.

Inspired by SouleMama's {this moment} and 3191 (blog and book).




January 12, 2011

Winter Flavors

It's a challenge to eat local this time of year and still have a well-rounded diet. Tonight I made a lentil stew with homegrown garlic, onions, and carrots in it. That's typical of my winter diet - mixing local fresh and stored produce with bulk staples. I often find myself getting bored with staples though, and when I happen upon recipes that put a new twist on old ingredients, it makes me very happy.

This Flatbread with Roasted Apple, Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion recipe from Chef Chloe fits the bill. I made this recipe with local apples, squash, onions, garlic, and chard. It has no dairy, instead using a garlic white bean puree as the base, and is really hearty and delicious. My flour and dried beans I purchase in bulk, saving both packaging and money. The original recipe calls for spinach, but I substituted chard instead, and I think you could use kale too. If you decide to try this recipe, take Chloe's advice and make extra of the bean puree, as it is excellent on sandwiches or crackers as well.

January 10, 2011

Monday's Inspiration - Young Adult Fiction

I've recently been reading some novels that are designated "young adult" fiction.

As the times have changed, of course, so has the content of books directed at 14-21 year-old readers. We, who grew up on The Catcher in the Rye and initially wondered if Judy Blume's books were appropriate for our children, may be out of touch with the styles and issues that are now the young-adult book norm.

In addition to Harry Potter and his magical forays, young voracious readers are thinking about bullying, suicide, gay love, and other sexual preferences -- including fooling around with vampires (perhaps just another version of hormonal bad-girl/rebellious boy couplings). Young adult novels often focus on a single theme. They tend to be fast-paced and don't get sidetracked by side-plots. Some are serious, others are silly. And surprisingly, many challenge the reader with complex ethical dilemmas. 

The Hunger Games, a wildly popular young adult novel (with very definite cross-over into the adult market) is at once engaging, exciting, and depressing. The bottom line - set in a post-apocalyptic world,  children are sacrificed and forced to engage in gladiator fights to the death. Yet in this series there is strong character development as well as fast plotting. Rebecca and I both read the whole series -- and agreed. Our friend Heather seemed to inhale the three books during her christmas break after we suggested them to her. I am still waiting to hear if my brother found them readable. Highly recommended.

I also just finished If I Stay. This is how the book is described in a starred review in Publisher's Weekly:
The last normal moment that Mia, a talented cellist, can remember is being in the car with her family. Then she is standing outside her body beside their mangled Buick and her parents' corpses, watching herself and her little brother being tended by paramedics. As she ponders her state (Am I dead? I actually have to ask myself this), Mia is whisked away to a hospital, where, her body in a coma, she reflects on the past and tries to decide whether to fight to live. 
I realize that recently the so-called adult fiction that I have been reading may be intellectually interesting, somewhat complex, often too pat and that I find myself more drawn into the emotional life of the characters in young adult fiction. Often wiping away a tear or gasping with fear or anger.

And an interesting note about young-adult fiction in the news....
The most controversial young adult book at the moment is one that was written in 1884. Of course, I am referring to The Adventures of Huck FinnAlthough in the nineteenth century books were not categorized by age group, there were books published that appealed to younger readers. Because of the over 200 times that the N-word is used, many schools have chosen not to allow teachers to require the reading and discussion of Huck Finn. There is a move to replace the numerous mentions of "nigger" with the word "slave." 
A slippery slope the replacing of offensive words in published works. Twain wrote in a different era. 
Will we -- readers and educators -- allow the conscious re-writing of history to placate critics?

What do you think about current and historical young-adult books? Any you recommend?

January 7, 2011

Photo Friday

A new mother-daughter project.
We will both post a photo every Friday - no description, just a moment from the week we want to capture and remember.

Inspired by SouleMama's {this moment} and 3191 (blog and book).




January 5, 2011

One Little Word

I too am participating in One Little Word, a year-long online class which uses monthly creative prompts centered around a chosen word. I hope it will serve as a reminder to revisit my vision and intentions throughout this year. See my mom's post about the class here.

The word I have chosen for 2011 is "breath."

"Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day 
is the rest we take between two deep breaths."
~Etty Hillesum

My sketchbook with the first completed prompts and my album for the year

I considered several other words but ultimately felt that "breath" was the best fit - a reminder to be present in each moment as it is happening. Like right now.

January 4, 2011

What to Expect From Our Blog 2011

As we enter the new year, we've been plotting and planning for the year to come, including setting some intentions for how this blog will develop in the coming year. We wanted to share them with you.

What you can expect to see here in 2011:
  •  Minimum of one text post from each of us weekly (Barbara will post Mondays and Rebecca on Wednesdays) plus more as inspiration strikes us
  •  Photo Fridays - a weekly joint post from the two of us featuring a photo each of us took that week
  •  Some sort of mother-daughter discourse about once a month
  •  A few changes in layout to keep the design clean and easy to use
  •  Bonus content - we're still scheming about how best to provide this, and we'll keep you posted
Anything else you'd like to see on this blog? What posts or content did you most enjoy last year?

January 3, 2011

Monday's Inspiration - Online Art Classes

Wandering around the internet I continue to find incredible inspiration and resources.

A wordy person like me might want to shake up her perspective and add a visual aspect to her work.
One of the ways to do this is to create a Visual Journal.
The art supply company Strathmore is offering some free online Visual Journaling workshops.
Check them out.

Of course, I've signed up for all three of their 4-week classes that are offered this season. All entail weekly video and print instructions. And there is a classroom with forums to ask questions and share photos of your projects. I am inspired by looking at the pages some of the students have created -- they are running on a slideshow at the classroom site.
Currently there are over 800 people in the class...and like most online classes only some join in the discussion.

I also recommend Artellaland -- for a creative boost. Check out their site and get on their free enewsletter list.