The Bread Baking Bug

Although I do enjoy cooking, I truly love baking. My journey into baking began with my mom and me making Christmas cookies together when I was about five years old. From there I went on to bake all types of cookies, brownies and cakes by myself. Although my dad loved pies, I rarely made them except for Thanksgiving. Through the years I most often baked cookies, particularly chocolate chip cookies. I have always found the process very joyful and relaxing. Even visualizing making the cookie batter calms me. But I never baked bread. That is until the bread baking bug hit me.

My bread baking path started innocently enough in 2020 while I was reading Mirabai Starr’s book Wild Mercy. In one of her chapters she described a beautiful way to approach the Friday night Sabbath. I had never before celebrated Sabbath but Mirabai’s words lead me to want to create my own ceremony including homemade challah. My great grandmother Honey Mama made challah regularly. My mom has her recipe but it includes eggs. I have been vegan since 2017 so I needed to come up with a recipe for challah that didn’t use any animal products. Given how much I love baking, I have done a fair amount of research and experimentation to create vegan versions of all my usual baked goods. I have made many vegan variations of chocolate chip cookies, chocolate, vanilla and lemon cakes and cupcakes, frostings, coffee cakes, muffins, pastries and every other kind of cookie imaginable. But I had never made a challah before, let alone a vegan challah.

Reading recipes for baked goods as well as savory dishes is one of my favorite past times. Bread recipes were not part of my usual genre. So I dug into reading recipe after recipe for challah. Some were vegan and some were not vegan. I finally found two vegan recipes that I liked so I took a little bit from one recipe and a little bit from the other to make a recipe that appealed to me. (I combine recipes all the time to get just what I want). Making challah was a good place for me to start bread baking because I love the art and beauty of the braided loaf. I watched many videos with different challah designs and decided on the 4-braid loaf. It came out quite lovely. And it tasted really good. A few weeks later I tried a variation with orange juice and olive oil that is a bit denser and has a yellow tint like the traditional egg-based versions and has a square braid. Very tasty.

Since 2020 my bread baking seemed to be limited to an occasional challah around the High Holidays in the fall. However late last year the category of my regular recipe reading hobby expanded to include breads of all types. Then in March of this year I took out a half dozen or so bread books from the library. I read probably upward of sixty bread recipes between those books and online trying to get the courage to make a traditional rustic loaf. I was a bit intimidated because I have a friend who bakes beautiful sour dough breads and spends a great deal of time creating her delicious loaves. I finally was ready to take a stab at baking a crusty bread and decided for simplicity to make it all white and not bother with sour dough.

I am fortunate that we have four different sizes of Le Creuset dutch ovens that we got at their outlet store many years ago. We use them for many different dishes but mostly at Thanksgiving when we make two types of stuffing (technically called dressings since they aren’t inside a turkey). A dutch oven is a wonderful way to get a beautifully crusty loaf of bread in a home oven. But the Le Creuset pots don’t come with knobs on their lids that can handle the high heat needed for baking bread. After a quick online shop I was able to get inexpensive stainless steel handle replacements. I was ready to go! My first try was a simple so called “no-knead” bread and the results made me so happy that I have made four more loaves since then. I have the bread baking bug.

My first rustic bread

I didn’t need to buy any specialty tools beyond the stainless steel knobs. It turns out that many years ago Andy’s mom gave us a bread making kit from King Arthur that we used once then put away. Hidden in the kitchen drawers and cupboards I found a lame, a Danish whisk and even a banneton proofing basket (that I have yet to use). I have since bought a large bucket to hold enough dough to make four, one-pound loaves over a few weeks time. I also got a new lame to try different slash designs. I am, however, going through much more flour that I was used to when only baking cookies and cakes.

I can’t say what comes next. I feel fairly comfortable with the no-knead approach and I already have whole wheat and rye flours ready to expand beyond white. My friend has generously offered up her sourdough starter if and when I decide to take that on. For now I am very happy to know that I can create a beautiful and tasty loaf of bread whenever I want. But I know that cookies will remain my bread and butter so to speak.

xoxo Rachel

The Distinction Between Routine And Ritual

I love words. I often find myself exploring my choice of words to convey a nuanced meaning. Different words can communicate subtle distinctions and sometimes not so subtle distinctions. The terms routine and ritual recently captured my attention while reading My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem. While he described “growth routines” for developing your ability to settle your body, I found myself wondering what a routine means to me versus a ritual.

Growing up I liked neither the word routine nor the word ritual for different reasons. Routine to me was just plain boring. I could feel a sense of monotony of daily, routine activities and a sense of purposelessness of life when it was routine. Partly I felt this way as I watched adults including my parents engaged in routines that seemed necessary but not always by choice. And I always craved choice and variation. For instance, when I was old enough to drive I always liked to take different routes to places. I also enjoyed variation in food, even though I had favorite dishes that I didn’t find routine or boring.

Shabat with homemade challah

Ritual was completely inaccessible to me growing up. I associated ritual exclusively with religion and there was no way that had any meaning to me having grown up in an atheist environment. The thought of ritual was almost scary to me. I remember a few times I went to church or synagogue for holiday events invited by a friend or because I was in a choir doing a performance there. Most of those experiences were fairly secular and party-like. However one time I was in a church with a catholic friend and I watched with an uneasy and confused feeling as people took communion. The foreignness of that ritual didn’t make me curious just left me weary of ritual. Curiosity about ritual was buried until much later in my life.

In my 20s and 30s I liked the concept of routine to make sure that I got things done. By creating a routine I was more assured of completing all the tasks I needed to complete in my busy work days. Routines were also a way to create helpful habits. That perspective led me to consider the word routine more favorably though it was a fairly rigid definition. The sense was more like a regiment than anything else. I didn’t think much about the word ritual through these years.

Wedding show

Ritual took on a different meaning when I became a life coach in my late 30s and even further when I became a wedding celebrant in my late 40s. As I received my training in both of these disciplines I was exposed to rituals, both religious and non-religious. Through this education I began my journey into understanding and exploring how to be more present in each moment and how ritual is helpful in that path. I created rituals for myself and also for others for their wedding ceremonies that I officiated.

Working as a coach and celebrant also opened up my ability to see the word spirituality in a different light. As a kid, spirituality meant religion and therefore something I shouldn’t touch. I will never forget when the word spiritual first took on some personal meaning. I was on a call with one of my life coaches when he reflected on what I had just told him. He took a deep breath and stated, “You are very spiritual.” I was stopped in my tracks and became silent. I had never thought of myself as spiritual before. That single moment of someone seeing me as spiritual had a profound impact on me and prompted my further explore of spirituality. Ritual was part of the route in

Nature in winter

Through my coaching and celebrant work I experienced how ritual helps to grow and sustain self-awareness and presence. And my view of both ritual and spirituality deepened. Ritual became one avenue from which to celebrate and understand the beauty and wonder of life. And I began to recognize that my exploration of the inner landscape of human experience and inexplicable connection to all the world is spiritual. Life coaching and celebrant work gave me a way to connect with the meaning of ritual and spiritual that makes more sense to me. I believe I have always been very spiritual though I would never have used that term. The deep connection with and awe I feel for animals and nature is so profound and was present even as a child.

Buddha in Sarasota Florida

I no longer see the word routine as boring. I have found how to make routines more meaningful. Unlike ritual which conveys to me that I am present, conscious and with great purpose, routine feels unconscious and less embodied—though it gets the job done. But I’d rather not just get the job done. I could be doing the routine activity mindlessly and disconnected from my body. Or I could bring greater awareness to the routine activity as I do with ritual so that I feel more grounded. Through my meditation work in recent years I am practicing doing routine activities like washing the dishes being more present to the task. It’s still a routine and not a ritual to me, but being aware of my body and mind shifts the experience and makes it more connected to life. And I feel more freedom of choice. I like flexibility in my routines. I meditate daily but not at the same time each day. I move my body most mornings but don’t have a specified activity that I must do at a certain time. I have created routines that jibe with my need for variety.

The more I ponder these two words the more the distinction between ritual and routine becomes less meaningful and very nuanced. And I realize that this distinction isn’t true for everyone. Perhaps you experience routine just as alive and awake as you experience ritual. Maybe you use the words interchangeably. Food for thought—hopefully with plenty of variety.

xoxo Rachel

A Day In The Life

This came to me at the end of my meditation sit with Calla on my lap this morning.

A Day In The Life

In my early morning slumber I can feel the heat of my loved one snuggled beside me, slight sweet breathing sounds coming from their mouth. I can’t wait for breakfast so I roam around a bit to see if others are up and ready to eat too. Yum, it’s so good.

Now I have so much energy I don’t know where to begin. I think I’ll rearrange the pillows. Oh, look at that! It makes me want to sing out loud it’s such a wonderful morning. The sun is coming in but it is a cold winter day. I could use some warmth and cuddling. I know, I’ll sit down and meditate for a bit. And lucky me I can get under the blanket and go inward. Is it meditation or am I sleeping? Maybe a bit of both. I can be here in this moment. Until I can’t.

Now what’s next on the list for the day. What needs to be accomplished? Does anything need to be accomplished? Why is that a requirement most of the time? I do need a bath, however, so I’ll do that next. Can someone put the heat on? it’s too cold in here. Ah, that’s better. I think I’ll hang close to the heat source while I comb my hair. I do have some knots but mostly I enjoy the strokes against my skin. Then perhaps I’ll do some planning for lunch and dinner.

But first I see something in the other room that I need to investigate. I think it is moving so I’ll see if I can get it to stop. Or maybe I can get it to move. I’ve got it now so I’ll take it with me upstairs. Or maybe back downstairs, I’m not sure where it wants to be. But I need to go back up to the bathroom. Gosh I must go up and down these stairs ten thousand times a day. I’m pooped now.

Nap time! Where is the perfect spot? There are so many wonderful choices. Sunny, hidden, supported, cuddled, with another or by myself. Yes, that’s perfect. Slumber…

Now it’s time for a snack! Rinse, repeat.

I am a cat. Is this so different from being human?

xoxo Rachel

Rearranging A Room For Creativity

I have always been a furniture re-arranger. As a child my parents would hear bump and scratch noises coming from my room late into the evening. They always knew it was just me rearranging my furniture again. I tend to get visually bored fairly easily so I like to rearrange my visual field regularly. It can be as simple as changing a table top layout—moving nick-knacks from here to there. Other times I need to really mix things up and I move furniture and redesign the space.

My most recent rearranging took place yesterday. For my birthday on Sunday my husband Andy surprised me by making me a large wood painting easel. It’s not quite finished yet but on my birthday morning it was waiting for me in my office. My office is already a multi-use space for me. I write here, I meditate here, I workout here, I bead here and I have been wanting to paint here too. So motivated by the beautiful large easel I decided to turn my office into a office/studio. Actually I prefer the term studio. My dad would go to his studio in the attic to work even when he had his computer up there to write. So I now formally designate this space as my studio. That’s important because it conjures up greater creativity. And the goal for my rearranging project was to facilitate creativity.

Designing a space as an artist’s studio has different elements to explore like lighting, table top space and storage. I had the additional constraint that the room is also our guest room and I don’t want to get paint everywhere. So I tried a couple of different configurations. I first moved some stuff including my art caddy (that Andy made me last year) into the middle of the room so that I could clear the way for the new design. Then I futzed around with placing the easel in one spot or another until it seemed to give me enough room to work. Of course that meant that I had to get rid of some items and move other things to different spots in our house. I tried to keep all of my creative work on one side of the room and the guest bedroom on the other but that didn’t work. So I pushed furniture here and there and finally I found the sweet spot—for now at least. No doubt I will change it many times at different points in the future.

I feel renewed. I have distinct areas for different purposes, though when I exercise or do yoga I am kind of sprawled everywhere. There’s my desk for writing, my round table for beading, my new easel next to the be further developed dresser top for art supplies. I love the new location of my meditation cushion. As I was rearranging I discovered that the wood pedestal that Andy made many years ago is perfect as an altar to help define my meditation space. My sense is that with the redesign the creative flow of the room is much better. When I stepped into my new studio this morning I wanted to write. I felt that the creative energy was pulling me towards the computer. I have to admit that I keep eyeing my beading space thinking about how I can increase the ease of access to the beads to facilitate my necklace creations. Yes, for me there is always more to go when it comes to organizing. I love the rearranging process and of course I also enjoy the feeling I get when I look at the end result of whatever I have created. I am so grateful for my new studio space.

xoxo Rachel

Perfectionary in Isla Scotland

Perfectionary And Other Made-Up Words

Perfectionary in Isla ScotlandOne of my favorite bookmarks that I picked up at a chocolate shop (Vegan no less) has the word perfectionary in bright colors across one side. Well, actually it doesn’t. It says confectionary but I somehow always read it as perfectionary and it has turned into one of my favorite words. I love made up words. I don’t create them deliberately; they just come out of my mouth here and there. Perfectionary evokes such a sweet and wonderful image to me, particularly as it relates to people I know and love. And undeniably everyone is perfectionary in my opinion. Life is perfectionary.

New words are created all the time for companies and brands. The pharmaceutical industry employs people who spend their days creating names for their drugs that go to market. They want them to roll off the tongue better then the chemical drug names. So yes, new words appear all the time. But the word creation I speak of is spontaneous.

Erik and Rachel By Vivian CrozierMaking up words as they speak is something that I know many people do. I started creating words when I was fairly young. Kids do that all the time. Word play and word creation indeed runs in my family. My brother Erik created my company name Wondrance and named our grandma Coco and one of our cats Rugashey (I have no idea of the spelling). Those words stuck. My dad had lists of words that he created over the years. A number of them show up in his poems, including Ballahoodleness and Poetographics. Another of his poems comes from my word creation.

GRANDMA RAYS*Hani Mama

It is as if
Grandma
Exists at
An infinitely remote
Star
Beyond galaxies,
Ancient in time,
Allpowerful anodyne,
Beaming concern
At us grandchildren;
Powerful and sweet
Her childlike eyes
Touching us
Everlastingly,
Her delicate love
Penetrating us,
Altering our genes
With her ubiquitous
Grandma rays.

*One morning we left Grandma, Hani Mama, who is about 92, waving at us, smiling her love, standing in her white flowing nightgown, childlike. Rachel said, “Look at her, beaming her Grandma Rays at us!”

© Robert E. Mueller 8/9/77
Property of the estate of Robert E. Mueller

Mueller Family 1962 with Coco

Making up words I suppose is just a mind’s way of expressing something that no other word seems to fully capture. And it feels natural and yet magical at the same time. But I haven’t done a good job of keeping track of them. Sometimes they stick, but mostly they come and go as easily as the days and nights pass by.

xoxo Rachel

 

Anubis and Horus in our NYC apartment

Animals In My Life

Anubis and Horus in our NYC apartmentIt is a bitter cold, yet beautiful sunny day today. The trees are glistening because many of their branches are still encased in ice. As I sit here in my warm and sunny office writing I noticed there is a family of deer grazing on the southeastern facing hillside across from our property. There are several inches of snow on the ground but they seem to be finding vegetation here and there. I wonder to myself, “where do they live—where do they sleep at night?” And my thought in reply was “I hope they have a cave to cuddle up in.” Of course I then did a little Internet research and not surprisingly deer don’t sleep much at night, tending to be cautious of predators. When they do get some shut-eye in winter, they might find some low branches of conifers to hide under. Mostly they stay warm by staying in motion and consuming whatever they can find.

Dad with our goatI am so grateful that I live on a quiet property where the wild animals roam. We have deer, an occasional red fox, skunk, squirrels, raccoons, wild turkey and chipmunks and we’ve even been visited by a black bear. And though I was very frustrated that the deer ate so many of my beautiful flowers when I first started our garden twenty some odd years ago, at this point I seem to have found a balance of plants they don’t care about and a few that I spray with stinky stuff to keep them away.

MinuI deeply love animals. Growing up we always had pets. There were goats, swans, gerbils, guinea pigs, and we always had a cat. When I was very young we had a cat that I don’t really remember much at all though my brother who is older does. Most of my memories are of our dark calico cat named Minu who at some point gave birth to a litter on my lime green painted cast iron bed. Minu was just always a part of my life from grammar school through high school. It wasn’t until much later that Andy and I adopted two kittens from a local shelter, Anubis our grey short-hair tabby and his brother Horus our orange long-hair tabby.

Anubis finds a great spot!Anubis and Horus were the loves of my life for 15 and 11 years respectively. I noticed yesterday that I no longer imagine hearing them padding around the house like I did for over a year after each had passed away. But then of course having thought about them during the day, last night I dreamed that I saw a new kitten in the house who looked just like Anubis but one eye appeared to be greyed over like it wasn’t functional. Horus being playfulWhen I woke up I began to faintly recollect many dreams over the years I have had about Horus and Anubis. One recurring strange dream was that there were more than one Anubis and Horus roaming about the house and appearing out of the nooks and crannies of our basement. I would get very upset because I couldn’t detect whether the cat in front of me was the real Anubis or Horus or the fake stand-in. I would remain worried until I woke up and determined that the genuine Anubis or Horus was safely snuggled with us.

Mom, Dad, Anubis and HorusAndy and I have been giving ourselves some grieving space since we lost Anubis in 2017. I think that my dreams are alerting me of my growing yearning for adopting another two fur babies. Just the thought of holding them closely, petting them and hearing their purring gets me calm and happy. And yet while I think of how joyful it will be to have new kittens, I realize that I will always miss and grieve Anubis and Horus. Grief doesn’t go away, it just shifts and changes. It’s just two years since my Dad died and it will be two years in June since Anubis died, so grief is present, but not as raw. Sometimes I have images of my Dad sitting on a couch with Anubis and Horus snuggled up to him. It’s a nice thought. And I look forward to snuggling up with some purring critters soon. Until then, I will continue to enjoy viewing the wild animals from my window and I send my love and kindness to all creatures great and small.

xoxo Rachel

Above Aspens in Santa Fe

Finding Peace In Nature

Above Aspens in Santa FeThe concept of communing with nature was something that I didn’t fully comprehend when I was a child. I mean I certainly recognized the beauty of nature, I just never knew how important it was to me until I became an adult. It is in hindsight that I realize how integral nature was to my experience as a child growing up in the beautiful small town of Roosevelt, New Jersey. Most of my favorite activities took place outside.

Rachel Peace GirlAs a young child I loved walking on paths from house to house through the woods. And I had special hiding place nestled among moss where I put a box of knickknacks that I had collected. The objects were important to me, but what was even more important was the magical location of the beautiful soft and fuzzy emerald green moss tucked under a downed tree trunk. Playing in the enclosure (a grassy area surrounded by bushes and trees) at the school was another favorite pastime of my friends and mine. And as a teenager, I spent nearly every evening hanging out at the bench near the store. Yes, that time was for social reasons, but it was also wonderful for me because it was outside in nature.

Fast-forward to my college years in Berkeley, California (where I met Andy) and Santa Cruz, California (where I did graduate work) and the great outdoors continued to be important to my livelihood. Most of my most poignant memories are with Andy in nature. Although Berkeley is a small city, the campus and surrounds are spectacular and filled with regal and fragrant eucalyptus trees. The campus is in the Berkeley hills so there are wondrous vistas everywhere. The rose garden and nearby parks gave me plenty of opportunities to be one with nature (though I have to admit that I was quite busy as a serious student so much of my time was spent in class and libraries.) I lived in a cooperative house with Andy and one of the key moments getting to know Andy took place on a house trip to Angel Island. As we hiked around, we talked and talked while taking in the beautiful sights. I started to fall in love with Andy among the trees and along the water edge of the San Francisco Bay area.

Rach and Andy in Santa CruzIn Santa Cruz I lived in several places, but all where within a short distance to the beach. I could easily enjoy the soothing sound of the waves crashing at times and lapping at other times along the shoreline. Unfortunately, again I was often so immersed in my schoolwork that I didn’t look up enough to take in all the splendor of nature. But I felt it nonetheless. UC, Santa Cruz is nestled among redwoods and the majesty of the trees is palpable. Simply walking from building to building and you can’t miss the energy around you. But even still I hadn’t yet fully embodied how nature impacted me.

Maui labyrinth for introspectionWhen Andy and I were traveling cross-country while I took a break from graduate school, we met a National Park Service ranger who led a session among the trees and rocks. When she asked the group, “Have you ever had an experience with a rock?” We chuckled and loved her seriousness and wonder about the rocks. We tucked that moment away and over the years have come to realize that we both have had numerous experiences with rocks and trees and nature in general. I even spent time literally tree-hugging in Sebastopol, California. Again the stately redwood trees served as a backdrop to my experience with nature. I was in an immersive leadership program that was held at a retreat center in the forest. Besides any number of amazing self-reflective and personal growth exercises, we spent a fair amount of time with the trees and up in them. We did high ropes courses where I climbed up redwood trees and did various leaps and tight rope walks while harnessed in a belay. I had many talks with the trees and I think they listened. I know I gave them regular hugs. Yes, I am that kind of crazy girl.

Labyrinth of our woodsNow that I live in Cold Spring, Andy and I are lucky to be in a house on a dirt road living among trees and streams and tons of rocks. And though we still do enjoy cities, having lived in New York City for many years, and still enjoy visiting cities when we travel, more and more we are finding that we are at our most serene state when we are communing with nature, having plenty of experiences with rocks.

xoxo Rachel

The Powerful Impact of a Master of Words

Books!I go through phases when I can’t get enough to read. I am in that circumstance right now. I drift in and out of novels and essays and works about philosophy and religion and travel and more with a kind of endless appetite. It is voracious and seems to come about this time of year and it is, I imagine, prompted by something. Though I don’t know what. I can’t stop. And then a book hits me with such a profound reaction of emotion that I am stopped. Sadness, or something I can’t quite put my finger on arises. Wanting—that’s it. I want to know everything about the author, the master of words. I want to be the author. I want to inhabit her talent. I want to inhabit her book. I want to be her friend. I want to know and love her, even though I know nothing of her other than her amazing talent as a writer.

I am relieved to realize that at least I am drawn to write after reading her book. I could be very inhibited to write. And at a certain level I am after witnessing her awesome skill. Is there some truth to my concern that I might be expecting to somehow magically be able to write like she does if I put pen to paper just having read her book. Not that I really thought that I would want to write after putting her book down. I was not expecting a piece of exquisite writing—though one can always hope for that. It’s not that at all. I just want to pour out my reactions and I must do that through writing. Not because I want to create something, but because to write is for me to process the experience and to understand, perhaps, what I am feeling.

I have swirls of emotion and a sense of a new beginning. Perhaps a new exploration of writing? What am I to do in this moment but to write? I cannot stop crying and I most certainly am feeling overwhelmed, perhaps embarrassed. But why should I feel weird about the tears? Whatever one encounters, to truly experience it is to be fully taken away with emotions. Often life experiences of all sorts can be so profound. Reading, it should not be a surprise, has such power over me. Isn’t it a wonder of literature that it can be so haunting? Just as music is very often compelling. Is that what makes her so gifted a writer? That she recognizes that to observe and to feel emotion is the essence of a life fully lived? Or is it that she has no other option than to write down her experience and it creates a masterful and intelligent story?

I imagine that she has a process of her own and she might in fact have an outline for her books. But as I read her book, it feels more like it is unraveling before my eyes, liker a river of life just being lived and felt. That is her gift. That is the startling nature of beautiful writing, beautiful music, beautiful art. I am humbled. I am grateful.  Oh, the book by the way is Outline by Rachel Cusk.

xoxo Rachel

Nest at my altar

Celebrating Vernal Equinox

Nest at my altarHappy spring! Even though it is lightly snowing outside at the moment, last night marked the vernal equinox—the time when light and dark are equal lengths—signifying the start of spring. I attended a celebration and ceremony to honor the day. The beautiful experience with a small group of loving women reminded me of some very important components to living a joyful life. The details vary from person to person, but some of the elements of a fulfilling life are the same for everyone.

Community
Finding a group of people with whom you truly connect is important for most of us. Some people have the need to connect with many others, others are happy with passing connections here and there. I have the need for deep connection with just a few people. When I can get together with like minded folks, I am very joyful. Finding the group or groups that serve your needs isn’t easy. It is not unlike dating when you have to meet lots of people before you find the right one. But it is worth it when you find a community where you feel welcome, at ease and can be yourself. Last night was the perfect community for me.

Play and Crafting Is Needed
As part of the festivities last night, we did a craft project. We got sticky with glue and pieces of yarn and raffia and this and that and made little nests to welcome the nurturing rebirth of spring. What I observed among our small group was how each woman was deeply engaged in creating a unique object. There was a beautiful child-like silliness reflected in everyone’s face. And there was joy and playfulness abounding. Yet engaging in arts and crafts can bring up so many different emotions and past experiences. Perfectionism, messiness, skill, competition, happiness, and sadness might emerge to name a few. I have to say that I was a bit disconnected during the crafting and was overwhelmed with a jumble of emotions. After the fact, I think I know why.

Being With Others While Taking Care of Yourself
I am very disrupted by evening events in general. I have yet to learn how to manage being with others in the evening in a way that takes care of myself at the same time. I almost consider myself a nighttime hermit. So how do I reconcile my night hermit tendencies with the want and desire to connect deeply with people I care about? My inclination is to say, “Skip the evening events.” And I do try to find ways to nurture deep connections during the day. But that isn’t always possible so I go to evening things here and there. If it is the right community for me (as it was last night), the benefits outweigh the downsides. Nonetheless, finding a balance between being with others and taking care of myself is my area for exploration and growth.

I am easily thrown by hunger or cold. Last night I was hungry and cold while we were crafting—though at the time I doubt I would have been able to articulate that was the issue. I hadn’t eaten for more hours than I usually go. I had under-dressed. Had I had enough self-awareness last night to notice my feelings, I would have had a snack and put on more layers. Perhaps I needed to center myself with some quiet time in another room to calm the mishmash of emotions. Whatever the method, taking care of your own needs while you are with others is important. For me it doesn’t stop with the event.

After any evening event, I continue to have to work to take care of myself. Unwinding is a huge deal for me. I have difficulty stopping my mind after an evening of stuff. Whether it is good stuff or bad stuff doesn’t matter. I tend to have difficulty silencing my thoughts after an evening out. I have always preferred to go to bed early and to be in a calm state before I sleep. As a kid, I hated sleepovers and didn’t like staying up late, as everyone else seemed to enjoy. These days I usually read just before bed, but if the material is too engaging even that can impede my sleep. Disengaging with thoughts is a huge part of mindfulness meditation and I skill that I am always practicing. Having been with others last night, I had a particularly difficult time unwinding. Yet it was worth it to be with such a compassionate group.

Compassion For Others
A few weeks ago in one of my meditation groups (another one of my communities) we discussed Wise Intention also known as Right Intention as part of our exploration of The Noble Eightfold Path in Buddhism. The eight areas are Wise (or Right) View, Intention, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness and Concentration. What struck me in our study was how consistent this philosophy is with other canons of religion across time. Although there are certainly differences in how one is to think about these concepts (in the Buddhist approach it is not something to take as blind faith but instead is a guideline for self-exploration and discovery), they speak to some of the same underlying principles. Broadly speaking the overall way of The Noble Eightfold Path is through compassion for others and for ourselves. Have the intent to be kind, and think and act in accord with that intention. Not only is that the right/wise/ethical thing to do, but you will also encourage peace with the world, yourself and others.

My realization that there is a connective thread of compassion across religions makes me feel more confident that we beings understand deeply in our core, no matter who we are or when we lived, that how we treat others and ourselves creates our experience of life. Being with other people and sharing loving kindness creates a rich and loving life for yourself and others. So simple and yet so profound.

Last night was a real application of Wise everything! Well most everything. I will continue to explore how to balance my discomfort around evening energy with wanting to be with other magnificent people. Six amazing women gathered to honor the cycle of life, enjoy a delicious plant-based meal and play together was a joyful expression of compassion. How lucky I am!

xoxo Rachel

My Life Journey Is To Question Everything

Rachel in Hawaii 1981We are all on a journey through our own experience of life. Lately I have been experiencing a great sense that an important part of my developmental path is to reveal how much I connect with questions of mind, body and soul. Call it spiritual, call it whatever you like, I am outing myself as someone who is woo-woo (if you haven’t already figured that out from my other blogs ☺).

Growing up I never felt comfortable with religious inquiries because I was never educated in it so it felt foreign and made up to me. From my limited exposure I though religion only meant that you believed in some humanoid male figure in the sky called god. As I understood, it was not grounded in human experience. That made no sense to me and so I never explored religion in any shape or form. However, as an adult I drifted towards awe and wonder of the natural world. And my academic interest included intuition and heart-focused thought. There is no doubt I was drawn to my career as a psychologist because of my interest in how and why we perceive and interact with the world the way we do. I always questioned. I have always been spiritual even if I didn’t identify it as such. It’s not religion. It’s my huge need to keep learning and exploring what it means to be human, what it means to think, feel and experience our conscious life.

My beloved tarot cardsAs part of my reflection and exploration of my spiritual life journey, I am seeking clues in my past. And there are many connections throughout the years. Early ones are fainter in my memory but it should not be a surprise that I wanted Tarot cards which my mom gave when I was about eight. I adored those cards and kept them safe all these years. I wish I still had my Ouija board. In terms of practices and beliefs it is clear that peace and equality were important to me from an early age. Children’s liberation, recycling, woman’s equality and peace marches are anchors in my childhood memories.

Marrying Susan and KevinMan’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl was an important book to me when I started college. And though I probably could articulate in my twenties that my personal search for meaning was through my academic and scientific psychology work, at its core, my search has always been deeply philosophical and spiritual. In my thirties I was so focused on my career that I have few memories of seeking spiritual knowledge. I did, however, have numerous moments of questioning the purpose of it all. I felt great dissatisfaction with work even though there was much to enjoy. I had existential crises often. That led me to life coaching—a way to connect my longing for personal life meaning with work to help others. As part of my training as a life coach I was exposed to Native American and Buddhist philosophies. My training as a celebrant more recently brought ceremony and ritual into focus for me and stretched me in new directions. All wonderful additions to my quest for more discoveries about my humanity.

Anubis and HorusThis past year my journey into veganism has reconnected me to my great love of animals. And I feel closer to all of nature through nourishing my body with plant foods of the earth. It is all connected and feels so grounded and on target for what I am looking for. Woo-woo implies a more frivolous and airy image and that is not it at all for me. Yes, I do love to go up into the clouds to get the big-picture view of things. I love to ponder and hypothesize and wander and explore in my head and my heart. And yet it is very grounded in the earth and in the natural world. I certainly did not choose Love Beauty Peace as my mantra without reason. Those three images are very clear aspects of how my spiritual view of the world manifests. Love connects me with everything including other beings and myself. Beauty is my awe as I energetically connect, often through gaze, at the wonders of the world. And peace is both my immense desire to see peace among all people as well as that inner calm that I feel when I experience gratitude for my life. Those concepts have not just been with me as an adult. They guided me every step of my life through my formal and personal education.

Rachel Peace GirlAs I see it now, I have always had a deep need to find personal meaning and that is in itself so very fulfilling to me. Even as I grasp that I may never fully understand and will always be looking, it is in that practice of my own growth that I am so deeply rewarded. There is absolutely no end goal in my mind. I don’t really care as much about the absolute truth as I do about the relative truth for me. The truth as I can make sense of it. The truth as it reveals itself to me. Even if I try to articulate what I believe, it doesn’t really matter whether others understand my perspective. Even if I could articulate it well enough for others to understand, it is my view alone, just as your view is yours alone. Sure it is possible that you were taught a particular worldview. We all were. But even if you followed a strict canon, it still is your interpretation and that brings in your own personal slant. I am getting greater comfort with the concept that it doesn’t really matter what it is that I believe specifically, but rather how I comport myself in this world, how I am, how I treat others, including animals and the natural world. Love, beauty, peace fits me well and I am realizing that I came out of my mom’s womb with those words scribed into my body, heart and soul.

xoxo Rachel