Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I Can.

Over the course of the last week, I made pink lemon curd, blood orange marmalade, and in progress, vin d'orange. Two of the three of these absurdly tasty items are sitting, in an incredibly self-satisfied way, on the kitchen counter or the shelf of my pantry, without any need for that clunky, energy-sucking fridge over there, thank you very much. I canned them using the boiling water method, all by myself, in my own home!

The sense of accomplishment I'm floating on is perhaps at an unhealthy level. I keep wandering into the kitchen, and carrying a jam jar out with me to turn it in the light coming in the bedroom window, or check the seal for the up-teenth time. While this new hobby is presenting a significant challenge to the goal of keeping my ego in check, it does indeed have its good points, too.

1.) It's delicious. My husband keeps eating the marmalade out of the jar. With the fridge open. With his fingers.

2.) It makes eating locally and seasonally much more do-able. Although to be fair, I'm canning citrus. It is in season; it will never be local. Local apples are next. Which aren't in season. I try.

3.)There's nothing like stirring a pot of old-fashioned jam, waiting for that magical indefinable moment of gelling to put you in a meditative frame of mind.

But it's all of these things and more: it's harkening back to something your family did generations ago that fell by the wayside with the advent of massive industrial canneries. There is a hunter-gatherer-style primitive sense of providing for your family that throwing jars into your cart at the grocery store simply doesn't get to.

Alright, alright, good for me. Where's the tie-in? What's the yoga? Well...good question. This might not be a yoga-esque activity that's available to everyone, but then, neither are circus classes.

The tie-in is this: I consistently struggle with an at-home yoga and/or meditation practice. For me to slow down every day and spend some time out of my mind and in my body takes some thinking outside the box. I've been trying to pray the rosary (it's a Catholic mala essentially) everyday in observance of Lent. My meditative focus in that case is pre-prescribed by the Church, but I'm ok with that. Buying a case of jars and leafing through the recipes available for putting up apples pretty much guarantees I'll spend a significant portion of a day soon to come standing over a hot, heavenly-smelling pot while the canner comes up to a boil beside me. My meditative focus is open to whatever the moment holds, but I have to keep my mind focused on the task at hand, so it stays contentedly quiet.

And when all is said and done, there are those pretty jars lined up on the counter, with the left-overs as a bonus waiting to be gnoshed in the fridge.

Whatever it takes, right?

Live Omily,

p.s. if you haven't already, do come say hello on facebook!

Friday, March 18, 2011

But then I Already Knew that...

So, a week ago last night, I had two different dreams that my husband and I went to Paris. A week ago tonight, I had a third dream that my husband and I went to Paris. I chewed them over for significance, but was utterly puzzled. Of course it's no coincidence that my best friend just sent me a magic box all the way from the west coast containing, among other things, a mini Waite-Smith tarot deck that had belonged to and been frequently used by a master of that trade. That same weekend, I got to work crafting a tarot spread for the purpose of dream interpretation. For the sake of focusing my energies on the subject at hand, I made it in the shape of the Eiffel Tower.

I don't know if I can keep up my usual objective and vaguely formal tone at this point, because actually I thought this was pretty feckin' cool. I've never designed my own tarot spread before. I read a book on the subject, and sort of played with the idea, but this is a spread that is highly adaptable, logical, and successful! And it's shaped like the Eiffel Tower!

I gathered up all the cards in the Waite-Smith deck, which were spread around and inter-mixed with another deck as I was studying the different interpretations available of the different styles, etc., shuffled them up, dealt them out, and went to work.

Well, it wasn't exactly like a light bulb going off. I definitely got some good insights into the relevant parts of the dreams to look at, and the lessons the dreams were trying to teach me, but I couldn't get a bead on what aspect of my life I should be applying this lesson to. Except it might have to do with the month of July...

Well, there's a tarot card called "Temperance" which one book interprets as being about patience, trusting the process, not forcing things. The book uses the metaphor of a cake baking in the oven. Important things are happening, but there's nothing you can do to make them happen any faster or better. There's another card that another books claims is about patience, but "Temperance" was in the Eiffel Tower spread, so I'll go with that one as being relevant, although its location and position suggested it was chastising me for a lack of patience earlier...I'm not about to make the same mistake twice. The significance of the dream will become clear when the time is right.

As I've been telling my students lately in Savasana, let go of your goals and your expectations so you can be completely open to the benefits of your practice, which may not be at all like what you thought they would be. Excepting a clear, easy to follow explanation of a highly symbolic and multi-layered subject from a medium that is...highly symbolic and a good way to wind up feeling short-changed and as in the dark as when I began. Actually, I have ridiculous amounts of information about my dream now. I'm just having a hard time working through the layers to interpret all the symbols. Sounds like a job requiring patience. Wish me luck.

living Omily one day at a time...

p.s. I'd love to try this spread out on another person, if you've had a dream that keeps gnawing at you...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What Catholicism Lent You

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. For all those not raised Catholic or in any proximity to Catholics, this is the day that you notice a bunch of people walking around with a big black mark on their foreheads and are faced with the moral dilemma of if you embarrass them by pointing it out or let them continue walking around looking like that.

For practicing Catholics, it's the first day of Lent, a 40-day season (not counting sundays) of repentance and reflection before the joyous celebration of Easter, when Jesus rose from the dead, fulfilling the prophecy and repaying the debt for all our collective sins past, present, and future.

Now here's the tie-in: The idea of setting aside 40+ days a year to reflect on bad habits and unloving behaviors, and atone for them through ritual, charity, and other means, in preparation to celebrate new life, and the endless second chances that comes with it appears pretty yogically sound to me. I'll spend the rest of this post looking into Catholic Lenten practices in a little more detail and how those practices relate to yoga philosophy in action.

Lent is observed via an interdependent trio of actions: prayer, fasting, and alms-giving or charity. This trio reflects repairing or making amends to the three main relationships in any person's life: between you and your God(dess), between you and yourself, and between you and others.

Specifically, in prayer we reach out to our understanding of the highest power and source of love, expressing sorrow for the times we've failed to follow the guidance of that power, and asking for help to do a better job of that in the future.

In fasting we choose self-discipline over what is easy and comfortable, reaffirming that ultimately our needs are far deeper than food or water - only our highest power and source of love can satisfy our spirit. It's also a practice in strengthening out conscience: doing what we know is best for ourselves and others even when it's less appealing.

In alms-giving or charity, we choose the well-being of others over ourselves. Instead of just practicing non-violence, we take it one step further and positively improve the situations of those around us. We can tie this practice into our ritualistic shows of sorrow for our past mistakes by choosing not to pay for something we usually do: lunch out with friends, a movie on Friday night, a new yoga mat, and using that money to help someone less fortunate. Truly, no one is ever too poor to give, or too rich to receive.

Do with it what you will; it's served me pretty well the last 24 years.

Live Omily,

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"'Crochet' is French for 'Hook'" or "Learning Two Things in One Post"

My apologies for going awol! There was a death in the family that necessitated a last-minute trip to Ohio and things went a little nutsy. But now that I'm back, I'd like to talk to you about,


Crocheting is the lovely art of using yarn and a hook to make fabric. When you put it like that, it sounds way more impressive than, "that thing your grandma does to make those blankets that everyone has hanging over their chairs." Or maybe that's just me.

Learning how to knit and crochet is something I've wanted to learn how to do for years, more so lately as I get more and more into a lifestyle of not having someone else do for me what I can do for myself (or as a previous generation called it when it was common-place, "self-sufficiency"). I can't make yoga pants just yet sadly, but I can handle a scarf, and a hat and sweater aren't too far down the line.

About three weeks ago, there was an ad in the church bulletin about the knitting and crocheting club starting up again, meeting Wednesdays at 1:00 in the school. Once I clarified that someone who had never held a crochet hook in her life (in fact, someone who had never seen a crochet hook in her life, and probably didn't even know it was a hook) was welcome at such an event, I was counting down the days.

Fast forward one week: I'm sitting in a basement classroom with a size I crochet hook and a ball of pink yarn, watching an older woman named Judy make magic with her hands. Seriously. I couldn't follow how she was turning that yarn into fabric to save my life. I did finally get it, my level of respect for this craft elevated one-hundred fold, and over the next two weeks, I went through the whole ball of yarn. And now thank goodness, I'm getting to my point.

My instincts were spot on about crocheting: it's an incredibly yogic activity.

There is the obvious similarity it holds to asanas and pranayamas, it gives your body something to do so you can work with your mind. This works in two ways and sometimes both at once: either your brain is focusing very hard on what's going on with this yarn and hook, and there's no room for anything else, and time flies by as your breathing and heart rate slows, and you experience inner peace, or your hands are doing just fine on your own, your mind wanders off over hill and dale, forward and back through the centuries, and you either let it do that and are mesmerized by where it's going, or you purposefully try to keep it in check, paying attention to the task at hand.

Of course you remember from previous posts the crucial yogic ideal of non-attachment: that we are entitled to our efforts, but not to the results of those efforts. To put it another way: we live in the present moment, with what we are currently doing. This pops up in the yama, Aparagraha, where it is also interpreted as a 'thou shall not covet' idea. We don't put our happiness off onto some unsure future event or outcome, whether that's buying that brand new car, getting that perfect husband, or conquering fore-arm stand. It may seem that with crocheting it would be very easy to do just that: "I can't wait till this blanket is done!" but particularly in the beginning, it doesn't work like that.

During that first lesson, Judy would show me the stitch, I would take the yarn and hook, work away for five minutes or so, realize it looked awful, and hold it out to her quite sheepishly. Without a moment's hesitation, Judy would pull out every stitch I had painstakingly put in (and those stitches do come out so easily...) redo one or two to show me how it goes again, and hand the whole shebang back to me. This episode repeated itself without fail for the first hour and fifteen minutes or so of our hour and a half meeting. The last fifteen minutes, I finally got on somewhat of a roll, and she kindly donated the ball of yarn and hook to the noble cause of sharing these skills with the next generation. I spent hours and hours crocheting for the next several days, and made basically no progress. I would put in so many rows, and then pull out so many rows, going back to a mistake I had made. Any attachment to my progress: the size of the granny square (seriously, that's what they're called) I was making, had to be traded in pretty shortly when all that progress got yanked out for the up-teenth time.

It's really hard to express the serenity crocheting has given me, because I just don't think many people have had the chance to experience it. I wiled away hours working on this square, only to undo my progress and start over, and it meant absolutely nothing to me whether or not I finished this week or ever! For the record, I did finally figure out how to make straight corners, and move up to the next row after moving all the way around the square, and I do far less pulling out these days, but once this blanket is done I'll be learning a whole new technique, and it'll be back to "crochet two, pull out three" for a while. I'm looking forward to it.

You might like to try crocheting: it's easy, cheap, and productive as hobbies go. But as usual, it's not really necessary. It's not about the crocheting, but about the attitude crocheting has helped me continue to cultivate. If you do give it a try, do let me know how it goes for you!

Omily yours,