Monthly Archives: April 2012

wednesday wisdom: “wild geese” by mary oliver

image via threadless.com

April is National Poetry Month. We’ll celebrate with a poem every Wednesday.

Wild Geese
You do not have to be good
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver

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april spotlight on: finding inner sanctuary

A teacher and friend of mine recently said something about relaxation that really resonated with me. She was teaching a lunchtime express yoga class, one that was fast and athletic and packed full of asana that covered every type of posture you could think of. When it came time for Savasana, she looked up and noticed that we had exactly one minute before the class ended. “A short Savasana, about one minute!” she declared as we blissfully collapsed to our mats in sweaty heaps, exhaling a big, collective breath together. “Your task is to drop as quickly into Savasana as possible to make the most of this one minute, so give yourself the next two breaths and try to get fully relaxed.”

I inhaled, I exhaled, and relaxed my belly, chest, arms and legs. I inhaled, I exhaled, and visualized my spine, hips, and back of my head melting into my mat. She went on. “It’s interesting. In birthing classes and preparing for labor, women are taught to bring themselves to a state of calm very quickly, especially as labor progresses and there’s less time to rest between contractions. In that way, they can get the most out of short periods of time. That’s what we’re doing here.”

One of the most valuable skills you need is the ability to calm yourself down. We’ve got all kinds of stuff invented for this very thing: big glasses of wine and bubble baths, reality TV, and there’s at least one app for that. These things serve a purpose but do nothing to help refine your own capacities, nor do they help us in finding ourselves.

Just as babies learn to self soothe when needs aren’t immediately met, consciously choosing to find your inner sanctuary will not only help you cope with difficulty, but will also help you find new reserves of courage and substance. It means staying present to the challenges but taking refuge in a mental space, a space where you feel protected and safe and supported.

When I had nightmares as a child, my mom would rub my back and tell me to imagine that I was on the beach in Kauai, our favorite vacation spot. I pretended to feel the warmth on my skin and hear the crash of waves and hear the happiness of my family around me. This became a self-soothing technique I’d use for years to come, whenever that creep of anxiety began to choke me, from algebra tests to cross-country races.

Your inner sanctuary (unlike your liquor or tub or iPhone) is available to soothe you and calm you and bring you into connection with presence at any moment, in any situation, with any person and in any place.

So how do you establish that inner sanctuary? Like most things, you start with the breath. Let each breath take you deeper within yourself, to your beach. Each breath becomes more and more calming, soothing, connecting. Stay present. Find the breath within the breath. Listen. Be still. Over time, this practice gets easier and you’re able to drop into sanctuary on only one or two breaths. Then you tap into that wellspring of wisdom and strength that was there all along.

What about you? What do you do to find your inner sanctuary?

meatless monday: hot-and-sour peanut noodles with bok choy

oodles of noodles.

Do you know the secret of making tasty Chinese takeout really tasty? Add nuts. To every and any dish. Cashews, peanuts, slivered almonds, walnuts. Sometimes your restaurant will add it for you, if you ask nicely, other times you’ll need to have some on hand to sprinkle over your General Tso’s bean curd or Szechuan green beans. And for when you’re making your own noodles, try this meatless wonder: hot-and-sour peanut noodles with bok choy.

You gotta love a peanut noodle. You don’t gotta love a bok choy (I really don’t, and it’s no secret), so you can do what I do and substitute out any hearty, bitter green (roughly chopped kale or Swiss chard work well here). This dish is low in calories and can be gluten free, by the way. For extra nuttiness, I stir in a few heaping spoonfuls of peanut butter at the end, melting over the noodles into a creaminess that’s pure heaven in a wok. Perfect, easy, complete.

Hot-and-Sour Peanut Noodles with Bok Choy
Adapted from the April 2012 issue of Self; my own substitutions are in parenthesis

Serves 4

8 oz. whole-wheat spaghetti (SL: for gluten-free, try flat rice noodles)
2 1/4 tsp. kosher salt, divided
1 tbsp. canola or sunflower oil
1 lg. shallot, sliced
1 piece (about 1 in.) ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 lb. baby bok choy, leaves and stems separated, roughly chopped (SL: sub out another hearty green like kale or Swiss chard)
1 red bell pepper, sliced
3/4 c. low-sodium vegetable stock or water
2 tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
1 tbsp. dark sesame oil
1 tbsp. rice vinegar
1/2 c. chopped unsalted roasted peanuts (SL: or cashews, almonds, walnuts, pistachios…)
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes, or more to taste
1/4 c. chunky all natural peanut butter (SL: this is my own dirty little secret!)

Cook pasta as directed on package with 2 tsp. salt until just tender. Drain and rinse pasta with cool water. In a large nonstick skillet, heat canola oil over medium-high heat. Cook shallot and ginger, stirring, until just brown, about 1 min. Add bok choy stems, bell pepper and remaining 1/4 tsp. salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until peppers are crisp-tender, 1 to 2 min. Transfer contents of skillet to a plate. To same skillet, add bok choy leaves, stock, soy sauce, sesame oil and vinegar. Cook, stirring, until leaves are soft and bright green, 1 to 2 min. Add bell pepper mixture, pasta, peanuts and pepper flakes to pan. Toss to combine, and stir in peanut butter until slightly melted. Serve.