In the Eye of Omniscience: Seeing the Truth that can come with Awareness

Over the pst few weeks (months, actually), I’ve been analyzing my life, where I am, what I’m doing and how I got here.  Yes, it’s a common thing to do, especially when you face a health scare, AND my approach has been a bit more introspective.

In my case, I’ve been seeking the origins of my thoughts, ideas, phrases, etc.  My search began after listening to a talk by Dzongar Jamyang Khentsye on self/no-self and the whole idea of Anatman or non-self.  The heart of buddhist teachings touches on this one point: that what we know as “self” is not at all a self.  It is a construction of who we think we are….an ego-formed shield that is a kind of protection of that very fragile ego…the goal, then is to destroy ego and reveal the awareness that resides within our own minds…the buddha nature.

All of that philosophical talk leads me to right here: finding the sources of my thoughts.  I started with phrases; those phrases I say day in and day out.  When I really started thinking about some of the stock phrases I used, I was so surprised at some of where those came from; of course my family, aunts, uncles, parents say or said things that I incorporated into my language….like that the burners on a stove we call the “eye” of the stove as in “turn off the eye.”  Other phrases are equally mundane; I took a whole group of phrases from Monty Python’s Flying Circus and incorporated them into who I was.

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The point of all this wondering was to test the idea that we are constructed of layers of self, formed and manufactured by our egos to define who we are.  Once I looked into the language of who I was, I found that I was actually a collection of words and phrases assembled over time to form a kind of identity.

As I have listened and read texts from various teachers, I kept hearing that the very language that helps shape our identity is formed and does not, in fact, make who we are…our essence, it is said, is pure, buddha nature.  In the Uttaratantra Shastra, Arya Maitreya said,

“Honey is surrounded by a swarm of insects. A skillful person in search of honey employs, upon seeing this, suitable means to fully separate the honey from the host of bees.” (33)

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The bees are the thoughts and emotions, the words and phrases, the construct of ego.  The honey is the buddha nature, the true nature of who we are, stripped of the trappings of ego and thoughts, the sweet interior that rests inside all of us.

That honey inside is the awareness of all things, the source of compassion, love, and kindness.  The awareness that we are all suffering, struggling, feeling bereft of hope and lost in a sea of anguish and delusion.

In one small way, my search has revealed a kind fo truth; that who I think I am is just a collection of words and phrases built up over time.  Recognizing this truth, I can let go of attachment to those things and really start to see the true nature that exists.

 

 

Weight Loss: The Connection between Mental and Physical Health

Like many folks in the world concerned about weight gain as we age, I’ve been on a variety of diets (not a lot, but still) and have lost and gained pounds over the years.  My trajectory, however, since I was about 40 was to see a consistent, slow increase in weight in my body.  For me it was not in one place, it was all over: legs, chest, back, arms, head, neck, etc.  By my mid-40s I’d found a persistent set of pounds hanging on to my midsection.  I exercised, dieted, and lost quite a bit of weight over that time.

Yet, my mental health when it came to weight gain and loss was pretty much the same.  I felt emotionally drained by the yoyo of my body; I felt out of control of what was happening.  I tried to hold onto the idea to accept my body as it was, not as it could be.  Simply put, staying in the present and not judging my own physical self.

The thing is, I knew, really knew, that how I physically felt was a reaction to my mental health.  I remember a few years ago when I made a conscious choice not to exercise on one particular day; it was windy (when is Albuquerque NOT windy) and I chose not to hop on my bike and ride the bike trail.  I said to myself it was OK; I didn’t have to ride.  It was windy, the ride would be hard and I could just as easily exercise by walking my dog.

The one choice in that moment was based on feeling like I couldn’t do it.  I felt so worn out from the week and work and such that I chose not to ride.  The choice, however, was an important one.  It spoke to a kind of depression, a willingness to, in a small way, give up and give in.  Some folks have argued that it’s OK to slide into that feeling, the feeling of resignation.  I’ve read commentary from some very intelligent people arguing that we should just be with the feeling and allow it to crash over us without judgement.

However, I’m here to say that allowing that feeling to wash over me and really take hold was the crux of the problem.  I actually let the feeling go, but by the time I had, it was too late.  The moment had passed.  And that’s the thing….we do live in moments and in those moments are choices and in those choices are the source of what happens to us in our lives.

I’m not sure what propelled me to change my physical life last August, but I decided to go all in.  To change eating, exercise, and mediation.  To alter my present to affect my future.  It is ironic, after my MI, that I not only continued my trajectory but ratcheted it up a notch, moving toward a more radical change.  Based on past history, one would think I would give up and give in.  I didn’t succumb to the fear, the self-loathing, the absolute pain of experiencing a health crisis.  I pushed through.

So, why, in that moment did I not give in?  My experience in the hospital was one driving force; I sat in meditation in the emergency and heard the cries of pain, the agony of other patients, and the death of someone inches outside my room.  Witnessing the death of someone has the ability to transform one’s life if you can be present in the experience.  I think a lot about that patient; a man in his 70s, heart attack passed, breathing stopped, resuscitation failed.  I heard those last few moments of his life and stayed with him.  I felt, profoundly, a sense of peace.

Secondly, I did not give in because I had found a path that worked for me.  I was on that path since August 1st.  Nothing was going to stop me now.  I knew, quite clearly, that I could alter my course, change my body in ways I had, to that point, only imagined.  I guess the best way to describe it is to state, simply, that I knew I could do it…I was in a place in which I could make a change in my life.

My weight loss, my change in diet, and my change in life style gave me the mental clarity, in those moments of all-consuming fear, that I had personal power.  The weight loss, the success of my eating plan, the physical changes I had seen improved my emotional and mental outlook.  There was/is a correlation between the two.  Fundamentally, it was my mind pushing, encouraging, showing me the path or way forward.

Now, when the moments arise, and they always do, in which I say, “I’ll not exercise tonight; I’ll eat that thing I’m not supposed to” I am now able to seize control of that part of my self and say, clearly and compassionately, no.IMG_1406

Do You Need Cooking Oil to Prepare Food? Nope.

One of the biggest surprises of the past few months has been the fact that oil is not a necessary ingredient in most prepared foods. My first attempt at no oil food were these Buckwheat pancakes. As you probably know, Buck wheat is a nutritional feast. These whole grains digest slowly and are filling in a way that keeps you full for hours.

When I first tried the no oil pancakes, I added unsweetened apple sauce instead. I read somewhere that apple sauce can act as a binder for the cakes. Then I threw in blueberries, vanilla, and, most recently, oats. The pancakes are a joyful pleasure to make and eat (although my kids say they don’t like them without lots of maple syrup).

I add fruit, maple syrup, and chomp through this lovely breakfast food!

Vegan Buckwheat Pancakes

2/3 cup of buckwheat flour

1/4 cup of oats

2 tbsp apple sauce

About a cup of Almond Milk

Vanilla to taste

Blueberries, chopped apples OR other fruit in the mix if you like.

Directions: Mix in a bowl until thoroughly mixed. All oats are coated in the mixture, looks wet.

Scoop about 1/4 cup and place on griddle or in a pan.

Add chopped fruit and maple syrup!

The Details: Food, Diet, and Well-Being

I started this path of plant-based eating last November (and made a concerted effort to change beginning last August).  I’m starting my sixth month of this eating plan.  Once I figured out what I could eat and how to prepare the food so it tasted like something I wanted to eat, things have gone very smoothly.  I can, without much thought, prepare a meal that meets my needs and follows the structure of the eating plan.

My eating plan or diet consists of combining fruit, vegetables, and grains in various combinations.  I’ve added a powdered vegan drink to the mix when I need a quick and easy way to get calories.  Included here are some of the combinations of food I eat on a daily basis.

Breakfast Lunch Dinner
Whole Grain Cereals (the ones without added fats) Salad that includes romaine, mixed greens, squash, cucumbers, peppers, carrots, celery. Salad (same as lunch)
 Steel-Cut Oats  Grains + Beans or lentils

 

Grains + Veggies
Whole Grain Oatmeal 1 Slice of whole grain bread Homemade vegan pizza (rarely)
1 cup Berries or 1 Apple/Orange and  1 Banana 1 Apple or Orange Tofu (grilled or steamed)
Vitamins: B12, B6, Folate, probiotic, C (1000mg) vinegar-based salad dressing with mustard or other spicy flavored condiment whole grain pasta (rarely)
VegaOne Drink w/ Almond Milk  32oz/1 liter of water Soba noodles (rarely)
Unsweetened Almond Milk   32 oz/ 1 liter of water
32oz/1 Liter of Water
I don’t eat everything on this list everyday; these are possibilities! I don’t eat everything on this list everyday; these are possibilities! I don’t eat everything on this list everyday; these are possibilities!

I season food with a wide variety of spices including turmeric, cayenne pepper, chili powder, chipotle powder, cumin, a variety of peppers, vinegars including balsamic glazes, and just about every other combination of spice that makes sense.  Curry powders and curry pastes are really wonderful ways to flavor food.  I’ve experimented with a whole bunch of ideas and they’ve all worked.   Just be careful of which spices to combine in which quantities….cumin, for example, is a very strong spice and must be used in limited amounts (1/2 teaspoon).  Garlic powder or fresh, chopped garlic combined with onions flavors anything.  Those two are staples when I’m sautéing veggies without oil.

When I am out in the world, I gravitate to salads, Japanese soups with soba noodles and veggies, vegan pizza with no cheese, or vegan tacos.  I have not had a lot of trouble finding food in the world as long as it’s vegetables and grains that are not cooked in oils.  Yes, it does limit what you can eat in some restaurants, and I’m pretty easy going.  Truthfully, food is often not the reason to be out in the world anyway.

The simple story is this: this eating plan combined with exercise has netted me weight loss of 40 pounds since August 2017.  I loose about 1 – 1.5 pounds per week.  I’m doing new blood work this week and will report my current situation as soon as I have the numbers.

My mental health is pretty good.  I face a lot of stress (relationships, finances, work, etc) and am able to manage it as best I as I can with exercise, meditation, and my Buddhist practice (although, I have to say that my Buddhist practice is not exactly a stress reliever).  I’m measuring everything right now from workouts to eating to blood pressure, to overall health and well-being.  I keep a written journal and record my thoughts, ideas, and other silliness in that book.  When it comes down to it, I’ve made a significant change to my life and health.

I’m not sure where this path will take me but I am on a journey that I began with an open heart and mind.  I guess that’s about all I can ask of myself in these precious few moments left in my life.IMG_1081

 

The Details: Exercise

I’ve always been an active person; what that term “active” means is simply that I move everyday.  My exercise regimen has been up and down over the years.  There was a time, back in 2001, that I swore I could ride the Tour de France.  I was a cycling beast!  I could be Lance Armstrong (without the drugs, but still)!  Of course, I could never ride the Tour and was so far from competing that it was (and still is) laughable.

Since the stent was put into place in November 2017, I have increased my workouts and am up to a solid 5 days per week of intense, good feeling exercise.  Today, for example, I rode about 20 miles on a beautiful day in Albuquerque.  Woot!

The data, presented here, comes from the Polar Flow app.  I have always used Polar products to keep track of my heart rate and manage the information of my workouts.  Right now, I’m using the Polar V800 and a chest strap to monitor my heart rate.  Below is the March 2018 workout chart…as you can see nothing too crazy here.

March Data 2018

The various activities I’ve done, including spinning, treadmills, bikes, and walks, are all within what I would consider an easy exercise plan.  These activities, combined with my plant-based eating plan, resulted in weight loss of 7.7 pounds since March 1st.  I generally count on about 1 lbs per week weight loss.  I hit plateaus along the way; for example, just before March 1st I gained 2 pounds and then lost it the following week.  If you really pay attention, you can feel the changes…for me, that means wearing clothes I haven’t worn in a couple of years, or noticing that my balance is better and that I can walk up and down stairs with much less struggle.

The biggest changes have been, by far, mental.  I feel better about myself and my body in ways that I haven’t felt in years.  In fact, I’d have to go back to 2002 and training  for the Santa Fe Century to remember such a change….even THEN I did not have the same feeling I have today.  I guess that’s the big payoff, really.  That feeling of both accomplishment and the continued desire to improve my physical self.  Since I’m receiving positive feedback in the form of weight loss, I’ve continued to workout in a way that moves that process along.

Finally, I’ve read recently about Kevin Smith, the director and actor, who suffered a heart attack recently.  He jumped on the potato diet planning to lose 50 pounds in a very short time.  The diet apparently works and is praised by a number of celebrities in helping them lose massive amount of fat.  While those kinds of diets do work, I wonder what the difference is between eating the way I’m eating and the way Kevin Smith is eating.  We faced very similar circumstances and I chose a path quite different from his; really trying to remake my body and mind as a means of overcoming the CVD that rages through my body.  Hopefully, my choice is a good one….I guess time will tell me exactly what’s up, right?

More Data, More Facts

I’ve become a data fiend.  I read all kinds of information about diet and the role diet plays in health.  I find any essay, article or scientific report that addresses these questions. As I have mentioned before, the data tends toward the very basic facts of eating: whole grains, veggies, and fruit can make a difference in one’s overall health.

This blog, a mishmash of thoughts on Buddhism, meditation, diet, exercise, and the occasional philosophical perspective, is a report of my journey, plain and simple.  As I have made changes to my physical self, I’m reporting the outcomes and the progress.

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Daring to Test Where Few Have Gone Before

So, as I have researched, read, and otherwise wondered about my particular diet plan, I am constantly checking what’s out there, the information available, and doing my own investigations on what types of foods I should eat.  My primary care physician, a man who looks at my overall health and wellbeing, promoted the Whole30 diet over the plant-based diet I am on.  He warned me about increasing insulin and glucose levels in my blood work as representative problems in my approach.

This idea, that whole grains in particular can result in insulin spikes and overall a concern about the glucose levels in my body led me to research this particular topic.  Simply put, is there specific, established evidence that whole grains cause insulin spikes and an increase in insulin being produced by my pancreas?

Reading information in the popular press, one can find a huge number of books and articles like Big Fat Surprise, or The Case Against Sugar.  Similarly blogs with reports of the danger of eating “carbs” abound from Sustainable Dish to Good Fats Blog.  In one case in particular, an author promoted coconut oil as a “healthy” food warning that the American Heart Association’s diet recommendations “might kill you.”

This one phrase struck me, “Why Coconut Won’t Kill You, But Listening to the American Heart Association Might!”  An author claiming that a national organization, that bases it’s reputation on extensive scientific research, is going to kill you is provocative.  The author cites a blog and an organization founded by author Nina Teicholz for her primary  source material.

Nina Teicholz, the author of Big Fat Surprise, suggests that eating high fat foods rich in saturated fats do not contribute to heart disease (a generalization of her work).  As I researched the work of this author, I found this review.  The chapter by chapter review reveals that Ms. Teicholz relied extensively on works by Gary Taubes.  Taubes similarly promotes the “bad carb” idea of eating in his book Good Calories, Bad Calories.  The thesis in these books, that eating certain animal proteins and saturated fats are necessary and good for one’s body, is challenged by many, if not most, studies on diet and disease.

The spread of the mantra against eating carbs or that eating fats are a “healthy choice” in a diet is widespread. In my particular case, I followed much of this prescription for years.  Low carb, high-ish protein.  More specifically, I have eaten, in the past, a high protein diet as a means of losing weight.  It worked.  I lost weight. I went into ketosis or I ate a specific set of vegetables and meat that met guidelines of low carb, high fat or protein.  I ate this diet for years.  I exercised.  I rode in 100 mile bike races, backpacked across the Rockies, worked out at gyms, walked almost every night.  I developed cardiovascular disease.  A very real fact.

Was my disease something that developed as a result of animal protein and fats?  I don’t know.  Chemically my blood work was always good…low cholesterol numbers, slightly elevated glucose, not one doctor recommended anything other than losing the few pounds I carried.

In the six months since my MI, my switch to a plant-based diet resulted in improvement in all of my blood markers.  I am testing my blood chemistry about every three months.  The first test, in November, revealed Cholesterol 154, LDL 90, HDL 46, Glucose 130.  In January, Cholesterol 98, LDL 40, HDL 43, Glucose 100.  March 8th, Cholesterol 89, LDL 38, HDL 43, Glucose 60.  The changes, as you can see from this brief sample, are significant and sustained.

The data indicate that something important is happening in my blood chemistry.  What are the factors that might be affecting these changes?  First, diet.  I eat plants, whole grains, no oil, meat, or dairy.  Completely plant-based.  Second, exercise.  While I exercised before the MI, I am more consistent with exercise.  I added back into my exercise interval training two days a week.  I spin, use a treadmill, ride my road bike, and walk each night.  I have collected all exercise on a Polar V800 watch and track everything I do, day in and day out.  I will upload my exercise plan in my next post.  Similarly, I’ve tracked my diet and keep a tally of what I have eaten.  I’ll post the spreadsheet of that as well.

Overall, it is my thesis that a low carb, high protein diet including saturated fat got me to this place.  Getting me out of the trap, I switched to a plant-based diet with the hypothesis that such a diet will transform my blood chemistry and, possibly, reverse my heart disease.  So far, the data indicate, but do not prove, that a plant-based diet can help transform blood chemistry.  My next post will provide the details.

The Shocking Truth of a Plant-Based Diet

I waited for about 30 minutes for my cardiologist to arrive.  Poked and prodded by a nurse prior to his visit, I sat through a litany of questions about my health, diet, exercise, and general well being.  Sitting behind a desk and furiously typing into a computer, Denise asked again, “wait, you are not eating any meat?” Yes, I responded.  “And no dairy?” Right.  She typed more information into the system.  “Your scores are above the number that is the highest score…something must be wrong.”  We went through the questions on diet again.  She entered the information.  Silence.  “Huh,” she said, “I’ve never really seen anything like this.”

After testing my blood pressure, weight, and height, she entered more data into the system and instructed me to “wait for the doctor.”  New blood work had arrived and the numbers showed more improvement and revealed what folks could see, the transformation of my body.  I had a load of questions for my interventionist cardiologist. Honestly I did not expect to get much traction with these questions; I was pretty sure what was going to happen…the 5 minute consultation.  That’s what WOULD have happened had I not been prepared to stop the doctor in his very brief analysis of my progress.

Sometimes, being prepared before you enter the doctor’s office is the most important step in taking control of your health.  What I’ve found is that doctors, nurses, and most other health care professionals care about fixing you and then moving on to the next topic.  Once you are in maintenance mode, taking care of yourself, they are much less interested in your health.  So, when you have an appointment, do all of the research you can and ask as many questions as you can reasonably fit into the visit.

So, when the doctor walked in, with an assistant who took notes the entire time, it was meant to be very brief.  How are you?  Any symptoms? Want to get a stress test?  If not then see you in 6 months…..that’s when I said, “I have a few questions.”  Once I started my litany of interrogative statements, the doctor was dismissive. “You are on a vegan diet? Doesn’t matter.”  “Okay, Dr. X, but my blood work? Can you explain the differences simply based on the drug therapy?”  “Doesn’t matter.  Just keep losing weight.”  “Okay, what about the threat of Lipoprotein A?  I’m testing for that in a month?”  “Why?  It doesn’t matter.”  “Okay, but what about Niacin as a means of controlling the spread of Lipo(A) if the numbers are elevated?” “Just stay on a statin.  That takes care of everything.” “But, Dr. X, the data shows…..” “Not important.  Now, let’s listen to your heart.”

This brief summary of back and forth is the gist of what happened.  Don’t get me wrong, he is a good interventionist doctor and fixed a serious problem I experienced.  And, he was not interested, at all, in what I’m doing.  Now, the money question, “Drs. Esselstyn and Ornish have shown in their studies that heart disease reversal is possible with this diet.  What are your thoughts?”  I got him.  That question slowed him down a step.  “Yes, there is some data supporting that idea, but the mechanism for plaque buildup is already in place in you and changing that would require changing your blood chemistry.  Not likely in your case.  You have a particular set of genetics that is working against you.  If you have symptoms, give me a call.  See you in six months.”

Did you read that?  Changing my blood chemistry is exactly what this diet does.  Altering the very structure of how my body develops plaque and reversing the process is why I began this journey in the first place.  My doctor was not interested, at all, in what is changing in my body.  If he was, he would see the dramatic changes happening internally.  The most recent one?  The drop in glucose and insulin levels.  All on a plant-based diet.  All including whole grain carbs.  Not one ounce of meat, dairy, or fat that doesn’t come from plants.  No olive oil.  No oils at all.

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Lentils, romaine, home-made hummus, and, of course, Sririacha!

Here’s the shocking truth; if you follow, strictly, a plant-based diet, it is possible you can see similar results.  I’m my own test case.  I am a study of one.  My diet may not extend to the vast majority of humanity.  Truth is, all I hear is how “radical” my diet is.  At work, at school, at home, every single place I go, everything I read says what I am doing is virtually impossible.  In my search for a clinical cardiologist, of the three I have talked to, they all said to me, “you are in the top 1% of patients” or “wow, that’s remarkable you have been able to keep that up” in addressing my heart disease.  What?  How can I be in the 1% of anything?  Is that really true?

That’s the story for today.  I still face many hurdles in my health.  I still have to lose weight, still have to exercise, still have to stay focused and involved in my health.  As for the folks who say it’s impossible, I’m saying: watch me.

The Space Between Us

Imagine for a moment all of the space, air, light around us.  You are walking down a street, sitting in the building you work in, or watching TV in a room.  Around you is what you perceive as space.  In your mind, you understand the space to be outside of you.  As if all of the openness in the world exists in some kind of open pasture or meadow, or in some great expanse stretching out in front of you for miles and miles.  When I was 19, I distinctly remember driving down a highway in western Nebraska near Scottsbluff, the sky filled with a bright blue sky and dotted with clouds.  The road appeared miles in front of me as if I could actually see the horizon.  Complete spaciousness.  I remember stopping the car on the side of the road and just being in that spaciousness….wishing I was the spaciousness I perceived.

IMG_3126
Kurjey Lhakhang near Jakar, Bhutan

In the Uttaratantra Shastra, I read a passage that brought to mind the whole idea of spaciousness.  Simply put, we perceive spaciousness outside of ourselves, when, in fact, the spaciousness is a part of us entirely.  In our dualistic minds, we imagine that to be spacious we have to be in that meadow or field or witnessing that open sky before us.  In fact, we are as spacious as that sky above us.

I raise this idea in the context of my busy, deluded mind, trying to make sense of the world around me.  Nothing seems to make any sense.  Donald Trump is president, assault weapons are not banned worldwide, I suffered through a traumatic event, a friend died from a disease he did not know he had, and on and on.  My guess is that you could add to the list.  A list that might reach forever pretty quickly.

And yet, spaciousness. That we are, in fact, one with all things.  That there is no distance between who we are and who we are sitting next to…AND that there is no space between us, at all while at the same time existing in this space and time.

Do those two ideas work together?  No space between us and spaciousness?  For those who have been lucky enough to achieve a state of being, the mind opens to the spaciousness I’m talking about; that the spaciousness is within us as well as outside of us…or, rather, it is all one.  Using that idea, that we are one with spaciousness, then we are also one with each other….a kind of interconnected, unified spaciousness that we all exist in.  It’s remarkable.

When trying to overcome my fear and self-loathing, I sit with that fundamental idea: that I am spacious, that my mind is open and expansive.  There is no separate me or separation between in here (mind) and out there.  Similarly, there is no difference between my suffering, pain, anguish, happiness, love and anyone else’s.  My suffering and their suffering is the same in the sense that it’s all suffering.  I reach out, in my mind, to those people who are struggling and offer to take on that suffering in the hope that they can find happiness.  In that moment, there is no space between us.  We are not separated by space or time; we are there, together.  We are all together…laughing, hurting, feeling, and wondering when it will all end.  What we have between us is the shared experience the wonder of the moment and the chance to help heal our wounds.

That, to me, is what being spacious means.

Clean Eating: Liberation Through Food

Yea, I know the title of this post is stretching two complementary but very different ideas and melding them into a coherent mess.  I’ve read about the whole idea of “clean eating” and that phrase is defined in so many ways.  Here is how I’m defining this idea: eating a plant-based diet with no oil, dairy, or meat products.  The “clean” part of clean eating is the fact that I’m consuming foods which help alter, reshape my body chemistry; in a sense cleansing my internal mechanisms.

I’ve read that the eating plan I am on, a plant-based diet, improves the function of endothelium, the cells lining arteries and veins.  The increase in NO production improves the flexibility and smooth, slick characteristics of the cell lining.  So, in a very real sense, the plant-based foods are transforming my circulatory system.

I created a series of foods this week that fits this approach and that tasted great (my test is my 11 year old child…will she eat it?).

Here are the examples for this week.

Hummus and Lentil Wraps. The images below show my homemade hummus using green peppers, curry powder, garlic, and garbanzo and cannelloni beans.  I added spinach and romaine lettuce, lentils, and Sriracha sauce for some spice.

IMG_1259
These wraps hold together well and are made with whole grains.

Veggies and Whole Grain Pasta

Sauteed veggies (squash, mushrooms, onions, carrots, and garlic cloves).  Whole grain pasta and a no-oil tomato sauce with basil.

Veggie, No Cheese Pizza

Using my standard sauté technique with balsamic vinegar reduction, turmeric, cumin, and cayenne spice to taste.

The prepared pizza crust is from Rustic Crust.

tuscan
This flatbread works very well as a pizza crust.

Hope you enjoy the ideas.  It’s been fun trying out new recipes.

The Path to Individual Liberation

I’m borrowing the title from Chogyam Trungpa’s book The Path Of Individual Liberation (Judith L. Lief editor, 2014) because the fact is to achieve any kind of state of awareness we have to understand and truly know where our foibles sit, lay, exist.  The book is a source of practice for me and, since reading it a couple of years ago, is one place I return to over and over again to gain clarity and focus on the path.9781611801040

I titled this blog The Path TO Individual Liberation because there are specific actions one can take to go in the direction of such a path.  In particular, the way TO liberation and awareness comes from some specific tasks one must take on to reach that state of being.  For this particular blog post, I’m focusing on my neurotic and crazy mind.

I’ve been in and out of meditation practice for years.  For the most part, my practice is stable, however, at times my crazy mind intrudes on my daily existence and things go sideways.  I think you understand what I mean: a comment from a colleague or friend or family member sends me reeling toward anger, resentment, sadness, or extreme happiness or joy.  I tend to think that the pendulum swing of emotions caused by these interactions are somehow natural or normal.  In fact, those swings in reaction are part of my problem.  Why have those wild swings when someone says something?  For me, it’s because of attachment.  I grab onto the statement, saying, phrase and chase it down….it makes me happy, sad, angry, etc.

Those reactions are, according to Trungpa, examples of the neurotic mind.  These emotional upheavals, kleshas, are part of the reason our minds are so reactive.  He says, “People have different emotional temperaments….They want to achieve something.  Therefore they express themselves in terms of three basic poisons of passion, aggression, and ignorance…” (135).  He encourages us to watch our state of mind as best we can.

I’ve experienced these reactions so often.  If I’m very aware of my mind, I can watch these reactions rise and fall within my daily life.  If not, I don’t understand my reaction until much later.  After becoming aware, I face the reactions of regret, anger at my own reaction and etc.

Stabilizing my mind, really coming to terms with what my mind is doing in any given moment, is one key to understanding and practice.  Thich Nhat Han offered that labeling thoughts is one way to become aware of what is happening in my head.

One very specific way I have come to understand my mind is through what Sogyal Rinpoche calls “Self-Tonglen”.  In the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Rinpoche says that we can imagine ourselves as two aspects; one that is loving and compassionate (A) and one that is fearful, hurt, and maybe resentful (B) “Now, as you breathe in, imagine that A opens his or her heart completely, and warmly and compassionately accepts and embraces all of B’s suffering and negativity and pain and hurt. Moved by this, B opens his or her heart and all pain and suffering melt away in this compassionate embrace.” (217).  Being compassionate and kind to yourself helps heal the break in your own mind, accepting what has happened and what you think as a fleeting experience or thought.  Really embracing yourself….I have experienced the healing practice.  It is valuable.Tibetan_Book_of_Living_and_Dying_cover

Further, once you have worked on those thoughts and emotions that torture you, extending your mind outward, realizing that everyone is experiencing those same troubles, allows you to extend that compassion you gave to yourself to those around you.    In Tonglen for Others, Rinpoche says,  “Now, just as in the practice of loving kindness, gradually widen the circle of your compassion to embrace first other people whom you also feel very close to, then those whom you feel indifferent about, then those you dislike or have difficulty with, then even those you feel are actively monstrous and cruel. Allow your compassion to become universal, and to fold in its embrace all sentient beings, all beings, in fact, without any exception…” (217).  That practice of Tonglen takes me out of my neurotic mind and into the world outside of me and mine.  This one simple approach can make a real difference in your life.

Having experienced serious health concerns and the very real daily experience of dealing with kids, students, colleagues, family, and friends, these paths forward have helped me understand my own mind and, to a great extent, release my attachment or grasping on these various neurotic thoughts and emotions.  I offer these thoughts as just one way to find some clarity.  Good luck, fellow human.