About what matters

Writing about what really matters

Month: October, 2013

The university of life

It really helps to understand that we have something–that we are something–which is unchangeable, beautiful, completely aware, and continues no matter what. –Ram Dass, in Still Here

It’s my belief–one I feel provides a much-needed perspective on life–that we come here many times. And just as you can’t have all the elements you really love in a single house–you can’t have a tile roof and a thatched roof at the same time–you can’t do everything, be everything, or “have it all” in a single life. Nor should you try.

I believe–though this isn’t something I’d bet the farm on, now that I’m into uncertainty–that we are here as part of our soul’s education. I think of it as analogous to getting a bachelor’s degree. You typically have at least one major and minor, core requirements, and electives. Core requirements would include experiencing all aspects of human existence–male, female, gay, straight, young, old, ability, disability, various races and ethnicities and nationalities, rich, poor (mostly poor, I gather), coupled, single, with children, without. You could think of it as the ultimate in independent study, and you don’t get to keep the handbook and the syllabus in your backpack.

I think we each have preferences, such as a preferred gender, perhaps ethnicity and geographic location, and that’s our major. But a certain percentage of the time, we’re required to live outside our comfort zone. No ifs, ands, or buts. Those are the core requirements.

This yields a balanced education, where we learn that it sucks to be the oppressed, the oppressor, and the one mistaken for the oppressor.

And we learn that life is delicious, no matter who you are.

And we learn that love is all that matters, and war doesn’t work.

And we learn that we are all one.

No doubt many consider this nonsense, and I’m sure there are those who judge it dangerous and pernicious nonsense.

I see it this way … even if I’m completely wrong about this, doesn’t it help to consider that while I may not be in your shoes right now, perhaps I was 50 years ago, or will be 50 years from now? If I’m tempted to generalize about an entire gender, race, profession, or whatever, if I question your right to have any opinion at all given your identity, it’s helpful to recall that I could be talking about myself in another guise. And if it’s true that we are all one–I am.

If I myself have had not only my current perspective, but many others, it becomes immediately obvious that there is no one right perspective. In fact, all perspectives are valid, and make up facets of the truth.

I find it helpful to conclude that there is no comprehensive Truth that I can fully understand here and now. I’m inherently limited by the portion of the curriculum I’m studying. I feel that I can either reconcile myself to that, or to being wrong for sure about whatever dogmatic truth I choose to espouse.

I can catch glimpses of Truth. I can hold on to a simple wisdom–“All you need is love” isn’t a bad one. But being able to explain the Universe A to Z and back again is simply not within human capacity, I believe. So I greet all claims of having all the answers, as well as all denials that any answers exist, with skepticism.

… Nothing you can know that isn’t known
Nothing you can see that isn’t shown
Nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be
It’s easy

All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need

–Mike Leander, John Lennon, Gary Glitter, Paul McCartney

Pantry spaghetti sauce

Just now the house smells deliciously of tomato sauce. Here’s how to make the magic from your very own pantry and garden … this recipe serves 4 moderately hungry people, or two ravenous ones. These are ingredients I consider pantry essentials and always keep on hand.

1 pat butter
1 small to medium yellow onion–or white or purple, diced medium
1 small can tomato sauce, preferably organic
1/2 small can tomato paste, preferably organic
basil from the garden (or dried Italian herbs), 12 large leaves each standard and Thai
1 small hot pepper (I used a ripe black olive pepper from my garden–thimble-sized and very hot), or cayenne pepper
white and black peppercorns
pasta, preferably Italian (I use 2-2.5 oz per person)
good Parmesan cheese

In a stainless steel saucepan, melt a pat of butter over gentle heat.

Add a small to medium onion, diced medium.

Add a small hot pepper if you have one, diced fine. Otherwise, add a sprinkle or two of cayenne pepper.

Wash a dozen leaves each standard and Thai basil (more if the leaves are small). Slice into the pan using herb scissors. (If you have no fresh basil on hand, add dried Italian herbs to taste after adding the tomato sauce, paste, and water.)

Saute gently until the onion begins to brown.

Add the tomato sauce and half the can of tomato paste, plus enough water to thin the sauce to your liking. (Add more paste to thicken the sauce.)

Add half a dozen grinds each white and black pepper. Taste, and correct the seasoning if needed.

Simmer the sauce while you put well-salted water on to boil. At the boil, toss in a small handful of good spaghetti (such as Lidia’s) for each person, and reduce the heat to medium high. Cook al dente and drain.

Plate the pasta and sauce in pasta bowls or on large rimmed plates, top with freshly-grated Parmesan cheese, and serve immediately to people you love (including you).

Bon appetit!

A pantry feast

There’s something life-affirming about good food.

As I recover from the flu, I’m grateful for every delicious morsel yielded up by my refrigerator and pantry. Thankfully, this malady isn’t affecting my digestion, so while my sense of smell is not all it could be, I’m still well able to enjoy food.

Like purple asparagus and mature white cheddar. A nice Chardonnay. Sweet home-grown pomegranates from a coworker. Onions, sweet potatoes, carrots, and eggs from the farmer’s market. Good Parmesan cheese and pecans.

Housebound, I’m starting to feel like improvising. A menu plan can be a lifesaver during a busy week, but with all the busyness subtracted, the food looms large. I take it as a good sign that I feel like being creative. A pantry spaghetti sauce would be delicious. With butter, onions, tomato sauce, and basil from the garden, not to mention good pasta, Parmesan, and the last of the wine, a feast fit for the gods is well within my grasp.

A day off from the world

Occasionally I take a day off from the world voluntarily; today, my body has made an executive decision.

I think it’s probably flu … that, or a highly flu-like cold. I have congestion, sneezing, body ache (normally I only have this with flu), a low-grade fever, and I’ve already used every kleenex in the house.

It’s Sunday and I had all sorts of fun plans, but all that will have to wait for a Sunday when I don’t have the flu.

Since I’m running a fever, there’s no doubt that I’m going to have to call in sick to work tomorrow, since I will definitely be contagious. And since I don’t have my laptop, I won’t be able to work from home either. This saddens me not at all. When this thought occurs to me, in fact, I’m immediately cheered. The only thing better than a day off from the world is two days off.

All my life, my definition of really sick has been “too sick to read,” and thankfully, I am not that sick. After taking a fantastic homeopathic flu remedy, I’m feeling pretty decent today. But I’ve already taken the last dose I had on hand, so I’m going to have to get out and restock today.

So the only question that remains is how to achieve what must be done while maintaining maximum comfort and pampering for the body that’s making a statement today: So much, and no more. This far, and no farther. You must rest, and you must remember that I am in charge, Without me, you can do nothing in this world.

In a stroke of excellent timing, we got a good rain last night, so that’s one thing already done for me–I don’t need to water the garden. Mother Nature has already taken care of business. However, I will need to get ready and go shopping.

On the pampering front, I bought some excellent chocolate yesterday, and despite remembering that my mother always said that chocolate is bad for you when you’re sick (hard to believe both then and now), it sounded good, and so I’ve had a few bites of a large dark truffle flavored with rum, molasses, and pecans.

Delicious. Independent research suggests that my mother may not know everything about the positive effects of chocolate.

A pile of good magazines is nearby. Another cup of steaming fruit-infused green tea would probably not go amiss. Lighting a candle–I found an almond biscotti scented one–can only be good.

Right now my dog Gracie and I are curled up in bed, back again after breakfast, comforted by soft cotton sheets and quilts. Just a moment ago she sighed in contentment.

On my inner guidance channel, the usual tunes are playing. All is well. All will be well. All will be very well. You have nothing to worry about.

What would Jesus do?

Speak out against hate and injustice whenever and wherever you see it. –Morris Dees, Founder, Southern Poverty Law Center

Tonight I came home to find my alumni magazine had arrived. I flipped it open to the letters, which are always interesting.

A couple issues back, the first news of a same-sex alumni wedding appeared, and the letters for and against commenced. Those in favor, of course, see this as no particular big deal–simply another step as the country evolves and legalizes marriage equality state by state. Those against are more fired up.

In this issue, there were several letters against, none for. As usual, alumni were citing Christian values as a reason not to publish this news.

I decided it was time to fire off a letter of my own …

Thank you for publishing all alumni news, including all wedding news. I would expect nothing less of The University Magazine. I want to know what’s going on in the lives of everyone I knew at University, regardless (need I say) of sexual orientation.

I see that the current University Student Handbook states that “University does not discriminate on the basis of age, race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, ethnic origin, disability, or covered veteran status, or any basis protected by law, in any phase of its employment process, in any phase of its admission or financial aid programs, or in any other aspect of its educational programs or activities.”

It appears that several other alumni are asking you to violate university policy in the name of Christianity–that is, in the name of Christ. I often think Jesus needs to be divine to bear with equanimity all that is done in his name.

Thank you for following University’s anti-discrimination policy, which I suspect is quite similar to Jesus’s anti-discrimination policy.

What next?

Recently I was amazed to read that cursive handwriting is no longer being taught in schools. It turns out that’s not quite true, but it has been removed from our Common Core curriculum and is being taught less and less.

My handwriting, the way I’m writing this sentence now, in longhand, feels so personal, so much a part of me, that I find it difficult to believe that this could become a rare skill. After all, when I was in school, it was a major subject, one of the three Rs–reading, writing, ‘rithmetic.

How, I wonder, will they do handwriting analysis?! I suppose the aspects that depend on cursive might become obsolete.

I feel sure, though, that like calligraphy, cursive will survive as an art form at least. I suppose soon that having a pretty cursive hand will be charmingly old school. Instead of saying, I do needlepoint, or I watercolor, or I scrapbook, it will be, I do cursive.

Sigh.

This past weekend, I took homemade chocolate chip cookies to a neighborhood event. When a little girl came to get one and they were all gone, her mother said, “That’s all right, we can make some.”

“How?” says she.

“You get flour, butter, sugar …” I explained. She looked at me with a slight scowl, clearly not believing any of it, but too polite to say so.

I really do know there are far more important things that can be withheld from a child than home-baked cookies. I got the cookies, and there are certainly things I would trade them for.

But I have to admit there’s a little part of me that feels there is something very, very wrong when a child doesn’t know that you and I and she can take very simple ingredients like flour, sugar, and butter, and bake a little piece of heaven. To this little part of me, this kind of ignorance smacks of neglect.

If I ran the world, we’d have a whole lot less texting and McDonald’s–I assume this child could tell me where a Happy Meal comes from–and a whole lot more writing with a real pen and real paper, not to mention food made by people you know in that room of the house I still like to call the kitchen.

Every life needs a little leopard

When you wear leopard, you become the cat. –Gillian Schwartz

As I write this, coincidentally (or perhaps not) I’m wearing leopard-print flannel PJs. Last night I wore my new leopard pumps with black grosgrain trim, which are admittedly a bit more sophisticated.

Last spring, as part of a SoulCollage workshop, I listened to a guided meditation to identify companion animals for each of my chakras–a fascinating exercise. (In SoulCollage, you create your own card deck, and one of the card suites comprises these companion animals.)

Mine were an elephant, leopard, monkey, bird, fawn, raptor, British barn owl, and … toad. (Yes, that’s a total of eight–one chakra had two.) Seena Frost, the founder of SoulCollage, emphasized in the meditation that one should accept whatever companion animal appears. In the last case, an eagle (dare I say a rather more elegant animal) flitted by, but I felt honor bound to accept the toad.

I am powerful, a force to be reckoned with. Don’t be timid–walk up to life’s feast. Can a leopard change its spots? Be who you are.

Of these totem animals, I think it’s fair to say that only the leopard is truly sartorially useful. I already had a number of leopard print items in my wardrobe–a bag, a skirt, pajamas–and since have acquired more–pumps (below), a sweater. And there’s always room for more …

Nordstrom leopard pump

Animal prints are fashion news this year, but I like the thought that something as seemingly frivolous as fashion can reinforce a deeper message and meaning. Wearing leopard print can help me remember to tap the raw power within, to come into my own.

Looking on the bright side

I’m an optimist by nature. I believe the difficult thing I want to do that needs to be done, can be done. I believe the ‘impossible’ just might be achievable, given the right approach.

When something with both obvious negatives and positives occurs, I prefer to focus on the positives, sometimes with amusing consequences.

Once at work I was told I was being transferred to a new position, and when I met with my ostensible new (and prior) manager to discuss this, I mentioned only the benefits of the change. If I alluded to the drawbacks, I glossed over them in comparison to the upside.

There was some pushback from my current manager, who didn’t want to lose me, and I was given the choice of making the change or not. Based on the discussion where I’d highlighted the positives, I believe it was assumed that my ‘choice’ was a foregone conclusion.

Ah, the dark horse. While I didn’t focus on the negatives, I certainly hadn’t forgotten what they were, and ultimately I decided to stay where I was. Apparently this came as an unpleasant surprise to some, who were unaware of my habit of accentuating the positive.

Once again, a change has cropped up that certainly has significant negative aspects. However, I am focusing on the positives …

  1. By spending less time in my home office, I’ll save money on all kinds of things–water, electricity, gas, office supplies, paper products.
  2. I’ll get a chance to wear the fun and beautiful things in my wardrobe more often.
  3. I can revert to my former habit of going home for lunch each day. No more cold, repetitive sandwiches and bananas from the deli downstairs.
  4. My dogs will be thrilled to see me when I come home each night.
  5. I now have an excellent reason to take the time necessary to clear off my desk at work. Now it’s no longer a nice to have, it needs to be done.
  6. As with all non-positive work developments, this provides additional motivation for me to change the way I earn my living and put myself back in the driver’s seat in terms of designing my work schedule and environment.
  7. Being physically in the office more probably makes it easier for me to be more of a positive influence on others, as well as the overall vibe.
  8. Working an earlier schedule will make it easier for me to get to weeknight dinners, lectures, fashion presentations, and other events I want to attend.
  9. With an exact schedule being provided for me, I’ll be motivated not to work overtime, which means more time for my real life and other important pursuits.
  10. Isn’t it great that I live only a couple of miles from my office? This gives me another reason to be thankful for all of the intentions and decisions that made this possible.
  11. The newly-reconstructed bridge near work has reopened just in time! Now it’s easy to get an emergency coffee in the late afternoon–which I may not ever need because I’ll be leaving promptly at 5!–as well as visit other nearby restaurants and businesses that have been difficult to access for months.

And there you have it … the bright side.

Thanks for stopping by

I’m excited to have readers on four (actually five, as of November!) continents now. Doubtless it’s the geek in me who loves the Stats section, especially views by country. I always love it when I get a new one, which has been happening a lot lately.

Just wanted to say thanks for stopping by. And hey, Antarctica, don’t be shy!

How not to melt down

Whatever you cannot enjoy doing, you can at least accept that this is what you have to do. Acceptance means: For now, this is what this situation, this moment requires me to do, and so I do it willingly. –Eckhart Tolle

Tonight’s the full moon; yesterday at work a new policy that disadvantages all of us who work on a particular product was announced. General unhappiness was rampant; one person in particular was really angry.

This morning first thing she was presenting at a fairly major meeting, and both she and the meeting pretty much melted down. I was only on the phone, where it was bad enough–I was pleased not to be an eyewitness to the train wreck.

Yesterday I was able to receive the bad news with equanimity, and feel fully at peace, which really made me happy.

Earlier this week I worked an intense 12-hour day tracking down production issues. When I finished, I told my manager she could call me the next morning if she needed me.

About twenty minutes after I got up, just as I was about to pop my farm egg into the oven, the phone rang.

What I meant was that she should call me if she needed information she didn’t have to answer questions from the VP. What she wanted me to do was to start working again at that moment and produce results to be presented at the management meeting in an hour. I produced results in half an hour as the dogs circled, wanting their breakfast, and then got back to my morning routine.

The night before, my manager had strongly encouraged me to leave the office and go home, and I’d said that as long as I was working late, I might as well finish what I was doing–and mentioned that I’d thought of leaving early the next day, and she agreed. As I left my unbaked egg on the kitchen counter and headed into my home office, I was so glad I had. I know very well that I don’t handle a lot of overtime well. I can crank up the intensity and get extra results out of a fairly normal workday, but working continuous extended hours is not a recipe for success.

I need time to recharge my batteries, to wind down so I can sleep, to breathe.

So the day of the wakeup call, I did all that immediately needed to be done, attended scheduled meetings, and then took the rest of the afternoon off. I took a lovely walk by the river, and then ate at a barbeque restaurant and had a cocktail. I knew a local chef had opened this place, but didn’t know quite where it was. I wandered into a chain-linked patio with a Coffee Bar sign, and found I was actually in the restaurant I’d heard about.

It was a really peaceful, laid-back afternoon, and I think the physical exercise out of doors was significantly helpful.

As well, I have had a regular meditation practice for some years now, 15-20 minutes morning and night, pretty much without fail.

Some years ago I came across Doreen Virtue’s Archangels & Ascended Masters while browsing in the bookstore. I keep it on my coffee table and frequently flip through it before I meditate, asking one of the angels or masters for assistance with a particular concern, insight, healing, or whatever’s top of mind. I usually focus outward in the morning, inward at night.

I’ve also been using the prayer before work I posted awhile back on weekday mornings, especially when I have to join an early conference call before I’ve had a chance to meditate and center myself for the day.

I don’t feel a great deal of attachment to this workplace, which helps. I have absolutely no intention of retiring there, as a number of my coworkers plan on doing. It is not my home, and except for a few good friends, they are not my people. (Typically my people are not just everywhere in the corporate world in general.)

When the new policy was announced yesterday, someone asked if it was forever.

“I can tell you this,” I said. “Nothing is forever.”

It’s hard to contemplate that the good things in our lives won’t be forever, even if we ourselves are the ones to leave first. But for the not-so-good things, it’s a comforting thought.

No, this will not be forever.

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