Wait not for your hunger to be satisfied…

28 11 2013

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I have often wished that I could see the future, haven’t you?

Wished that I could somehow be assured that whatever is happening today – whether of good or sorrow or trial or joy – will turn out alright in the end. And by “turn out alright”, of course I mean in a manner acceptable to me. But wishing hasn’t made it so. In fact, life turns out to be much more like a suspense novel. You have to wait until the next page or the next chapter, let the story reveal itself one crumb of information, one race to the safety-deposit box or one secret code cracked, at a time. In fiction, this makes for an exciting experience – what we often call a page-turner.

In life, as opposed to fiction, it can be stressful. But it can also be, truthfully, whatever we choose to make it: exciting or terrifying, energizing or immobilizing, peaceful or panicked.

It isn’t that we have control. In fact, it’s the opposite. We don’t have control except over our thinking (we don’t control what happens, what other people do, or even what we feel, because we can’t). Making our days, our minutes, our seconds – in short our lives – whatever we choose is about how we think. Its about what we choose to put our minds to, including which emotions, among the many we feel in any given day, we promote and dwell upon.

To illustrate, I thought I’d share the feelings that have been repeating on my internal play-list lately:

  • panic
  • fear
  • loneliness/homesickness
  • “I’m a loser who has nothing to offer”
  • “What was I thinking?”

There are moments when I give in to these emotions and thoughts. And let me tell you, those moments truly suck.

But today is Thanksgiving, so I want to share the rest of this story.

I want to share the part of the story where I practice selective thinking – often considered a bad thing! But when I say I practice selective thinking, I mean I choose to think about the richness in my days rather than the emotions of scarcity that fuel the crappy moments. This richness or abundance includes:

  • being in a city I love and having the opportunity to explore it
  • spending quality and quantity time with my friends Mike and Kathe
  • being proud of myself for changing my life, taking a risk
  • new experiences: being a barista, working with the bicycle coalition, interacting with interesting folks via my #dailypicofMpls project, the supportive and interesting folks I’ve met through FitCamp
  • being creative in the kitchen, learning to practice both frugality and sensory satisfaction with healthy foods.

Selective thinking includes both faith and hope. When I realize that I am dwelling on emotions I can’t control, I remind myself that life is lived IN THIS MOMENT, not in any other. In this moment, I can get outside, I can submit another job application, I can talk to someone I don’t know yet. In this moment, I can dwell in abundance.

As I prepared to write this post, I came upon the poem, “O Taste and See” by Denise Levertov (at the end of this post). Levertov was inspired by a poster quoting Psalm 34:8. I love that the poem talks about taking all of our experiences in life and savoring them, remembering that we have this moment – not an unlimited number of moments – to do so. Serendipitously, I stumbled upon this Wikispaces classroom site which offers a paraphrase of the poem, ending with:

So wait not for your hunger to live to be satisfied.
And reach for every meaningful experience we gain in life.

Today, I am thankful that, no matter how things turn out, I am not still waiting for my hunger to live to be satisfied. Nor am I allowing negative thoughts and emotions to color whole days crappy. Instead, I’m controlling the only thing I can – how I think about it all. And this allows me to “savor, chew, swallow, transform” my daily experiences.

On this day of Thanksgiving, I wish the same for you.

“O Taste and See” by Denise Levertov
The world is
not with us enough
O taste and see
 
the subway Bible poster said,
meaning The Lord, meaning
if anything all that lives
to the imagination’s tongue,
 
grief, mercy, language,
tangerine, weather, to
breathe them, bite,
savor, chew, swallow, transform
 
into our flesh our
deaths, crossing the street, plum, quince,
living in the orchard and being
 
hungry, and plucking
the fruit.
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November 28, 2013

28 11 2013

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Don’t judge me by my ungroomed toenails.





On the Nature of the Onion

21 11 2013
The Traveling Onion by Naomi Shihab Nye
 
“It is believed that the onion originally came from India. In Egypt it was an object of worship —why I haven’t been able to find out. From Egypt the onion entered Greece and on to Italy, thence into all of Europe.” — Better Living Cookbook
 
When I think how far the onion has traveled
just to enter my stew today, I could kneel and praise
all small forgotten miracles,
crackly paper peeling on the drainboard,
pearly layers in smooth agreement,
the way knife enters onion
and onion falls apart on the chopping block,
a history revealed.
 
And I would never scold the onion
for causing tears.
It is right that tears fall
for something small and forgotten.
How at meal, we sit to eat,
commenting on texture of meat or herbal aroma
but never on the translucence of onion,
now limp, now divided,
or its traditionally honorable career:
For the sake of others,
disappear.

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How do some people do it? Make you, a complete stranger, feel “seen”? Valued, like you are the most welcome person to enter their presence that day? I had that experience last Saturday, as I strolled through the 12th Annual Book Arts Festival at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts.

It was raining outside so, having just arrived, I was dripping wet. I stopped at a table covered in beautifully crafted paper sculptures and handmade books, most in shades of white. I was clearly reluctant to touch anything on that table, but the artist, Regula Russelle, encouraged me to do so anyway. She said, “I believe that book arts are tactile”, touching was practically required. We struck up a brief conversation when she mentioned that she is working on a collaborative show on the theme of “Hospitality” – which is, of course, one of the Mercy values I now carry in my heart.

Regula embodied that value, and it touched me more deeply than she realized, I’m sure. As I wrote last week, I feel bare lately. Every perception lands as if on sensitized skin, every emotion burrows beneath the surface at first breath.  As I lingered at Regula’s table admiring her work (but also just wanting to stay close to her warmth a little longer), I picked up a small hand- printed and -bound volume of poetry. It fell open almost eagerly to the poem above. The poem, the ambience, Regula’s hospitality, brought tears to my eyes.

As you know, the name of this blog is Jenion, the tag-line: Peeling Away The Layers. Last week, my friend Layne, in her inimitable style, asked me, “Are you still peeling away the layers, Jenion? I kinda think we got to the middle a while back.” Well. There’s a long answer to that question and a short answer – and I have been pondering them both since Thursday.

The short answer is “You’re right, we got there a while back”. The original purpose of Jenion was to peel away the layers of denial and shame, in fact, all the layers of muck associated with my disordered thinking and emotions about food and weight. And I believe we have worked through these things together, as so many of you supported my walk through that difficult and emotional labyrinth (some even joined me). I may never be completely content with the number on my scale, but I can, without reservation, claim to be in a sound emotional place regarding my relationship with food and a healthy life.

As for the long answer, I refer to the poem by Naomi Shahib Nye. I can relate to the poem on the surface level, as can anyone who cooks (especially health-conscious food). Onions are in nearly every dish I make – sautéed greens, omelets, casseroles, soups. I work very few recipes that don’t begin with “one medium onion” (chopped, finely diced, or sliced). As an ingredient, I have come to know the onion intimately. Its very omnipresence causes us to overlook its importance to our palates, to the fullness of flavor of much of the food on our table.

That is so often how we relate to the layers of our selves, as well. We see ourselves as ordinary, and we seem so obvious to ourselves that we sometimes forget to look below the surface. The tough papery layer of our skin remains intact even when peeling it off, when revealing parts closer to our hearts, would be in the best interest of self and/or others.

In the beginning, Jenion was the just a clever (at least I thought so) name for my blog. Over time, though, it has become my pseudonym, my alter-ego, and that part of me that remembers there are layers upon layers beneath the seemingly standard surface of my days and activities. And it is the part of me that honors the layered-ness in others as well. Am I still peeling the layers? It is in the nature of the onion.

Considering Layne’s question has brought about intense focus on the image of the onion. Almost tangentially it has occurred to me that an onion (in addition to being a metaphor for soul-searching) may also be a perfect symbol of hospitality. It offers itself to us, layer by layer. It flavors our meals, it accepts our tears, it nourishes us – and asks nothing in return. The poet says, “For the sake of others, disappear.” Hospitality may not require disappearance, exactly, but it does require that one place the “flavors” (needs, presence) of others in the central, starring role. What a gift that is to give another soul – and what a joy to receive.





Bare

14 11 2013

Until last night, it had been weeks since we’d taken a night ride around the lakes. But last night’s relatively mild temperatures were too enticing to ignore. So, when my evening meeting ended, Mike met me at Common Roots and we took off. The moon was large and bright white, illuminating our way as we rode down the Bryant Avenue bike boulevard to Lake Harriet.

In the summer months, the tree-lined path around the lake is incredibly dark at night, offering a sometimes harrowing riding experience for those riders (like us) whose headlights are sub-par. In the time that had elapsed since our last ride around Harriet, the trees had lost their leaves, rendering a wholly different riding experience. Without foliage to block it, the path was lit by a combination of moonlight and streetlights. We could not only see the path at all times, we could see the lake, the neighborhood surrounding it, each other. Everything looked and felt different. We followed the trail around Lake Harriet, then over to Lake Calhoun, where we were stunned to see the Minneapolis skyline virtually the entire time. We couldn’t stop commenting on both how beautiful and how clearly visible is was.

One doesn’t live in the upper midwest without developing at least a passing appreciation of the changing seasons. Like my neighbors and friends, I’ve watched for the usual signs – the first orange and yellow hues among the green, the first snowfall, the first crocus in spring. Before this year, though, I have never spent such concentrated time outdoors nor have I striven so earnestly to develop a sense of place as I have here. So the changes in view, landscape, light wrought by the mostly bare trees stuns and excites me.

Curiously, at the same time, they leave me, like the city itself, more exposed.

Its a strange paradox: to pay (as one does this time of year) such close attention to layering, to bundling up for warmth, while concurrently feeling more bare to the elements: of life, if not of weather. I go around covered up and protected, yet feel completely permeable. There don’t seem to be boundaries or protections for my emotional body these days.

Here’s an example. I stopped for coffee the other day and, walking past a restaurant to return to my car, I happened to catch some fluttering out of the corner of my eye. I looked, and seated in the window of the trendy eatery, waving frantically to get my attention, was a former colleague from Cedar Rapids. She waved me in, where she introduced me to her dining companions, alumnae (one a former board member) from the college where I worked. These lovely women asked about my life, and we spoke of the difficulty of life transitions. Their warmth and compassion was palpable, and I found myself sharing my deepest fears with them – something I would never, typically, do with strangers.

I walk around the city, and every beautiful fall of light or tragic sight of poverty moves me. The older man busking on Nicollet Mall, with his clarinet and saxophone, brings tears to my eyes. A stranger I follow on tumblr posts “Will someone come over and watch this movie with me?” and I almost respond.

What do people around the city see if they happen to look at me? I don’t know, but I feel like the skyline, rawly visible without the shield of my usual foliage.

In their book, Becoming a Life Change Artist, Mandell and Jordan discuss the idea of “mindful floating”. They describe it as one way of embracing the uncertainty that comes with significant change. They say,

“Mindful floating is a form of surrender to the inescapability of uncertainty…When engaged in mindful floating, we suspend self-judgment. We allow ourselves not to be tough on ourselves. We don’t force a premature resolution to our situation; rather, we allow ourselves to follow the current, emotionally and intellectually…When we are floating mindfully, we do not so much ask questions as tune in to the undercurrents, the ups and downs of the ocean swelling and receding, undulating. We pick up subtle changes such as the water temperature. We look skyward and notice the direction of the sun or moon and stars. We realize we can use the ocean’s undercurrents to husband our energy and nature’s reference points to identify possible directions. We are moving in tune with nature, not against it…

“Mindful floating, though, does not mean being passive. Rather, it means we assume a different perspective from which to view the various parts of our lives…a tool that enables the creative skill of seeing. We begin to understand that the elements of our new life are all out there. We simply need to find a new way to make sense of them before we rearrange them.”

When I float, I try to become one with the water. The feeling of being bare to the world around me is similar to, if more emotionally volatile than, the calmness I associate with floating. But this new bare-ness feels somehow right, like an internal change of seasons. I’ve been a tough onion to peel, holding on to my fears and my emotional isolationist tendencies even in the midst of attempting to create something completely new of my life. I’m learning that there are always new layers to be shed, and am hopeful that this latest shedding will bring me one step closer to seeing a way to arrange the pieces.





Thursday, November 14, 2013

14 11 2013

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Before the Snow

7 11 2013

“Fall colors are funny. They’re so bright and intense and beautiful. It’s like nature is trying to fill you up with color, to saturate you so you can stockpile it before winter turns everything muted and dreary.”
— Siobhan Vivian, “Same Difference”

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Before the snow, I headed out to walk along Minnehaha Creek. The weather reports had been unequivocal: “Winter (i.e. snow) is coming!” And even though I knew when I chose to come here that winter would be bigger living in the north, the reports surprisingly filled me with dread.

Lately, when I ‘ve needed air and movement, I have gravitated toward neighborhoods and city blocks where urban life fills me with its bustle and energy. New views of the skyline, new shops to gaze into, new places to order a large Americano and observe my fellow city dwellers. Or I have looped the lakes – spectacular in their poetic beauty, sailboats bobbing on waters silver or blue, glass-smooth or frothy, depending on the mercurial light and wind.

Somehow, I knew I needed a quieter landscape this time.

I had ridden the bike trail along Minnehaha twice, both times with Mike. First, in the high heat of August, on the home stretch of a fifty-mile circuit of the city. Then, its lush green shadows felt like an oasis. The second time, we rode on a cool night in mid-fall, with only our cheap (and not very illuminating) headlights to guide us. That time, the depth of its shadows filled me with terror and the short moonlit spans with wonder.  As I thought where I could go, the adjacent walking path which meanders alongside the bike trail, mostly between it and the creek, came to mind. Trees and shadows and hidden spots would do nicely.

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For most of my adult life, I had very little appreciation of nature – similar to the way I sometimes felt about humanity, I appreciated it in the abstract: individual people, and the actual outdoors, were not always my cup of tea. Now I find that being outdoors is the best way to clear and focus my mind, or, when necessary, to alter my mood. In this pause before the snow, I knew my thinking was jumbled and my emotions were all over the place. I just didn’t have clarity as to why. The moment I set my feet on the path, I felt I had come to the right place.

The afternoon was damp and gray, but the woods were glowing. I’ve always loved the special quality of yellow and gold in autumn woods and fields. On sunless days, these plants radiate light almost as if in the long days of summer they had stored the sun’s actual rays and now – just as we are beginning to keenly feel the sun’s loss to winter – they give it back to us. I walked along the paved path, pausing as I crossed the bridges to watch the creek flow over rocks and into still pools. Though I followed the markers for the walking trail, I came to end of the pavement.

As I stood, indecisively wondering if I should turn around or take the unpaved path that beckoned me forward, a woman and large shaggy dog walked up, nodded, and continued past me onto the unpaved trail. I stopped to take a picture with my phone, then took off after them, thinking I would catch up, but they had disappeared. The woods were beautiful, silent and still – and I was definitely alone.

Suddenly, I found this a little frightening. I was unfamiliar with the area, I didn’t know where the path was going, and I was in the woods alone. And in that moment I realized that the internal disquiet I had come here to parse out was just a new manifestation of familiar life issues: uncertainty and expectations. When I moved here, I thought I came without preconceived ideas of how things would go. I thought I was ready to live with and through the uncertainty of creating something new for my life. I stopped walking and stood quietly as the synapses in my brain fired. What I realized, listening to the soft sounds of the creek and the woods was this: I had un-articulated expectations, with an associated time frame, that weren’t being met.

Before the snow, I had expected to be employed. Perhaps not perfectly so, but enough so that the fear of utter failure and destitution would have been alleviated.

Before the snow, I had expected to be equipped to face the winter – appropriate attire, new snow tires, the ability to winterize my bike so I could keep riding. Without the employment expectation being met, the likelihood of meeting this expectation was diminished.

Before the snow, I had expected my new life to be enriched by new friends and the opportunity to take advantage of some of the non-free things this city has to offer (classes at the Center for the Book or The Literary Loft, for example).

But most importantly, I had apparently expected that, before the snow, I would have traversed the path through uncertainty and come out on the other side with a clarity of purpose and a more firm sense of my life here. Instead, I was lost – both figuratively and literally. Despite my best efforts. And the snow was upon me.

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Once I realized what had led to my disquiet, I found I could think more calmly about my physical location in the woods. I took several deep breaths and looked around. Bright yellow leaves were dropping like confetti from the branches of trees. They covered everything: the ground, fallen branches and boulders in a spectacular, mottled carpet.

Uncertainty and unexpected detours from the path sometimes take us to magical places almost in spite of ourselves. If I hadn’t felt panic at the impending storm, I wouldn’t have experienced exactly this configuration of light and color. Also, I may not have gained clarity of thinking to know why I was troubled. Most importantly, I might not have been able to put my fear in its proper perspective: uncertainty sucks but I’m moving through it, not standing still. And if I let go of expectations and remember to take one step forward at a time, I will find a path. It may not be easy, it may not lead anywhere I ever thought I’d go. But it will be MY path. And isn’t that what all this was about in the first place?

Postscript:

Mike and I had planned to meet for a late dinner that night at our favorite restaurant (we had a Living Social coupon that was about to expire). We sat at the bar, catching up on our days and sipping wine. I was warm, surrounded by candlelight and interesting people, anticipating a delicious meal. My seat was turned slightly toward Mike, which afforded me a view of the front wall – all windows – and the fat snow flakes falling outside. It was absolutely gorgeous, this first snowfall in my new home. And I felt not a smidge of panic.