FOOD for Thought

TEA TALKS with ROBIN

0310150717-01 I just want to say before starting this post that there are 3 things my food is all about:
1) healthy
2) tasty
3) beautiful

I always start with healthy ingredients. No additives like food coloring, preservatives, or chemical substitutes. This means for the most part using unprocessed food, and making it yourself. The good news is that it’s easier than it sounds.
The tasty part is secondary, because I actually don’t use much in the way of seasonings. I learned a long time ago that simple food tastes good all by itself. I don’t need lots of sauces or dressings to make it yummy. But if you do, just add it yourself afterwards!
The third part is the beauty part. If you use whole foods, you’ll end up with something beautiful to serve, and arranging things to look elegant in a bowl or on a plate is an art-form…

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The Girls with the Grandmother Faces

I found this book in a box in Belgium when I went home to sort through the things I’d left behind three years ago. I don’t remember where I got it, but I hadn’t read it yet, and the cover looked intriguing and right up my current alley, so I took it with me on the plane back to the US. I’d like to introduce it to my over 55 friends, men included. Although it’s written especially for women, any one of us older folks can benefit from the ideas Frances Weaver writes about.

 

Right off the bat, I’d like to say something that has seriously stuck with me ever since reading it last week: We older women are no longer the center of our grown children’s lives! That was a bombshell. What? How could that be?? Frances tells the story of how after her husband died, she sold the big house and moved closer to her children, expecting them to gravitate around granny for all the holidays and vacation times. Wrong.  She waited and waited, and when all she got was excuses, she decided that it was time for her to live her own life, not theirs.

I have to admit this was a shocking and revelatory idea for me. A few days later I was visiting my daughter for the weekend and happened to spy her diary on the floor half under the bed. Against the chiding of my conscience, I picked it up and leafed through it, searching for any mentions of my name. Yes, I wanted to prove to myself how important I am to my daughter. I was expecting to read things like: My mom said this, and I was so inspired; My mom did this, and I was so inspired; My mom my mom, my mom…..you get the picture. I couldn’t find one mention of my frequent presence in her life, and realized that Frances was right. Thinking back to my own journals, how often was I quoting my mother or waxing poetic about her? Unless it was something extremely negative, she wasn’t in there very often. I had other things to write about. I was living my life, not hers.

They say we have to let our children go, spread their wings, fly the coop. I am reminded of Kahlil Gibran’s poem, On Children:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

The best thing I can do for Emilie at this stage in both of our lives is to be that stable bow, and to encourage her to fly while I do the same! Having come to that realization, I understand her response to my recent FB post about being 66 and feeling so happy about my life. She said, “Mom! I want to be like you when I’m 66!” No sweeter words necessary!

Back to The Girls with the Grandmother Faces, A Celebration of Life’s Potential for Those Over 55: A second big takeaway is that when we are older and find ourselves with more time on our hands, we need to “get back out there among ’em, drop the safety net, and move on our own steam.” Here are a few more quotes along those lines:

“Our world has more for us to do than we have imagined. Until now, we hadn’t the time, but now that’s pretty much all we have….With our eyes and ears open, we can find new and marvelous things to do, then pass the magic along to other women like us.” She’s talking about going back to school, getting involved in community activities, travel during off-seasons, and taking advantage of all the many senior advantages available. One of the things Frances took up (at the age of 55) was kite flying. It became an obsession, and she found others who enjoyed it too, and has a collection of kites and kite-flying friends from all over the world. Who would have thought of that?

She’s speaking directly to where I am at these days- wondering what to do with my time? I’m getting the idea from her that before I go out looking for a ‘regular’ job, I should try my hand at something creative that I’m already doing and loving. The author’s story is just such an example. After she became widowed, she booked a thirty-day cruise. Never having traveled by herself, she felt the need to find out if she could. She had so much fun, and felt so good, that she began helping a travel-agent friend sell group tours in return for an agent’s rate, and created a temporary job for herself as tour director. Then she went back to community college, which included a move clear across the country, and took Creative Writing, Poetry, and Spanish. Finding that she liked to write, and against the admonitions of her less adventurous friends, she self-published the “Grandmother Faces” book. Shortly after putting copies in her local Colorado bookstore, she was invited by a Denver publisher to write a travel book for older single women (like myself), which she did. It’s called, This Year I Plan to Go Elsewhere. It’s on my reading list!

Next, she was interviewed on a nationwide cable channel, and somehow or another, the department of tourism in Malta invited her to spend a week in Malta, all expenses paid! She was subsequently hired by a cruise ship line to be a guest lecturer, and for the next 10 years traveled all over the world. Reading her story has been electrifying. It sounds like the perfect scenario: travel, creativity, writing and speaking, and meeting all sorts of people.

I’m not divorced or widowed, but I’m living alone per an arrangement that is working well for both me and my husband of 35 years. Both of us are having to rethink and recreate our lives, and learn to live what we have left of our lives in a satisfactory and inspiring way. We are each learning to make and trust our own decisions. Having no one else to blame helps. Creative living requires an amount of risk-taking, but what’s to lose? “One risk often leads to greater discoveries of our own capabilities,” Frances writes. That’s been my experience, for sure. I’m thinking of a recent risky behavior I embarked on when I responded to an add on Craig’s List looking for a backup vocalist for a local musician. Thrilled and terrified at the same time, I picked up the phone and made the call. We agreed to meet at the open mic a few miles down the road, and both signed up to perform separately so we could appraise each other’s musical talents before deciding to work together. I had no idea what he would look like, nor did he have a clue that I was 65. That in itself was one of my biggest fears – that he would reject me immediately because of my age. It turned out that his music was deplorable, and his personality not much better, and he left the bar without saying anything, which was a relief. On the other hand, I had a good set, and realized I can do this performance thing still, even at my ripening age, and I met a fantastic bass player in the process.

“Recycling ourselves means getting rid of whatever serves no useful purpose, whatever our lives no longer depend on. Recycling also means discovering the unused, still-new interests, options, and opportunities that did not fit the younger version of ourselves.” Yes! My parents are both gone, and I was lucky I didn’t end up being saddled with their long-term care as many boomers are finding themselves. My daughter is a grown woman, and has left the nest. She’s making decisions for herself, and I have been learning to trust that she can take care of herself now and doesn’t need me sticking my nose into everything. I’ve got my health, and I’m basically free at this stage of my life. I don’t want to waste the precious time!

I’d like to suggest this book to anyone who has recently found themselves facing a new phase in life, wants to make a new start and needs some direction, or is feeling old and tired and knows there’s more if they could just figure out what.  A final quote that sums it all up for me comes from Jane O’Reilly, New York Times, July, 1986: “The most important mission of a woman’s life is not to hold onto her looks. Our mission is the same as a man’s….to grow up.” Yes. And no one else can do that for us!fullsizeoutput_3938

 

Care-giving for Life

Passages

I usually learn best by observing, and then doing. I became a teacher in the actual classroom, not while I was studying. For me, caregiving is the same. I had a chance to do a lot of it this past year with my mom, and it was definitely on-the-job training. Every day brought some new lesson, and I got better at it each time.

While taking care of my mom, I also learned about the importance of self-care. Like putting the oxygen mask on first, I found that I needed to take care of myself if I wanted to be a good caregiver. It makes sense, but it’s easy to forget. In all the caregiver manuals I read, burnout is the number one thing that everyone warns against. Take care of yourself if you want to take care of someone else.

Another important lesson for a caregiver is to cultivate your social network. In her book, Passages in Caregiving, Gail Sheehy, who’s written about many of life’s passages, quotes several studies about the effect of friends on one’s health. Here are two that struck me:

“Friendship has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships.” (Rebecca Adams, University of North Carolina)

“The best antidote to preserve the brain is an extensive social network. It’s how many people one knows intimately and feels comfortable confiding in.” (Dr. David Bennett)

I didn’t have to organize a social network for my mother. She already had one. She has so many good friends who love and admire her, and who dropped by to visit, take her out somewhere, or offer to help me with her care. When she went into the hospital I saw just how many of them there are, as they were all gathered in one place, bearing the most precious gift of all~ their time.

For me, it’s a work in progress. I have lived in so many places, and left many friends behind each time I’ve moved. I have to reach out much further than my mother does to make contact with them, and I often forget to or find reasons why it’s difficult. However, I’m seeing how important it is by the results I get when I do confide in people. By taking the time to build relationships gradually over time if it’s someone new, and staying in regular contact and sharing the ups and downs with family and old friends, I refresh myself, and find the support and encouragement I need.

I’ve always enjoyed writing letters, and always feel good when I do. It’s cheaper than a phone call, more personal than an email, and because of the time I have to reflect, it’s usually more sincere. Since I started consciously cultivating my social network recently, I’ve written about 15 letters. Sometimes, if I remember to, I photocopy them before sending them off. They seem so special, and I like to keep a record of what I said and to whom. They’re like journal entries, pages in my life, only better because they’ve been shared with someone else, not just me.

Self-care is a life-long work. We start out learning to hold our own spoon, brush our own teeth, and walk without assistance. Later, we learn to care for our thoughts and emotions. Eventually we can begin taking care of others in an effective and healthy way. The friends we cultivate become our social network, and provide us with the comfort, encouragement, and strength we need to keep on giving, not just to others but to ourselves as well.

“When Things Fall Apart~ Heart Advice for Difficult Times” by Pema Chodron

pema1
My latest guidebook, and the one I turn to for ‘heart help’ in this Time of Trouble, is a book given to me recently by a friend of my mother’s. It fell into my hands at exactly the moment I needed it, as usually happens to me with books. The day before, Mom and I had watched Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday program and Pema Chodron was her guest. It was the first time I had ever heard of her. Mom had never seen or heard her speak. We were both enthralled.

The next day, Sheryle brought the book over for me to read, and I was thrilled. The day after, when I was being turned down for the CPE internship, Miquel Santamaria gave me a slip of paper. “You may want to read this,” he said~ “When Things Fall Apart.” It was the third time in as many days~ I knew it was a book I was supposed to read.

I carry it around with me, and open it up whenever I find myself in the space to receive. I’m reading Chapter 8 today, about the Eight Worldly Dharmas, which are four pairs of opposites: pleasure and pain, loss and gain, fame and disgrace, and praise and blame. Basically, when we are caught up in any of the eight worldly dharmas, we suffer. In each of the pairs, there is one we like and one we seek to avoid. The fact however is that none of them is permanent, and all of them fluctuate back and forth continually, out of our control completely. As Pema says, “We have all kinds of mood swings and emotional reactions. They just come and go endlessly.” She suggests that when we find ourselves hooked by any of the worldly dharmas, we can let ourselves “feel the energy, do our best to let the thoughts dissolve, and give ourselves a break. Right there in the middle of the tempest, we can drop it and relax.”

Today, I was unable to get up and go about my day as usual. I woke up wondering who I am and what I am doing in my life. I was feeling alone and scared, and I couldn’t seem to move so I just lay there in bed and tried to focus on my breath, saying, “I’m alive. Thank you,” an affirmation I took from HJN. I use it whenever I need to relax, and especially when I feel a great deal of fear~ in the dentist chair, for example, or in a scary relationship. It has never failed to be a comfort. I admitted to myself that although I was in emotional pain, it wasn’t excruciating, and I could bear it without the help of an anxiety pill. That gave me a measure of satisfaction, as I want to learn to experience my pain rather than medicating it away or eating it into oblivion. I want to become less terrified and more familiar with my loneliness and fear, and eventually be able to embrace them as any other part of my life.

I’m at Patty’s house. She’s my other spiritual guide, in the flesh. She arrived last night unexpectedly. Neither of us was expecting the other to be here. I came out into the living room, hesitant and fearful after hearing a soft swishing noise. Was there someone in the house? The sound was coming from her room. I called out, “Patty???” and was deeply relieved to see her bright cheerful smile when the door opened.

I couldn’t get to sleep, and came back out to find her still awake and willing to listen. She sat on her desk chair and gave me the big stuffed armchair, with a blanket between me and the cool leather, and I began to tell her the story of what’s been happening since I arrived here in September. Part One was about Mom and the family drama. I asked her if she had time for part 2 the next day, and she did. We went out for breakfast to Papa’s New York Diner, and I told her that I needed guidance about what my next step is. I feel like I’m in some kind of sticky syrup and can’t get myself out. These are some of her words of advice:

“Listen. God knows. There will be a sign. You won’t have to worry. You need to pray. And you don’t have to pray perfectly either! God is so merciful~ you only have to turn a tiny bit in His/Her direction to get an answer. Divine Guidance is there for the asking. Pay attention. Rewrite the Headline. Ask, Who’s in Control here? Don’t ask for tomorrow. Think only about NOW. What is this moment intended for? Fear paralyzes right action. Be still. ‘God will supply the wisdom and the occasion for a victory over evil.’” That last was a quote from Mary Baker Eddy. Patty is an avid Christian Scientist.

I dropped her off at the bank and came home to her house still feeling lost and not sure what to do with the time available to me. All I have is TIME, and so often it feels like we’re killing each other. I could call Laura. I could go sit in the sun. I could go eat something. All the usual. I was still trying to run away, to avoid the pain I was trying not to feel. Wait, I told myself. I lay across the bed and looked at the ceiling. Be still. Listen. That’s harder to do than I thought. It’s so much easier to just make myself busy. Old habits die hard. I told myself it was OK not to have anything to do but be with myself. Hand on heart, I let myself just be.

The day is almost over now. I am sitting on Patty’s couch, and she’s in her office eating her dinner and working on her computer. It’s 7:57 pm. I spent some time swimming and talking to Edna in the pool, a little time in the sun, and a little time with Judy hearing about the latest updates. I noticed I wasn’t as engaged or interested as usual. The emotional element has definitely taken a back seat to the concerns of the moment NOW. I took care of some shopping for both Judy and for myself, and came back here to Pat’s, walking down to the water’s edge and sitting on one of the benches looking out over the bay while I listened to some of my recent recordings. Tired, I came back ‘home’ and started to write.

I’ve been struggling and suffering terribly lately. I don’t like pain. Who does? And I’ve been caught up in lots of it~ feelings of loss, criticism, blame, anger, and fear. I’ve felt attacked and insulted by a member of the family, who doesn’t see what a good job I’ve been doing taking care of my mother for the past 9 weeks. I’ve been accused and raked over the coals for next to nothing. My emotional reaction has been to run and hide, and try my best to avoid contact in any way possible~ like a man resisting entering the lion’s den knowing the sharp claws that await~ but that has only made things worse. I’ve been clinging to a concept of myself that has been continually called into question, and I’ve been responding with anger and a desire for revenge (“Let them all just go to Hell!”) But Patty said all the pain has been my own doing. You mean there’s no one to blame but myself??

We all respond with habitual patterns to praise or blame, pleasure or pain. We puff up with pride when someone notices and comments on our contribution, congratulating ourselves for all the goodness we embody. We withdraw when an aggressor steps up and screams into our face, or lash out with our tongue when we can find the strength. If we perceive that something has been taken away from us unfairly, we often resort to a tit for tat like children fighting over a toy. I can see that I’ve been childish in my responses to the eight worldly dharmas. Rather than try to eradicate these feelings of pleasure and pain, loss and gain, praise and blame, fame and disgrace, Pema advises us to “get to know them, and see how they hook us…Then the eight worldly dharmas become the means for growing wiser as well as kinder and more content.”

I wanted to call my sister today and ask her if there was anything I could do to help~ but it seemed so scary, and the coin said no. I still toss it sometimes. Yesterday I wrote her a birthday card but was scared to deliver it. My habitual response to being attacked is to crawl away and hide, hoping to be unnoticed and left alone. But it doesn’t feel any better over in that dark corner. It’s lonely.

Today I tried and was moderately successful at letting go, dropping the drama, and relaxing. As Pema writes, “We want to know our pain so we can stop endlessly running. We want to know our pleasure so we can stop endlessly grasping….We want to know about loss so we might understand other people when their lives are falling apart. We want to know about gain so we might understand other people when they are delighted or when they get arrogant and puffed up and carried away…When we become more insightful and compassionate about how we ourselves get hooked, we spontaneously feel more tenderness for the human race… If we don’t look into hope and fear, seeing a thought arise, seeing the chain reaction that follows~ if we don’t train in sitting with that energy without getting snared by the drama, then we’re always going to be afraid.”

I was able to look at myself a bit more clearly today, and stay with the difficult feelings a little longer. I didn’t do my usual and give into my panic, running blindly into the comfort zone of eating, talking, or jumping into the car and going somewhere, anywhere, just to avoid the pain of my discontent. I stayed on my bed and let myself experience it, breathing through it with my hands over my heart, simply saying, “It’s OK, Robin.”

Pema writes that as our practice evolves, we “start understanding that, just like us, other people also keep getting hooked by hope and fear…Our motivation for practicing begins to change, and we desire to become tamed and reasonable for the sake of other people.”

I love those words ‘tamed’ and ‘reasonable.’ I want to be around people who have become masters of themselves. Tonight I feel better, and more connected to my inner strength. I know Patty would say it’s not my strength but God’s. I feel less shaky and desperate, and more whole and like myself.

As I listen to Patty’s stories of listening to the guidance of divine law, not limiting ourselves to our human expectations, and then discovering God’s ‘over-the-top’ abundance, I don’t feel as out of touch with that kind of experience as I did this morning. I have been there, too, and I know I can get there again if I let go of what I think should be happening here, and let God show me what She has in mind. She has an intention for me this very moment, right NOW. I have to pay attention and listen. It is a big work, and no one promises that it’ll be a bed of roses, but as Patty said when I left, “It’s worth the effort.”

The state of mind that approaches prayer

Leaf of the Tree

It's A Long Way Down 374 Photo: Kathy Gilman

Gleanings found here and there:

The important thing is to work in a state of mind that approaches prayer.

~ Henri Matisse

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.

canvas1535427_268015523353470_320408851_n Photo: Saffron Moser

~ Wendell Berry

The practice above all practices is to relinquish the immature desire to be taken care of (by our parents, spouse, government, guru, church, etc.), and to parent our own originality. To give ourselves the support that we may never have received.

To get behind the creation of one’s life is to recognize your influence in ‘the way things are,’ and nurture your vision with protective discipline until it is strong enough to serve in the world on its own.

~ Toko-pa

Wertskyline10628299_827947707229100_5000927020300862535_nWe must become…

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RUMI

These are some Rumi sayings gathered and shared with me by Gillian Corcoran

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”
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“What you seek is seeking you.”

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“Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re perfectly free.”

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“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
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“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

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Do you know what you are?
You are a manuscript of a divine letter.
You are a mirror reflecting a noble face.
This universe is not outside of you.
Look inside yourself;
everything that you want,

you are already that.

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Indeed,
We are one Soul , You and Me.

in the show and hide
You in Me, I am in You.

Here is the deeper meaning
of my relationship with You,

Because there is nor I , nor You.
between You and Me.

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As you live deeper in the heart,
the mirror gets clearer and cleaner.

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“Be silent, Only the Hand of God Can remove The burdens of your heart.

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Don’t be sad! Because God sends hope in the most desperate moments. Don’t forget, the heaviest rain comes out of the darkest clouds.

The inspiration you seek is already within you. Be silent and listen.

Be like the flower that gives its fragrance
to even the hand that crushes it.

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It’s no good giving my heart and my soul
Because You already have these.
So I’ve brought you a mirror.
Look at yourself and remember me.

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You have no need to travel anywhere – journey within yourself. Enter a mine of rubies and bathe in the splendor of your own Light.

There is a voice that doesn’t use words.
Listen.

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You know how it is.
Sometimes we plan a trip to one place,
but something takes us to another.

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Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation!

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There is a morning inside you
waiting to burst open into light

When you seek Love with all your heart,
you shall find its echoes.. in the universe !
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You have to keep breaking
your heart until it opens.

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You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.

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All is known in the sacredness of silence.

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Your heart is the size of an ocean.
Go find yourself in its hidden depths.

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Every step of the way I will walk with you
And never leave you stranded.

 

It’s easy to stand with the crowd, but it takes courage to stand alone.

 

There’s a path from your heart to mine.

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Your heart is the size of an ocean.
Go find yourself in its hidden depths.

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These pain’s you feel are messengers.
Listen to them.

 

The moment you accept what troubles you’ve been given,
the door will open.

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Love said to me, there is nothing that is not me.
Be silent.

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There is nothing outside of yourself, look within.
Everything you want is there-you are That.

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╭♥╯Oh Beloved,
Take away what I want.
Take away what I do.
Take away what I need.
Take away everything
that takes me from you.

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Music is the language of God.

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Your body is away from me
But there is a window open
from my heart to yours.
From this window, like the moon
I keep sending news secretly.

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