About the Parasympathetic System

There was a time, not very long ago, that writing in this blog was very important to me. I would clear off my desk and set to my writing task as if it was my vocation. It was my voice and outlet and connection with the greater world. I craved acknowledgement that I existed, however meek and feckless my Internet utterances carried forth.

But over the past few months, I’ve been engaged in other assignments and neglected this space rather intentionally. For one, I have a real job, and for another, we’ve returned to Maine where family and friends are always nearby. I don’t crave the same validation I did nine months ago.

That’s not to say I don’t have my same existential questions, my yearning for happiness and truth and peace circle around me still.  I have days I wonder why I’m not completely at ease with my life, and why I can’t be happy just because I wish it so. I still wonder what success looks like on me. Though I’ve had fleeting moments of triumph and insight into the world, I regularly question whether I’m on the right path in life.

Mostly, these questions abide with the day and surrender to the back corners of my mind. They do not plague me with insecurity, and I’m not an aimless 20-something anymore. I have a family, and work that satisfies. We have a beautiful home on an island, and I can see the ocean from my bedroom window. These were the things I wanted, and now these are the things I claim as my own. Simple things and important things.

I couldn’t let this year close without one final thought to carry me forward into 2014. I need more blind trust and faith that things are going as they should. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for our quiet body processes. Rest and recovery, digestion. Crying. Functions of the body that we can’t consciously activate, but occur through our capacity as human beings.

I have goals and dreams for what my career and family life will look like in the future, but I think that I need to stop holding so tightly onto these projections. Because undoubtedly, there are parasympathetic happenings in the universe, occurrences for which we cannot know the causes. We will have trouble sleeping for no apparent reason, and failure happens no matter how hard we work at something. Letting go and believing that it is not defeat that defines me, but the ability to wake up the next day and to continue to work hard does.

While I’m unclear how often I’ll continue to write in this blog, be sure that I’m working hard on other aspects of my life. We have some amazing and exciting intentions and schemes for this next year, and all I can do is hold on to the people I love, work hard, and wait to see how things work out.

Until we meet again, my ever faithful readers…
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Saturday Morning

I woke up this morning and I wanted to exclaim happiness from the porch for the world to hear. Life is easy, life is dependable, and life continues to offer me glorious unexpected glimmers of joy wherever I look. Sometimes, like this morning, the joy bubbles up in my chest and I have to throw it somewhere. I’m blogging about it now because, well, its my modern version of shouting from the rooftop. This poor neglected corner of the Internet has been gathering dust in the last weeks, and deserves some light and love.

Writing here doesn’t claim much of my attention anymore. I’m not sure if that will change in weeks and months ahead. I’m busy with my job (which I happen to love), my son (at whom I marvel every moment), and my life, which is wonderful and miraculous. I still practice a lot of yoga. I still want to meditate more, and I’m almost always so full of gratitude I have trouble not smiling hugely at everyone I encounter.

Anyways, just a note from me to say: keep it up, universe. I’m totally in awe of your majestic workings. 001


Primal Rage and The Holiday Spirit

Hello, fair readers:

I have been absent from this domain for longer than I intended. Life, and then travels, interrupted my intentions, and I observe a connection between my peace of mind and writing. The holiday season is over now, and I can retreat to my corner of the world to regain some perspective.

I felt guilty leaving my last post here my reflections of the Connecticut tragedy. I was sad, and then angry, about that event for a long time, and it was hard for me to embrace the holiday season with this pang of sadness sitting on my shoulder. I found myself getting angry at small misunderstandings and conditions of life: we were told the wrong time for family swim one Saturday, a fellow air traveler with unsolicited advice about bottle feedings, the dry nosebleed inducing air of Washington DC in December, my aging grandfather who needs an aide 24 hours each day, the lack of parking along the National Mall, internet filters, out of stock books, unexpected changes of plans, forgotten kindle chargers, and tap water that tastes like pennies. But there was joy hidden among all of these moments, some I missed because I was too entrenched in my misery to look for it. I was with my family and friends, after all. We are alive and together this Christmas and New Year, what more is there to celebrate?

I don’t really make New Year resolutions because I am always trying to better myself. But this year I took a great breath of the cold December air and made myself promise to stop getting hung up on the little things. We’re all human, with our own individual perspectives and experiences of life, and so long as we’re here we should enjoy it. Meditation has been a hugely useful tool in this seeking of joy, and I am slowly mastering longer periods of sitting still. Here is a wonderful site for guided meditation, which I use when my mind is especially busy and reluctant to calm down. Looking inwards, I’ve found, is a powerful way to appreciate the world outside.


Vegetarian Food for Thought; Or: how to love a carnivore

I’ve tried not to preach my morals, but I have been giving a lot of thought to my vegetarianism, (excuse me: pescetarianism), of late, because I decided to raise my son as one.

Side note:  I apologize deeply in conflating the two terms, which are obviously very different.  I will address this soon, but I have to explain a few other things first.

I choose not to eat land animals for many reasons.  It started off because I did not like the taste.  I’d bitten into too many chewy tendons and inedible globules of adipose tissue to be able to look at my plates with a healthy attitude.  Meal times were filled with fear, seeming to radiate the negative energy that went into putting the food on my plate. Just for a second, imagine you’re a hen.  You cluck around the yard, peck at grains, lay some eggs, cluck some more.  Maybe you have chicken thoughts of providing a nice life for your offspring, maybe you just cluck.  You definitely feel pain though.  A chicken is not going to willingly let its head get cut off.  Think about how scary it must be for a simple little farm yard animal to get plucked up by its legs and flung around into tiny cages, eventually getting its neck cut off.  Now, I am sure there is some science out there that can claim that chickens and hens and ducks are all killed in very peaceful and humane ways, that they didn’t feel pain.  Those are undoubtedly rare cases, if they even work.  I believe that the moment before a chicken dies he is horrified, the passage from life cannot be painless–or at least, fear-free.

Think about the last time you were scared.  I can remember easily–a loud bang from downstairs that terrified me. I knew no one else was home, and my body tensed with nervous adrenaline and blood cooling fear.  This was passive though, only sligtly akin to what that baby cow, or mother goose, has in its body when its life leaves.  She yields her physical body for our nutrition.  No thanks.  I’d rather go hungry than have that poison energy as fuel for my body.

Ahimsa, a yogic doctrine of this idea, encourages you to stay away from “tamasic” food–mushrooms, for example, because they’re grown in darkness; blue cheeses, which are really molds and putridity.  Of course, I love mushrooms (did you know you can put them in the sun to absorb vitamin D?), and cheese features prominently in my diet.  But if you think about it, and really believe in a life force, it is a rational argument and makes even more sense when you apply it to flesh.

So that brings me to my side note from the beginning.  I feel lucky that I’m now able to fully enjoy my meals and food, because it helps me to appreciate life.  I pinpointed the aspects that were causing me anxiety, and now thrive on a highly vegetarian, often raw and vegan, and undoubtedly nutritious and wholesome diet.

However, I do eat fish, and the reasons are twofold:

    1. Though I feel sorry for the sea animals I eat if I consciously think about it, they are far enough removed from me as a mammal to give me the justification to eat them.  They don’t breathe air or walk on the earth, mollusks don’t live in family groups or nurse their young.
    2. It is 100% easier and more enjoyable to go out to dinner if I have half the menu to choose from, instead of just one or two options.

I know these may be poor reasons, but that is my truth.

Eating fish (and eggs, and cheese) is one very small sacrifice I make to keep my marriage happy.  I would never ask my husband to be a vegetarian, just like he would never ask me to eat a steak.  I’m happy to enjoy a plate of mussels or calamari on a date, we eat grains, and beans, and a lot of meals at home with our own protein additions.  I make my husband turkey sandwiches, buy his hamburger at the grocery store; he brings home new micro greens from his vendors, and has taught me how to cook perfect lentils.  I enjoy telling people that my husband is a hard core meat lover, I feel like it humanizes what many view as a foreign and nonsensical diet.

Primum non nocere. Ahimsa.  The Categorical Imperative.  Treat others how you want to be treated. Love thy neighbor.  All these terms and phrases get at the heart of one of my favorite maxims.   Who can justify an action that does not bring good should everyone choose to act the same?  Now is the time when I could on one hand spout off all the ecological goodness that it would do the planet if everyone ate broccoli instead of hamburgers, and on the other cite articles that warn us against eating rice.  I’m not suggesting everyone should do what I do.  I just like to draw attention to the possibility of latent energy inside things.

True story: one night many years ago, my husband offered to cook me a grilled cheese sandwich after a long day.  Maybe he didn’t really want to and was just being nice, or maybe we got in an argument part way through, but when I went to eat it, I couldn’t.  It was inedible.  The cheese tasted like putrid plastic, and I nibbled around the corners for a minute until I threw it out.  The yogis will tell you that the mental state and emotions of the cook go into the food that is being prepared.  At the ashram I lived at, whenever we worked in the kitchen we sang bright chants and everyone was smiling.  No wonder the food tasted beautiful.  Like when the full cow wants to be milked, and when apples fall naturally from the tree, there is a goodness in eating food that is abundant naturally and peacefully.


Southern Groceries

Moving to another part of the country has, so far, proved to be a beneficial thing for my family.

But it hasn’t happened seamlessly.  It has been a conscious process of reevaluating our expectations, habits, and priorities.  Like not crying over the chip in my late grandmother’s side table that the movers did not pack carefully enough.  Or swimming around the really big and hairy spider in the pool.  And remembering that the drawbridge (we live on an island) only takes 5 minutes from open to close, because really, it is not like you can be late to buy groceries.

Life is slower here.  Illustrated perfectly by the grocery shopping experience.

First of all, let me explain how we used to shop in Boston.  Before we discovered the ease and simplicity of grocery shopping online, we dreaded the errand.  Even going to our local Whole Foods (which was once a more visceral food shop for me) was an exercise in patience, from selecting the celery to exiting the parking lot.  Going at convenient times (after work, Saturday afternoons) was harrowing, no matter what store we picked.  Crowds, carts, strollers, traffic…it hardly seemed worth it to be buying less than average peaches or blueberries.  We eventually discovered Boston Organics which delivered fresh produce to our door each week, around the time we decided to start using Peapod.  Forget the crowds, forget the schlepping of heavy canvas bags halfway around the block; but too: forget discovering that fresh figs are on sale and in season.

Its been an entirely different experience in Charleston.  Admittedly, the variables are not all even: I often go in the middle of the day now, and I only shop for a few days at a time.  However, the Southern grocery shopping experience is quite pleasant, and I look forward to taking my son to the grocery store to talk about food, and see new things.

It seems expected here to engage in conversation with everyone from the stock boy to the cashier–however, if you’re in a hurry, or the baby is cranky, it also feels acceptable to smile and press on through the aisles.  There is a strong awareness of manners and gentility not found in New England.  It is standard practice to help you out to your car with groceries, whether you have 2 bags or 20.  There is a kindness that to us thick skinned New Englanders can seem almost…aggressive.  For example: baby dropped his pacifier in the aisle, and I kid you not, another customer jogged from where he was browsing ten feet away to pick it up for us.  Others hold the doors open for you, offer up their discount card if you don’t have one yet, and no one uses their car horn in the parking lots.

The trade off is convenience–its never easy to go get food for dinner in the midday heat that hovers in the mid 90s.  Yesterday we went out, and as soon as we got onto the main road we found ourselves ensconced in a torrential rainstorm.  Still, I drove to the store, and we sat in the car for 20 minutes hoping it would abate.  It did not, so we drove home, and shared a box of Annies macaroni and cheese for dinner.  I’m embracing the different forms of convenience: I haven’t eaten a bad peach since we’ve been here, and every store sells washed and chopped kale. Grocery delivery is a remnant of city life, and we’re almost completely weaned off those little luxuries.

But, my ears still ring with tinnitus in the absence of sound Boston used to easily fill.  White noise here is not a steady traffic rumble, but a living forest outside our windows.  At night we fall asleep to the crickets, or the speckling of raindrops on the window glass. I thought I’d miss my weekly Indian, Thai, and Sushi dinners from foodler.  But no: I’m happy to eat simple meals at the table with the baby. Plain noodles and cheese, peaches.  I drink my coffee with brown sugar now, because that is all we had when we moved in, and now that’s how I like it.  We indulge ourselves with the expensive bottles of wine we’d been “saving” in Massachusetts—-they made it over 1,000 miles!  I think we have plenty to appreciate and celebrate.  Life is good.