Chinese Medicine considers preventative care as important as treating the disease itself. If we cultivate our health we can prevent illness and injury from occurring and minimize their consequences when 'disease evils' do attack us. Join Kath Bartlett, MS, LAc as she shares thoughts, news articles, recipes & tips derived from a wide variety of source material, as it relates to Chinese medicine and cultivating optimal health for the body, mind and spirit.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Pearls from the Pema Chodrum Retreat: Living Beautifully with Uncertainty & Change

I attended a Pema Chodrum retreat this weekend entitled "Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change". Ane Pema, if you don't know, is a celebrity Buddhist nun and inspirational speaker who has written many popular books about adapting to and handling the troubles life brings. During the weekend retreat she offered many pearls to help one adapt to
the curve balls life throws at us.

Ane Pema began the weekend Friday night with a metaphor about the river of life. She explained that our tendency is to seek the safety of the shoreline
. However our mistake is in our grasping to hang on to the perceived security there. Life, she continued, takes place in the flow of the river, and we can't be afraid to jump in. She could not guarantee that in the river we wouldn't get banged up a bit, repelling on boulders and trying to keep our heads up in the rapids. but the river is where life happens, and where growth occurs. Clinging to the shoreline inevitably causes suffering and pain. We most certainly will get bruised and our hands and arms will get weak in our attempts to hang on to the branches to keep from becoming swallowed up by the flow of the river. On the shoreline we are stagnant. In the river, we move forward wherever life takes us.

I found this metaphor liberating, contemplating that we need to let go of the fear that keeps us clinging to the shoreline of familiarity and a false sense of security and that we must allow ourselves to jump in and flow down the river of life. That we cannot escape the suffering of the river by clinging to the shore. That the clinging to the shoreline is painful and though riding the river will also involve suffering, we must accept that and embrace the flow of the river.

Saturday morning Ane Pema opened with an exercise. She asked us to to remember an interaction that involved difficult feelings and pain. Not an incident that was a 10, but something smaller, a 2-3 (on a 1-10 scale). And to think about the incident and to feel the negative emotions that arose during the uncomfortable situation. Next to ask oneself who is in control here? Are the emotions in control of oneself, or am I in control of the emotions? And to remember this when difficult situations arise triggering negative emotions: who is in control? not to allow the emotions to control us, especially not to allow the negative emotions that often rapidly arise to cause us to do or say something unskillful that would cause pain for ourselves or others.

As we got in touch with the negative emotions and the pain the situation caused us, we ask the emotion to stay while we feel the intensity of the pain and ask ourselves "do i want others to experience this pain?" "do i want to do or say something that would cause this type of pain to arise in others?". its a compassion practice. in answering the questions, we remember in the future to pull back when triggered by negative emotions. "who is in control here"? so that we don't react and unwisely do or say something that will escalate the situation and bring more pain and suffering to oneself and others.

Its a high spiritual task, that requires putting the matter in which we deal with a situation ahead of the principal or substance at stake during times of conflict.

Hearty food for spiritual contemplation.

After lunch Ane Pema began by talking about charnal ground meditation. Tibetan Buddhists have something called a sky burial practice. Because of the permafrost in the Tibetan mountains, the ground is too hard to bury bodies, and there is not enough fuel to cremate the bodies of all of the dead. So the Tibetan Buddhists began a rite of sky burial. Apologies in advance for the graphic description of the practice here. The Tibetans put the bodies on a high mountain peak for the vultures to take away. But because you wouldn't want the vultures to drop grandmas leg bone in farmer Jone's field, the monks first cut up the bodies into small pieces. The sky burial site is called the charnal ground.

As you can imagine, the charnal ground is not a pleasant place to hang out and during warmer weather is rather unappealing to the nose.

The monks developed a meditation practice called Chu practice, where they go to the charnal grounds to meditate on the strong emotions that arise while being there: aversion, fear and so forth. They watch the emotions arise to examine the emotions: where and how do they arise? how do they feel? are they solid? and do they dissipate? they do this Chu practice to learn how to deal with arisal of negative emotions.

Ane Pema emphasized that you have to go to the charnal grounds and sit amongst the cut up bodies to do this practice. you can't do it by imagining the charnal ground, or going to a serene cemetery with the neatly mowed grass and tombstones with bouquets of flowers lined up in orderly rows. you must do it in the gruesome surroundings on the charnal grounds to fully feel the emotions that arise in that place.

So Ane Pema suggest to let life and the fear that arises during uncertainty be a charnal ground practice. When the fear arises, sit with it, examine it, and watch it as it grows and subsides. Ane Pema pointed out that the emotions cannot exist without a story to feed them. Take away the story and the emotions dissolve. We feed anger with our story of righteous indignation and morality plays of right and wrong. We feed hurt with stories of victimhood or neglect, rejection and so on. We feed anxiety with stories of loss, lack (of security), and helplessness. Take away the story and the emotion dissipates. To take away the story, one must discipline one's mind through meditation not to keep thinking the repetitive thoughts, to stop obsessive thinking.

And one must let go of the shoreline and not be afraid to jump into the river. To do this, one must accept that in the river suffering is inevitable and we do get hurt. But grasping and clinging to the shoreline is not an effective method to avoid life's suffering. Grasping, clinging and attachment to the security of the shore only produces more suffering. Living in the river is a charnal ground practice. the pay off is liberation. KB

Photo by kevin 1040 Flickr Creative Commons 2.0

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Savory Chickpea Stew

In an earlier post with a recipe for Red Cabbage Salad I referenced the macrobiotic chef I interned with who made delicious meals for the students at my acupuncture college, Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. I was able to wrangle a few recipes from Nancy for some of my favorite dishes. This Chickpea Stew can also be made as a soup, omitting the squash and the seitan. Its a hearty, one-dish meal, for autumn and winter.

In Chinese dietary therapy, we recommend eating differently during each season. In the spring and summer one eats lighter foods and above ground crops. In the autumn the yin begins to rise. Yin energy represents darkness, cold, quiescence, feminine, earth, sweet, substance and blood. During the autumn season the cool yin begins to assert itself from the warm yang energy of summer. In the yin seasons of autumn and winter we want to nourish yin dietarily, by emphasizing root crops, growing in the earth. 

Sweet squashes harvested in the autumn nourish yin. Warm, hearty stews, especially made with root vegetables are particularly beneficial to consume in the cool, yin seasons of autumn  and winter.

This Savory Chickpea Stew nourishes the earth element, pertaining to the Spleen and Stomach due to its sweet flavor and golden color. You will relish the subtle blend of flavors. In Chinese medicine we talk about the five phases and organ systems. Each has a season, color, flavor, organ, emotion and sound associated with it. This stew will benefit those with digestive conditions due to weakness or deficiency. Speak to your acupuncturist to find out if you have an excess of deficient problem. 

Deficiency is characterized by weakness and fatigue. Those with Spleen Qi Deficiency will commonly experience bloating, gas, belching, fatigue, especially after meals, over-thinking, worrying, racing thoughts, cloudy or foggy-headedness. Thinking is a function of the Spleen system in Chinese medicine. Those with weak Spleens tend to worry, and conversely excessive worrying weakens the Spleen.

Savory Chickpea Stew

3C Chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
1 strips kombu
9 bay leaves (yea, that's correct, nine)
3 yellow onions, diced
olive oil
3 10" pieces burdock root, brushed & cut in rounds
6 cloves garlic, minced
3/8C white miso
3 lemons: zest
1 medium-large winter squash, cubed (butternut, acorn, kombucha, carnival)
12 oz seitan, cubed (wheat gluten product)
filtered water & 1 quart vegetable stock
minced parsley for garnish
cider vinegar

Heat olive oil in bottom of large pressure cooker. Saute onions and garlic with salt until translucent. Add burdock and squash and saute until veggies sweat. Add seitan and saute until slightly golden. Add chickpeas, kombu, bay leaf and cover with 1 1/2 " water/stock combination. Bring to high pressure and cook 30 minutes. Turn off heat and natural release pressure.

Pull out half the beans and mash or puree. Stir mashed beans into stew to give a hearty consistency. Add 3/4C soup to the miso and blend, then add back to stew. Stir in lemon zest. Add cider vinegar to taste to pop flavors. Garnish with minced parsley.

yield: 4 quarts

What is seitan? 
Seitan is a wheat gluten product found in the refrigerator section of the natural food store, near the tofu and tempeh. its fairly high in protein for a vegetable source: 6 oz contains approximately 20g.

Photo: Avlxyz, flickr Creative Commons 2.0