Wednesday, March 29, 2006

the starting point of anything that matters

Thank you to Danya Ruttenberg for linking to this beautiful speech, When the Wounded Emerge as Healers: The Study of Religion is Like a Labyrinth, given by Dr. Kimberly Potter, to the graduating class of the Harvard Divinity School:
...So, as long as I thought I could impart to you something oracular about the future—your future—something splendid or clever or wise, I never had this opportunity. That day did not come until all I could tell you about was the one thing that I truly can say I know, and that is the broken heart. Even if a broken heart does not lie in your past or present, it awaits you in your future, at some place, at some time when you will almost certainly be unprepared. But in myth, in ritual, and in theology, the broken heart is not a regrettable symptom of derailment, but is rather the starting point of anything that matters. As Laurette Séjourné describes the heart in ancient Mesoamerica: "The heart is the place of union where the luminous consciousness is made. . . . Human existence must reach out to transcend the world of forms that conceal the ultimate reality. This reality lives in the heart and must be set free at whatever cost. . . . Thus to reach one's heart, to possess oneself of it, means to penetrate into spiritual life. The operation is extremely painful, and that is why the heart is always represented as wounded, and why the drops of blood issuing from it are so significant that they alone are a sufficient symbol for it."


Looking deep into the religious traditions of the world, one learns that we need not fear these initiations, these times of breaking apart. The soul cannot grow or change without them. What the human ego or the human body experience as traumas, the soul instantly recognizes as opportunities to shed what is no longer needed. When the heart is broken, the soul is released from its prior constellations. It begins the ancient process of dissolution, dismemberment, and new life. The soul rushes toward rebirth. This is not a comfortable process. But it is a normal one.

In the words of Jalaja Bonheim: "[M]ake no mistake: those who tell us we can have whatever we want, be whoever we want to be, and have full control of our lives are merely playing into our desire to avoid the discomfort of feeling our vulnerability. True wholeness has nothing to do with getting what we want. Paradoxically, we achieve true wholeness only by embracing our fragility and sometimes our brokenness. Wholeness is a natural radiance of Love, and Love demands that we allow the destruction of our old self for the sake of the new. 'If anyone needs a head, the lover leaps up to offer his,' says the mystic and poet Kabir. Life did not intend for us to be inviolable, but to be used for fodder for its workings. We are meant to be chewed up and digested and transformed into the blood and sinews of the world."
The Torah portion that I'll be chanting from and giving a little talk on in June includes Moses telling the people "cut away the thickening around your heart" (literally: "circumsize the foreskin of your heart" "umal'tem et orlat l'vavechem") so I am thinking a lot about what it is to be open-hearted in this world that is so full, about the open heart and the broken heart and the heart that is somehow cut open, in analogy to the covenant of circumcision...I have a feeling that what blogging there is here in the next couple of months might be a lot of rumination on heart stuff...

Saturday, March 25, 2006

spring tonic

Springtime is traditionally considered to be a good time to "cleanse the liver", or give it a nice restorative rest. One helpful practice is to choose not to eat foods that overstimulate the liver and gall bladder for at least a week or two -- fried and fatty foods, rich and sugary and salty foods, alcohol -- that is, those dark-of-winter holiday things that the bodymind craves for insulation and comfort when it's dark and cold and wet out for months on end. Not to mention dark.

As the sap begins to rise and the days grow lighter and muddier, our bodies begin to crave lightness, too, and to get the sludginess moving out. Eating bitter spring greens (dandelion, arugula, endive, chicory, mustard greens, and romaine lettuce is a little bit bitter too), which are little and tender and not so painfully bitter at this time of year, is a good way to gently stimulate liver secretion (bile production), which ferries
out through the bowels many of the metabolic waste products the liver generates in its everyday intelligence.

Another plant food/medicine we prescribe often as a a liver/bowel/blood tonic is radix Arctium lappa, or burdock root. For a liver cleanse regime, burdock root is used in fluid extract or tea form, but for everyday you can also find beautiful long burdock roots (gobo in Japanese) at an Asian grocery store like Uwajimaya, or a natural foods grocery like our Puget Consumers Coop, and include it in your exotic vegetable repetoire. Here is a Japanese recipe I like, which is not a "liver cleanse" recipe because of the oil, sugar, sake and soy sauce (hmm--that's pretty much everything that's in it)

Burdock or Carrot Kinpira (Kinpira Gobo or Ninjin) (adapted from Japanese Cooking, A Simple Art, by Shizuo Tsuji):

1 medium burdock root, or 3 medium carrots, (I usually include both and sometimes I add turnip or rutabaga or parsnip or some other rooty veg)
peeled or very well-scrubbed
Oil for stir-frying
Cooking sake, a few TB
Soy sauce, a few TB
Sugar (I like brown sugar or sometimes honey in this recipe), 1 TB
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes or "Shichimi," Japanese "seven-spice mixture" which contains red pepper, roasted orange peel, yellow sesame seed, black sesame seed, Japanese pepper, seaweed, ginger, all ground up into sprinkles.
Sesame seeds and a scallion or two, sliced up, for garnish

Whittle the burdock into shavings, as if you were sharpening a huge pencil,
and put the pieces in a bowl of water to keep them from turning too dark. I usually roll-cut them, but they are more delicate and not so chewy if you use the shaving method. I like them chewy. Cut the carrots, if using, into julienne or roll-cut them too. To roll-cut, you slice off a piece of the end, at an angle, then roll the vegetable a quarter turn or so, slice off another angled piece, etc. This makes for a lot of the tender & delicious inner-vegetable surface area to hit the hot oil when you get to the stir-fry step, but the pieces are more substantial and interesting than the eqivalent-sized regular slice.

Heat a frying pan over high heat and add a few TB of oil, swirl to coat the bottom and when it's hot and ripply, throw in the vegetables and stir-fry for a few minutes until they start to soften up. You might have to turn down the heat a little to prevent scorching, depending on how sticky your pan is.

Then add the sake, soy sauce, and sugar or honey, reduce heat to medium high, and stir-fry till the liquid is thick and almost all reduced.
If it sticks and scorches, add a little more sake. Flavor to taste with the red pepper or seven-spice sprinkles.

I like to add a spoonful of not-ground-up sesame seeds and some finely sliced scallion on top.
Oh, but in the batch that's pictured I also added mushrooms (tasted good, texture was just OK) and I was out of sesame seeds.

Good hot or at room temp, with a little sake (good drinking sake, not cheap cooking sake) or Japanese beer (another reason not to be doing a cleanse when you make this dish!)

Sunday, March 12, 2006

time large and small

Caffeine is time's Viagra.
Mark Morford, San Francisco Chronicle columnist, in his Notes and Errata column this week called "Let's All Get ADD! What do coffee, cell phones, the Net, stress and sleep drugs have in common? You, silly" adds,
We equate deranged, caffeinated busyness with smarts, with success, when in fact the exact opposite is true. Just ask the yogis, the gurus, the healers of the past 5,000 years: It is actually when you calm the mind, clear things out, breathe deep and sleep deeper and clean out the toxins and the caffeine and the Ambien, that's when real wisdom, real intuition comes your way. The rest is just, well, noise. Happy delicious annoying caffeinated sexy fun infuriating obnoxious unstoppable noise, but still noise.

But not to worry. They'll soon develop a pill to block that, too.
The amazing and adorable Eric Francis, who is my favorite astrologer, and used to live on Vashon Island near Seattle, but now lives mostly in Paris and sometimes in Brussels, talks about time this week, too, in an essay on the coming lunar and solar eclipses:
A lunar eclipse presents a nice image of the concentration of time, which we can work with consciously. It begins as a Full Moon. Then, perhaps half an hour later, the Moon is dark; then half an hour after that, it is full again. It's as if we live a month of experience in two hours. But if you consider that the effects of the eclipse radiate out, it's more like we live through the energetic equivalent of a year in a day. Imagine if that actually happened, how disoriented you might feel: going to bed and waking up a year later.

In a sense, we get an antidote to 'speeding time' by pushing the concentration even further. An eclipse is like a massive homeopathic dose of time.

Read the rest of the Eclipse Trip here.

Friday, March 03, 2006

making up stories, and glass like light compressed

"Bless the spirit that makes connections,
for truly we live in what we imagine."
Rainer Maria Rilke
(as always, thank you to Joe at Panhala for sending out the perfect selection each morning)
(the archive of which is unfortuntately no longer public due to copyright complaints, but you can subscribe to the daily poem by sending a blank email to Panhala-subscribe at

I have just lately been trying to pay attention to some of the stories I make up from moment to moment--most of the time, they are such passing thoughts and I never see them again. But if, as Rilke says, our true lives are in our imaginings, then by letting mine slip by without noting them I might be missing parts of my life!

Today on the way home from my friend Roger Nachman's studio (visit Roger's site and look at his glowingly beautiful glass art--such a "healing art")
I drove past a few schools whose playgrounds were full of shouting and laughing and the running bodies of children let outside on a beautiful day--yes, today was actually a sunny day in Seattle ;-)

At one of the schools (on NW 80th, near Aurora, or maybe it was near Greenwood), on the edge of the sidewalk between the chain-link fence surrounding the playground, and the very trafficky city street, were a series of rectangular grass strips. One of the rectangles (just one!) was popping with many scattered white and yellow daffodils, and blue crocuses, a tiny patch of meadow in the city. In my imagination, I clearly saw a group of children and their teacher on a much colder day some months ago, carefully or haphazardly digging holes and dropping flower bulbs into them (or not--maybe just digging to dig) and then being thrilled to see their class project emerge from the ground like magic. I am always entirely thrilled to see something I've planted peek its tender new self out of the ground, and I'm so glad that the children there (or, in my imagination, anyway) got to have that feeling, too. And really glad for as many more signs of spring as I can find, or make up.