Jivamukti Focus of the Month: September 2014, The Magic of Cooking, by Sharon Gannon


Brahmarpanam Brahma-Havir / Brahmagnau Brahmana Hutam /Brahmaiva Tena Gantavyam / Brahma-Karma-Samadhina
See God everywhere: God is the ladle; God also is the food; God is the fire; God is the preparer; and God is the eater of the food. God is the reason for eating and God is the goal to be reached. Bhagavad Gita 4.24

I asked my first spiritual teacher, the alchemist Randy Hall, “How do I become enlightened?,” and he responded, “First, learn how to cook, clean, and garden.” I was incredulous at his response; it disappointed me, and at the time I wasn’t able to embrace his advice seriously as it didn’t seem “spiritual enough” for me. Cooking? I was an impatient, skinny girl who found disdain in eating and was trying to reduce her food to a minimum and eventually live on air: how did he think that I could get into cooking? What could possibly be the point? I felt similarly about cleaning and gardening.

Over the years I’ve come to see the extraordinary wisdom of this advice. Preparing and cooking food is a magical act, a potent, alchemical process, through which one form is transformed into another form: varied ingredients are deftly combined and subjected to the elements of water, fire and air in just the right proportions, with just the right timing and with appropriate spells—consisting of good mental intentions, with no gossip or small talk in the kitchen—to manifest a delicious meal that satisfies both body and soul. A cookbook can be seen as a book of formulas for this magical process, complete with how-to instructions, suggestions, and advice, which, if followed with a cheerful heart and sense of adventure, could result in the most delightful culinary experiences manifesting on the dinner table. Food prepared in this way can even produce a shift in perception of oneself and others, yielding hope and encouragement to move forward through life.

To make this magic happen most effectively, it is essential to bring consciousness to what we eat and how we prepare it. When we eat meat, eggs and dairy products, we are buying into a cultural conditioning that has disconnected us from the natural intelligence of our bodies for the purpose of generating profits for the animal-user industries, we are destroying the health of our bodies and our environment, and we are participating in horrific enslavement, exploitation and slaughter of other animals, which will eventually, but inevitably, come back to us. When we adopt a vegan lifestyle, we bring kindness into our lives—kindness to our bodies and to our relationships with others. Yoga teaches that whatever we want in life we can have if we are willing to provide it for others. If we want to be free, then depriving others of freedom and utilizing so many resources that others are left impoverished, cannot lead us to our goal. Making kind choices when it comes to the food we eat is one of the most basic ways to begin to ensure our own happiness and freedom.

Our state of mind when we cook is also important to the outcome. If we are in a bad mood, it is best to stay out of the kitchen. To cultivate the highest intention and clear any negativity we may feel, we can pray or chant a mantra before we start to cook, while cooking, and before we eat. To pray is to set a high intention, to implore the Divine forces to come to our aid for a good and selfless end. As we approach the cooking process and then the eating of the food we have cooked, we make sure that our minds and hearts are centered in an elevated intentional mood. This purifies the whole experience, ridding the kitchen of toxins, both subtle (like anger and impatience) and gross (like dirt and bacteria). See the kitchen as part of God’s abode, as sacred space, as a doorway to enlightenment. The kitchen is a temple, and all the pots, pans, spices, grains, fruits, and vegetables, as well as the stove, spoons, knives, bowls, and plates, are all Divine objects, full of consciousness, waiting to become part of the Divine, alchemical process of creating a meal. Allow the fire of your soul to become part of the heating element that cooks your food.

The most courageous act any of us can do at this time is to dare to care about others—other animals, the Earth, and all beings. To be more other-centered than self-centered is the first step to happiness. Choosing vegan ingredients and cooking them yourself with a pure intention will not only help you create tasty meals but will help you start your own radical movement of peaceful, joyful coexistence with all of life.

—Sharon Gannon, adapted from the book, Simple Recipes for Joy, September 2014

Raw Fairies: The Story behind the Mini B Cleanse


10291694_10152074708161791_2897529945003820036_nRead the Raw Fairies full review
I’ve got to be honest. As a general rule, I don’t subscribe to detoxes or cleanses, having experimented with many ways of cleansing the body from the inside out, both naturopathic, and prescribed. When I was younger, I enjoyed the challenge, the observation of the mental shifts and changes, and the body’s ability to adapt and transform. I still am fascinated with the ladder two aspects, which is why, perhaps, I’ve stuck with this week’s ‘accidental’ cleanse.

It all started with my increasing frustration and impatience in getting to know my new body since my liver transplant. The liver is an amazing and important organ that performs over 500 daily functions, and is the master of digestion. Having spent my entire life with a digestive disease, by the time I was 40 I had gotten used to the feeling of being bloated, being asked regularly if I was ‘expecting’, and the daily shifts of clothes being a size too big or a size too small. When I went into liver failure, however, my digestive system shut down and nothing worked anymore. Effectively, my body went into starvation mode. Because of my friend Rhian Stephenson, I started juicing and using supplements to keep my weight up, and I believe it was this that enabled me to continue to function in the world, and to continue practicing and teaching yoga. At the same time, I cut gluten from my diet and was doing the best I could to maintain and ethical diet, despite my doctor’s insistence on eating meat.

After the transplant, the first weeks were spent chewing on ice and vomiting. Anything put in my mouth was too dry to eat (I had to literally remove the uneaten food by hand, there was just no saliva to help start the digestion process), and anything that went into my stomach was forced out very quickly due to the medications. Needless to say, I lost a lot of weight in those first weeks, even having gained 15 kilos of water weight overnight after the surgery. My body was like a sponge, spewing out water from its pours but not able to ingest any nutrition.

After three or four weeks, I started on Soyade Blueberry Yogurt. It saved my life. Despite my mother’s efforts to stuff me with anything she could, it was actually the Soyade and Elderflower water taken in copious amounts that slowly brought me back. From then on it was daily deliveries from the local Thai and Italian restaurants (many thanks to Ellen Walsh Moorman and Emma Henry who were both delivery girls and mealtime companions) that gave me the strength to get up out of bed and start walking the stairs everyday, and throughout the night.

By the time December came (three months after the transplant), I was back at home, practicing yoga, and even teaching a few classes. In January, I was back to teaching and practicing. Ambitious and perhaps premature, but this is the way it went.

Slowly I was transitioning from being underweight on a diet of white bread, peanut butter Kit Kats-anything I could stomach, to my old diet of juicing, blending and eating a primarily plant based diet. Every week in clinic, I weighed in and was given accolades for each kilo gained. It was too easy.

By March I had made a full transition, and was feeling, once again, that my weight was out of my control as I continued to watch the scales climb. I was eating a plant-based diet, juicing every morning and afternoon, and practicing yoga, yet my body continued to morph into its new shape. While my primary concern is to be healthy, which in the western world of medicine is gaged by bloodwork, blood pressure and weight, in all honestly, I began to feel a bit hopeless.

I enlisted my friend Jaro to help me by coming around once a week for personal training. I had tried going running a few times, but realized my liver and the stent inside my body still felt a bit raw when shaken up. With Jaro’s help, we are now getting my cardiovascular system and muscle memory in some kind of order, and it feels very good to use my body in a different way. Long gone are the days when I ran marathons, but I envision a day when I might participate in the transplant olympics, and even encourage them to bring yoga to the games, not as a competition, but as an exhibition. It gives me inspiration to run, skip and do press ups on the bench.

Nonetheless, my weight has stayed the same, and my clothes still don’t fit. I began to wonder if I would do a week of raw, vegan food controlled in portions, I would feel better in my body. Perhaps there would be a discovery in the portions of the meals or the combinations of foods within a given day.

Finally, I come to the part about Raw Fairies. A friend had mentioned to me she used this service from time to time to get back on track when she felt she’d been eating the wrong things or too much, and I decided to give myself a little treat by taking the guess work out of my meals for a week. I went to their website and found it a little complicated, but signed up for a week of food deliveries.

10384460_10152070253516791_7187113262191912401_nOn Monday, the doorbell rang at 7:30am and a kind man handed me a bag. I took it inside, and was pleasantly surprised with an array of juices, smoothies and salads. Even though I had hesitated in choosing the cleanse, I made the decision that morning to take it seriously and to follow the cleanse to the best of my ability.

I’m on day four, and while exhausted and achy, I am surviving. I have had a flew blips, indulging in coconut water on day two, and on day three treating myself to a few raw vegan tacos at Triyoga, but then, I have been teaching yoga classes and Rolfing people all week. I think on a cleanse one generally takes it easy, and I felt if I didn’t give myself a bit more to eat, it would both be unhealthy and unwise. Afterall, it wasn’t my intention to do a cleanse, but to see how much a normal, healthy portion is, and in what combinations the food are prepared and presented so that I might incorporate it into a sustainable daily diet. It was my hope that this in turn, would help me to come to terms with my new metabolism, which currently still seems like a bit of a mystery. Nevertheless, it has been a very interesting psychological process so far, which I will go into more in my full review of Raw Fairies. One more day on the cleanse, but a lifetime of exploration and discovery.

Raw Fairies: The Mini B Cleanse Review


For the background on why Raw Fairies, why the Mini B Cleanse, check this out

On Monday I started the Raw Fairies Mini B Cleanse, five days of raw, vegan juices and food to help the body ‘detox’. While not a huge fan of the concept of detoxing (I am more inclined to champion a sustainable, daily diet for life) I nevertheless decided to give this one a try.

10384460_10152070253516791_7187113262191912401_nThe first day was a combination of juices, smoothies and food, and to be honest, I felt energized and full throughout the day. Raw Fairies’ sweet spot is in their sauces and dressings. They excel in putting exactly the right amount of each flavour to truly make the food and drink a delight. In addition to the plant nourishment, each day there are a number of large capsules to take at each mealtime, which I suppose is a part of the detox and nutrients needed to sustain oneself on so little. I also learned on day one that each day would be a bit less food, and a bit more juice.

 

10410555_10152073199726791_2973382044328269723_nDay two featured a delicious cacoa and banana breakfast shake, a large lunch salad of beetroot and red pepper, and a smaller dinnertime salad, with juices for mid-afternoon and late-evening snacks. After day two, I felt a bit hungry, but it was my headache that really got my attention.

 

 

10291694_10152074708161791_2897529945003820036_nBy day three, I felt exhausted. I did have a particularly long day ahead of me, starting with a 7:30am private yoga client, with a further three open level classes taught, finishing at 7:30pm in the evening, and it was because of all this activity that I felt a need to supplement the six 200ml containers provided by Raw Fairies with a supergreen juice at Triyoga (who in my opinion, offer delicious raw, vegan food if overpriced) and a number of Raw Vegan Tacos. By nighttime, I was passed out with an enormous headache by 9:30pm.

 

10409489_10152076550756791_1468600473617466168_n I awoke this morning feeling tired, but the headache was gone. Suprisingly, there was more food in my delivery bag, with two green smoothies for breakfast. The lunch salad looks delicious and while the fennel salad looks a little meager, I don’t have a need to be rigid, so long as I stay raw and vegan.

Day five will be another juice and smoothie day, which will complete the ‘cleanse’. I have to admit, I am surprised that I have stuck with it. It hasn’t been too difficult, though the fatigue has been the most unbearable aspect. However, the essence of the food is very good, and I would like to continue with a week of the normal menu, to see if it is shedding a light on a more sustainable way of living and eating on a plant based, raw diet. We all have individual needs, and it would be my hope that any food delivery service would attempt to personalize their service to the best of their ability. Afterall, the meager amount of food received doesn’t come cheap, and my primary interest is in educating myself. It is one thing to dine out at raw vegan cafes and make myself salads, raw hummous sandwiches on store-bought raw bread, but another to concoct delicious and nutritive meals day after day in my own kitchen. Any company that could educate through example would be doing the world a huge service.

Integration: Post Transplant Life Eight Months On


It’s hard to believe it has been eight months since my life changing operation; on September 26, 2013 I was given a second chance at life after receiving a liver transplant. Every day I thank God to have another day on this planet to explore, to grow and to provoke positive change in myself and others.

In a sense, the journey post-transplant has been the most challenging, but also perhaps the most interesting. While organ transplant in itself is a miracle that relies on the most cutting edge technology and highest standards of healthcare, in some ways, the healing has felt like a rather crude process. No one at the hospital mentioned the word ‘trauma‘ or the ramifications of putting the body and mind through such an invasive surgery, not to mention the time spent in hospital in some extreme situations with its repeated invasive procedures. It isn’t until the body recovers and is back at home that the mind can begin to process what has transpired, understand the transition in relationships, and move on to being in the present without fearing the future or fixating on the past.

At first, I was eager to escape as quickly as I could back to my old life, as if nothing had changed. Luckily, I quickly realized this was not sustainable, and as sadness, frustration and confusion set in after a month or two of being out of hospital, I could not understand why I wasn’t feeling grateful and positive every morning just to wake up alive?

Several months have passed since this time of deep sadness. It was a time of guilt over what I put my loved ones through, guilt for not feeling wonderful to simply be alive. These days I am working on arriving at a place of acceptance. I have accepted that I did the best I could for my son given the circumstances, and I am actively listening to my own needs and to the needs of those around me, working to find a balance in my life. I have a new internal system that is working out its kinks, but it takes time. I am learning to live with a partial numbness in my torso under the remaining scar, and learning to let go of controlling my changing metabolism without holding judgments against my body.*

I’m exploring how to be in the world and with myself, as a human being rather than a human doing. How can I integrate my roles as a mother, wife, yogi and Rolfer, etc? Every day is a challenge and a joy.

We all are living with various containers: time, our bodies, our mental constructs. The more we can understand the nature of these containers, the more we can simplify and break down the divisions of the mind that no longer serve us. We can differentiate content versus container; we can clarify structure versus function; we can challenge what is fixed and what is changing. The more we can separate, the more we can integrate. When we integrate, we find unity in ourself, in others, in the world. Sounds well worth the journey to me.

*Only last week I learned from my doctor that every transplant patient gains weight. Apparently when one is in liver failure the body starves itself and as a survival mechanism after this experience the body clings to every calorie it can. This, in addition to my 67 year old liver means that my digestive process is wise, if not a little slow. Stay tuned for my upcoming week with Raw Fairies, a raw, vegan delivery service. I’ve been doing pretty well to eat healthfully on my own, but decided to give myself a gift and a little kick…It starts tomorrow!

Why our choices matter…


(If you don’t wish to read this post in entirety, please do watch the video below)
Yoga can sometimes appear to be a bit like a slippery ball of yarn; difficult to grasp onto one comprehensive meaning that gives a lay person an understanding of the enormity and spectrum of the practice. While the direct translation of the word is solid – to yoke or unite – the interpretations and understanding of what yoga is differ enormously, and most of the time only capture a limited aspect of an all-encompassing practice. Regular practitioners can generally agree on one thing; there can be a passion regarding the practice that is on the same level of importance of life itself; in fact, the yoga practice is embedded into all aspects of life.

My experience with yoga is that it is a practice of relationship: relationship with self and relationship with other. The state of yoga is seeing ourselves in all other human beings; treating every living being as oneself. The world most of us live in is not created from this fabric. Holding a job, a home, a family implies a sense of self, or ego (‘my’ job, ‘my’ family). These labels, or containers, help to define and separate, it becomes a way of managing ourselves in the world. Yoga, however, is the process of integrating.

To the outside world, or those new to the practice, it may seem that the teachings of yoga can be radical, or extreme. These are two different words, with very different roots. Radical actually stems from the word ‘root’, or ‘inherent’, while extreme stems from the root word ‘outermost’, or ‘utmost’. These subtleties can easily be mistaken and overlooked by the dedicated practitioner, but make a very big difference in the intention of the practice and the ability to be integrated in the world, and in seeing ourselves in other beings, versus living a life of separation that opinates and judges.

In the eight-limbed path of yoga, otherwise referred to as ashtanga (literally translated to eight, ashtanga, attachments or limbs, anga) there are guidelines for practicing yoga in an integrated way in life; not just on a man-made yoga mat, and not just as a specific time in the day when one works on the body-mind relationship. Yoga states that the body-mind relationship extends well beyond time and our body, for yoga inter-relates all of animate life; yoga states we are one.

The first limb of the eight limbs are the yamas, or restraints. These restraints refer to how we relate to others. While we still see ourselves as separate, individual beings (jiva in Sanskrit), the first yama states that we should be kind to all other beings. In Sanskrit the word is ahimsa, or non-harming. This is a rich topic because there are many interpretations and mechanisms for harming others, some without even knowing it.  For example, we may think non-harming suggests that it is better to lie to another being to avoid conflict, or to lie to ourselves to avoid a painful truth. Ahimsa does not imply lying, or making judgements (in fact, the second yama is satya, or truthfulness). Non-harming does imply compassion, the act of experiencing the suffering of others as one’s own. As yogis, we practice both not harming others, as well as identifying with others who suffer. The next step is an obvious one, and that is to not only not harm others, but to actively do something to prevent the suffering of others.

The link between practicing non-harming behaviour, consumerism and activism is a well documented topic, which my teachers, Sharon Gannon and David Life have spent their life articulating. Most of us can agree that when it comes to consuming other beings as food, it is clear that harming is involved-one being must be killed in order for the other to eat it. However, there are many misunderstandings of the conditions the animals in the average factory farm are treated, and the horrific conditions the workers in those factories must endure. In practicing ethical vegetarianism, or veganism (the practice of not consuming animal products), it is a proactive measure to not participate in the cycle of harming. Even so, lifestyle and diet choice can become a fixation point where other relationship falls by the wayside. It is possible, for example, for ethical vegetarians to harm to themselves if left undernourished for a lack of knowledge about how to eat healthfully in this manner or due to specific health reasons. There also may be a tendency towards harmful thoughts, or even actions towards others who do not assume the same label. This often is guided by ignorance, of relying labels which only ultimately feed the ego instead of relating to the other being. Practicing the yamas and yoga in general, implies having the awareness to catch and eradicate critical thought when it enters the mind. It is a practice, and like all practices, we each do the best we can within our abilities and constraints.

What is important to note is that as consumers, the choices we make and our purchasing behaviour is powerful. The more knowledge we have, the more we may make informed decisions and implement changes where possible. If the choice is to eat meat, for example, know where it comes from and how the animals are treated; subtleties and small details matter. This small step may change the lives of thousands, not to mention your own.

Resources:
Abel and Cole
Planet Organic
Books at Jivamuktiyoga.com

 

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