Sunday, March 27, 2011

White Lies: A Response

A friend of mine recently wrote a blog post about white lies. My take on her post was that while she is wanting to be honest with others, she is struggling with how, in some situations, to remain authentic but not be hurtful. Her post and one of the comments someone else left on it, brought up a lot of thoughts for me. Here are some of them.

I know that in our society we are expected to lie sometimes. If someone cooks us a meal, we are supposed to say it was delicious even if it tastes like wet newspaper. If we don't like someone's outfit, we are still supposed to tell them they look lovely.

But why? I mean, I'm not going to say things like "That was the worst meal I ever choked down" or "You look awful, I'm embarrassed to be seen with you."

But I do believe there's a middle ground. I can say what is true for me without being cruel or harsh. I can share my authentic ideas and thoughts and feelings while still having regard for other people's feelings.

So "To be honest, the food was a bit bland for my tastes, but I so appreciate the effort you went through" or "That dress isn't my favorite of yours, I don't think it's as flattering as some of the other outfits I've seen you in: like that green one the other day! Hot!"

I guess there's a line, which probably varies for each situation: how far am I willing to give up honesty in exchange for not being hurtful. Sure, it might feel better in the moment for another person to hear that everything is great and beautiful and shiny. In the long run though, I'm more interested in an honest and open exchange between me and the people I care about. I think that it avoids long term problems (how many times would I be able to eat that horrible meal and have to say how great it is before I snap?) and creates a more real closeness and fosters trust. They know they are getting to know the real me. And if someone knows I will be honest even when it might be uncomfortable, they can be pretty sure I will always be as honest as I can.

If a person is so sensitive they can't handle my speaking my truth, that's not my responsibility. I'd be glad to process it with them, answer what questions they may have, explain why I said what I said. But I will not misrepresent myself just to create ease and comfort for someone else. I'm not a product designed for comfortable consumption, I am a person with my own thoughts and ideas and feelings, and I think it is entirely my right, maybe even my responsibility, to share them.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Great Things

Good weather

Peppermint oil

Lime seltzer water

Toy cats
The Serenity

Sunday, March 13, 2011

White-Girl Fry Bread

A lot of years ago I was a volunteer at an institute on the Navajo reservation near Burnt Water, Arizona (that would be the Native American Baha'i Institute). I worked in the kitchen, preparing lunch and dinner (and breakfast when we had guests for a program) for 10 to 25 people. And once the other girl who worked in the kitchen, Erin, and I made Thanksgiving dinner for about 150 people. That was insane. Neither of us knew how to cook much of anything.

But anyway, one day a lovely Navajo woman came to help out in the kitchen by making fry bread, and teaching Erin and I how to make it. Fry bread is something of a Navajo staple. And dude, it is delicious. Here is a picture:

So what we have here, ladies and gentleman, is flour, salt, baking soda and water mixed into a lovely dough. It is fried until it reaches a slightly crunchy golden-brown perfection on the outside, and maintains a gorgeous chewiness on the inside. Oh, yeah. Fry bread.

Another thing you might notice about this fry bread is that it is round. That happens when someone takes a pinch of the dough and rolls it into a ball. They then pinch and twirl this ball of slowly oozing, temperamental dough, forming it into a delicate circle. It is this circle of yum that is slipped into the hot oil to fry.

So, back in the kitchen, Erin and I totally got how to mix the dough. We could heat the oil to just the right temperature. But we absolutely could not make the dough into circles. Ours looked more like a geography lesson: "And which state is your fry bread shaped like, Johnny?"

It was pretty pathetic. We tried for hours. Eventually we had two baskets of fry bread on offer as people came in to dinner. As they came to the serving window we would ask, "Would you like fry bread with that?" And of course they did... I mean, it's fry bread. And then we would offer both baskets and ask, nodding at the basket of perfect little golden circles, "Navajo fry bread..." and now a guilty glance at the basket of our misshapen efforts, "or white-girl fry bread?"

The white-girl fry bread wound up being eaten, but I'm pretty sure it was out of pity.

Break It Down

You know how people say you should break your goals down and accomplish them slowly? I thought I was.
I mean, my goal was "become a better, healthier person" right? So I broke it down into

Goal 1: read the Baha'i Writings every morning and evening and say the Obligatory Prayer every day and do the prescribed mediation (the 95s) every day.
Goal 2: eat healthily and mindfully and cook all my own food.
Goal 3: be asleep every day by 11pm and awake by 8am.

And things like that. So I figured, there: it's broken down into smaller goals. And then I'd fail miserably.

But just the past few days, I think I've really got the idea. Right now the guidelines I'm working with are:
Eat at least one meal a day actually sitting at my table, without multi-tasking.
Listen to and respect my body's genuine wants about what and how much to eat.
Only be on the computer (which is also my source of movies and tv) from 10am to 10pm.
Say either the Obligatory Prayer or the meditation every day.
When I wake up and at 10pm, have a cup of tea and read the Baha'i Writings while it's steeping.

SO MUCH easier! I don't know why I was so resistant to gradual before. Shame, maybe... I dunno, that a whole other post. But anyway. So yeah. I get into the groove of doing one meal a day mindfully, maybe I add a snack or another meal. Or once I've made a habit of the Obligatory Prayer (that's the choice I've been making usually; it's shorter) I add the meditation.

And here's the crazy part: now that I'm not being so dang rigid and idealistically unrealistic with my guidelines (isn't "guidelines" such a gentler sounding word that "goals"?), I'm actually enjoying meeting them! Not just the feeling of accomplishment when I meet them (although I ain't gonna lie, that's nice too) but the activities and guidelines themselves are actually fun and feel good.

Who knew?! (I mean, other than every self help book author or reader, therapist, person who has ever met a big goal, and person who uses cliches...)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ali-Jo: A Reason To Be Great

OK, that's not really her name. But it's a cute contraction of her first and middle names. She is my niece. Depending on who you count, she is either my eldest niece or my middle niece.

I love this kid. I mean, I love her siblings, too. Equally, for real. But this kid is special to me. She once told me "I'm not a daddy's girl, I'm an Auntie Sonya's girl!" so I know the feeling is at least a little reciprocal.

Today she had an amazing conversation with her mom, that went something like this:
Niece: Mom, what day of the week is it?
Niece's Mom: Why don't you tell me?
N: Is it Monday?
NM: No, Monday comes at the beginning of the week, today is closer to the end."
N: Is it Tuesday?
NM: No Baby, Tuesday comes right after Monday.
N: Is it Threesday?
NM: (trying to stay serious) No
N: Foursday? Monday, Tuesday, Threesday, Foursday, Fivesday... no wait... Monday, Tuesday, Threesday....

So, on the surface, totally adorable little conversation, right? And it is. And she is. My gosh, is she ever! But it's more, too. See, this girl is a month from being four years old. Four. And yet she took (what she thought was) a verbal pattern and extrapolated the pattern correctly. That takes some pretty heavy brain power. Young Ali-Jo has always been good with words. A great talker, good vocabulary, remarkably expressive (and occasionally seem unable to STOP talking, lol) all from pretty early on.

And it's awesome and amazing. And a little scary for me. Because I see that whole good with words trait pretty clearly in myself as well. And God bless this tiny girl, I do not want her following my footsteps in pretty much anything. She sometimes does things where she is clearly wanting to be like me (I know, little kids do this, but still). Here we are, both having tattoos.

I was just talking to a friend about this. I said something like "I worry sometimes about how much she takes after me. Especially as she seems to feel particularly close to me. I don't want her adding to any possible genetics by role-modeling me." (Heh, I love how any noun can become a verb and everyone knows what you mean.)

I want the world for this kid. No, wait, I want a totally better world for this kid. And I know I don't want her to ever be where I've been. I don't want her in the same zipcode as where I've been. I mean, this doesn't keep me up at night or anything, but it's something I think about from time to time, especially when she does something that I can easily relate to myself.

It occurred to me in a way that really felt a lot like an epiphany, during this conversation with my friend that I quoted above. Let's just say that Ali-Jo does decide to emulate me at some point in her life. Wouldn't I want her to have the best role models possible, so that she can become the best Ali-Jo possible? And if there's even a slim chance that at some point I will be a role model for her then like... man... what better reason to do my darnedest to become as great as possible?

This is the first time I feel like I've had a real, concrete but still deeply involving, reason to go for great. 

Peach Delight

I've been doing pretty well for the past THREE WHOLE DAYS on eating good, healthy, whole foods that I prepare myself. There's been some really yummy stuff and some kind of unfortunate stuff (gorgonzola and eggs is not a good mix).
But I just created, cooked, and ate the best dessert ever. I took a peach. I sliced it in half and took it's pit out. I drizzled the two halves with honey (literally a drizzle; maybe half a teaspoon total) and then I baked it for something like 10 minutes. I bet it'd be really good sliced, too, instead of just halved. Maybe even better.
It was everything a dessert should be: sweet, warm, slightly gooey...   I don't know what to call it though. It definitely is yummy enough to deserve a real name.
Any ideas?
PS, I'm hoping for a fun name that makes me happy to have this instead of something called, for example, "chocolate heaven double gooey mousse cake supreme."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Three Hidden Words

I can't sleep, so I've been reading from a Baha'i Sacred Text called The Hidden Words, by Baha'u'llah. These three verses particularly struck me. If you aren't familiar with these Writings, please don't get the idea that they are all sort of "why aren't you doing what I told you to" or "ooo, you're in trouble" sorts of things. These are just the ones that especially resonated with me and my frame of mind tonight.

O Moving Form of Dust!
I desire communion with thee, but thou wouldst put no trust in Me. The sword of thy rebellion hath felled the tree of thy hope. At all times I am near unto thee, but thou art ever far from Me. Imperishable glory I have chosen for thee, yet boundless shame thou hast chosen for thyself. While there is yet time, return, and lose not thy chance.

O Essence of Desire!
At many a dawn have I turned from the realms of the Placeless unto thing abode, and found thee on the bed of ease busied with others than Myself. Thereupon, even as the flash of the spirit, I returned to the realms of celestial glory and breathed it not in My retreats above unto the hosts of holiness.

O Bond Slave of the World!
Many a dawn hath the breeze of My loving-kindness wafted over thee and found thee upon the bed of heedlessness fast asleep. Bewailing then thy plight it returned whence it came.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Great Things: Things That Amuse Me Edition

Animals that are the wrong color
(eg purple platypus, green bushbaby, patchwork elephant)

Saying "Zimbabwe"
(not because of anything to do with the country although I'm sure it's lovely; it's just a great word!)

Tiny monkeys

Puns and wordplay
(the words at the bottom say, "Amsterdam: n. To block a large water course with a Rodent."

My own brain

Rainbow Bridge

Rainbow Bridge
(by me)

an ancient piece of culture
as familiar to them as that tiny smile is to me
depicts a roswell of a bridge.

the rainbow bridge;
not arch, not beams,
but something in between.

so modern men marvelled
at ancient wisdoms.
but not content to marvel, they had to recreate.

a rainbow was achieved
over a rural river
but now the mystery is gone.

What I Ate Today

Just to be clear, I haven't even begun to read Thrive yet. This is just a result of my continued growing interest in health as a practical rather than a hypothetical (ie, health as DOING rather than just BEING!).
I'm quite pleased with what I ate today. It was totally healthy and totally delicious all at once. So I figure, what better place to brag on myself than my own blog.

Breakfast: quinoa porridge with fresh fruit and local honey
Lunch: salad (chopped lettuce, tomato, onion, cucumber, and green bell pepper, feta, italian dressing)
Dinner: a lean cut of beef with gorgonzola cheese, baby peas, corn
Snack: fresh blueberries
Drinks: water and herbal tea

I mean, really. I rocked it today. Yay me!

Thriving Inspiration

A few years ago... something like 3 or 4 I guess... my brother and I were kind of basically on the same plane, physical health-wise. That's a huge generalization as I suspect he's actually always been quite a bit fitter than me. But let's leave me some denial, shall we?
So anyway, around that time I left the city we both lived in for a year, to do an apprenticeship in a state that's quite a long drive away. I didn't see him much during that year; maybe once or twice.
But after that year I came back to our home state, where he still was. And he was like.... fit and thin and, of all things, climbing MOUNTAINS! It was amazing to me. He was eating differently, he was moving differently, he even seemed to feel more free in an emotional/spiritual sense (that part is purely speculation, I've never actually spoken to him much about all this).
One concrete thing that I've heard mentioned as a contributor to this phenomenal life change (and I'm sure there were a lot of things that all figure in, both concrete and esoteric) was a book called Thrive written by Brendan Brazier. It's little subtitle thing is "The Vegan Nutritional Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life" and from what I hear, it's really more about life than sports... or at least can be taken that way. At one point I borrowed it from him, but returned it unread. I found it online, but have never read beyond the introduction.
So today I went to the health food store up the block from me (I do most of my shopping there; they have enough selection for me, decent prices for their genre, and are locally owned) to buy my dinner. I parked nearer a door I don't usually use (I usually walk and the other door is more convenient on that route, but it's raining absolute buckets here today!). So I wound up entering not by the produce as usual, but by their small selection of books and cards and odds and ends. And right smack on the shelf at eye level as I happened to glance over was a copy of Thrive staring at me. Along with a companion book, Thrive Fitness that I don't recall ever hearing about.
And so now they are sitting next to me on the couch. I intend to finally read the damn thing; I think I'm at a point now where I'm willing to let it change me.
I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Eat, Pray, Love

It's a book. By Elizabeth Gilbert. And this post sounds a lot like a book review.

I wasn't interested in reading Eat, Pray, Love for a long time, pretty much as an adverse reaction to all the hype it got when it first came out. I figured it was either going to be not a good book, or a good book but full of the trendy kind of self-help stuff I'd already read more than my fill of. Or that by gosh, I was just too darn alternative to be grabbing for a book that was on every best seller list for some unholy number of weeks in a row.
To be honest, I don't really remember why I decided to read it... it wasn't a whim; I had to put it on hold at my library, so I definitely put some thought into wanting to read it. Maybe it came up in some random conversation. Maybe the universe just knew it was finally time for me to read it, 'cause DAMN that was a good book!
Basically it's the story of a woman who is at a totally sucky place in life, and decides to go on like... an adventure to find herself. So she spends 4 months in Italy, where she learns to enjoy life, and to stop feeling shame in material pleasures. Then she spends 4 months at an Ashram in India, where she learns to be comfortable with God and the God within others and within herself.Finally she spends 4 months in Bali, where she learns to be comfortable with herself, whoever and where ever she is in the moment. She learns to forgive herself and to love herself and to accept herself. I guess that was what made the book so good to me (other than, she's a really good and amusing writer): she is so clear about how she learned to do this pretty major thing that it was kind of easy to get caught up in the possibility and it renewed my hope in myself.
Here's some of my favorite bits.

He showed me a sketch he'd drawn once during meditation. It was an androgynous human figure, standing up, hands clasped in prayer. But this figure had four legs, and no head. Where the head should have been, there was only a wild foliage of ferns and flowers. There was a small, smiling face drawn over the heart.
"To find the balance you want," Ketut spoke through his translator, "this is what you must become. You must keep your feet grounded so firmly on the earth that it's like you have four legs, instead of two. That way, you can stay in the world. But you must stop looking at the world through your head. You must look through your heart, instead. That way you will know God."

The Balinese don't let their children touch the ground for the first six months of life, because new born babies are considered to be gods sent straight from heaven, and you wouldn't let a god crawl around on the floor with all the toenail clippings and cigarette butts. So Balinese babies are carried for those first six months, revered as minor deities. If a baby dies before it is six months old, it is given a special cremation ceremony and the ashes are not placed in a human cemetery because this being was never human; it was only ever a god. But if the baby lives to six months, then a big ceremony is held and the child's feet are allowed to touch the earth at last and Junior is welcomed to the human race.

People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that's what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.
A true soul mate is probably the most important person you'll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave.
A soul mates purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in...

Stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone ought to be.

This is a good sign, having a broken heart. It means we have tried for something.

Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.

Never forget that once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you recognized yourself as a friend.

You need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way you select your clothes every day. This is a power you can cultivate. If you want to control things in your life so bad, work on the mind. That's the only thing you should be trying to control.

Look for God. Look for God like a man with his head on fire looks for water. (Very Majnun and Layli, eh?)

When you're lost in those woods, it sometimes takes you a while to realize that you are lost. For the longest time, you can convince yourself that you've just wandered off the path, that you'll find your way back to the trailhead any moment now. Then night falls again and again, and you still have no idea where you are, and its time to admit that you have bewildered yourself so far off the path that you dont even know from which direction the sun rises anymore.

There is a reason they call God a presence - because God is right here, right now. In the present is the only place to find Him, and now is the only time.

You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestation of your own blessings.

As smoking is to the lungs, so is resentment to the soul; even one puff is bad for you.

I want God to play in my bloodstream the way sunlight amuses itself on the water.