Archives for posts with tag: meditation

This month my friend Bob Chrisman died, suddenly and unexpectedly. He was a writer and zen student that I met many years ago in Taos, New Mexico. After awhile he stopped coming to Taos but we corresponded and talked on the phone and saw each other during his occasional visits to California. I always assumed I’d visit his house in Kansas City someday to see its multicolored rooms, but low funds kept me home in the Bay Area. During our last conversation Bob told me he was thinking of going to a retreat in France in 2014. Bob had always told me if I became homeless I could come live with him in KC.

Beyond that, my beloved is troubled, struggling with demons for his very life and happiness, unable or unwilling to communicate with me for much of June and July. I sort through a basket of grief, pain, anger, despair, loneliness — it is like one of those cooking shows where they give you a basket with tuna, rutabagas, cinnamon and bananas and tell you to make a main dish in thirty minutes. Where do you start?

You start where you are. You taste your ingredients and smell them, look at the texture. Are the bananas green or ripe? Is the rutabaga woody or tender and sweet. Bob’s death sent me to my meditation cushion each morning at 5:30 to recite the Heart Sutra. It is an unexpected gift from Bob: I sit and I cry, but as the days go by I am calmer and quieter in my crying. I find myself voicing a wish that my heart fill with love. I also find myself angry and reactive, hurting, but in those moments I turn to the page to write or tell my friends how I am feeling. Telling the feelings airs them out somehow and I see that I do not want to act out of anger if I can avoid it. The quiet space each morning helps me go on, as does the support and fellowship of like-minded people.

It is traditional to say the Heart Sutra for forty-nine days after someone’s death, so I will be at this for awhile, gathering strength and peace from the cushion. In the meantime, I continue my life, which feels too spacious today. My life is never the frantic scramble of many American lives since I left the regular workforce against my will a few years back. In fact, I work six days a week, usually, but my work consists of one or two shifts of singing in public for tips. When I am not working or traveling to work I have lots of time, time to sit and write and read. If Johnny calls, I have plenty of time to talk with him, time to listen.

I have Sundays off, unless there is a singing gathering. Today I didn’t even get dressed: it is a typical Bay Area summer day, shrouded in fog, the trees dripping this morning. By afternoon it has only lightened a little. The summer markets are full of their glory. Last week I bought green beans and basil, corn on the cob, ollalieberries (a form of blackberry), peaches and ten pounds of Gravenstein apples. This week I spent all of the money I earned at the market on a pizza of the first red and yellow bell peppers and green onions. I ate it for lunch and dinner yesterday and for lunch again today. It was delicious, even if I had to forgo peaches and beans to get it. I bought it on impulse, wanting to treat myself — it’s not often that I permit myself a sixteen-dollar splurge these days. It didn’t hurt that the vendor plucked a big roasted tomato and put it in my hand and then showed me every pizza he had for sale so that I could choose one. I’m not sorry I splurged — I thoroughly enjoyed it. If I were rich, I might eat this pizza every week, or get back to making them: Sunday is the only day I can make pizza now, the day when I have enough hours to wait for the sourdough crust to proof. As it is, I’m grateful to have had the treat.

Last Sunday I had a different treat: I heard about a documentary movie about back-up singers. I checked the show times and headed out the door to the theater. taking a ten-dollar bill. I bought a ticket and walked down the street to get a dollar coffee toffee ice cream on a sugar cone. Let me say that these treats are rare: the last movie I saw was in May when Johnny and I saw “On the Road.”

Of course, I’ve just been to France. I could not have gone there without scholarship money and a work scholarship. I saved the air fare out of my monthly earnings which range from $300 to $500 a month, depending on how the busking trade is going and how many CDs I sell. Every month I work first to pay my phone and internet bill, then to get a monthly bus pass, then to afford a pair of twenty-dollar shoes (I wear out a pair of shoes each month due to my odd gait from cerebral palsy). Strings, food and treats come next, and money for savings to afford the next airline ticket. I borrow books from the library and listen to the radio or play CDs I’ve loaded into iTunes. I sing with friends. I talk on the phone. I pick up the windfall apples from our neighbor’s tree and will dry them in my dehydrator. Meditation is free, only taking time and effort.

I continue with things that take time and effort. I make the effort to open my heart, to tolerate my anxiety and grief. I take plenty of time to rest, although I look hollow-eyed with dark shadows. I know that everything changes, quickly or slowly, that one season follows another, that apples and pears are early this year in California. I am grateful to be alive and grateful that my suffering is not greater, grateful for moments of respite and hope, of companionship, grateful for the comfort of books and music and occasional delicious food. I hope July finds you well and, if not, that comfort is available to you.

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painting depicts bowl of corn soup and ingredients with lime tree

Mexican Corn Soup with Lime Tree. 12″ x 12″ watercolor pencil and gouache. Sharyn Dimmick

While I was in northern New Mexico my meditation teacher gave me a bag of blue cornmeal from the local farmers’ market and the suggestion that I teach you to chew slowly. Two days into the retreat she recommended that we chew the first three bites of each meal thirty times.

Meditation retreats are full of odd suggestions to the uninitiated. The first time I went to one the teachers told us as we took each bite of food to think about all the things that produced the food: air, sun, rain, soil, bacteria, seeds, farmers, labor, plants, wind, bees, etc., etc. We were eating vegetarian food so we did not have to think about the animals who died, although they did mention bugs and mice killed in the fields during harvest. They instructed us to note while we ate biting, chewing and swallowing, if not the arising of the urge to bite, chew and swallow.

After three meals of thirty-chew first, second and third bites, we compared notes. One woman said she noticed that each kind of lettuce tasted different. A couple of women said they forgot about slow chewing until partway through each meal. One said she normally ate her meals in five minutes and that the slow chewing allowed her to look around and notice where she was. Some people said they ate less food. Others said they digested their food better. Two of us said that once we started counting chews we found it hard to stop. Lisa provided statistics: 43 chews per piece of bread, 32 per bite of salad, 51 per leaf of kale.

When I thought I would bring you something back from New Mexico I thought perhaps I would bring the recipe for butternut squash lasagna with bechamel or the potato and artichoke soup with chicken, or the intriguing brown soup of roasted parsnips and turnips. I did not imagine I would tell you to chew three bites of food thirty times during your next three meals. Try it if you want. You might notice the licorice taste of tarragon in the soup, the bite of the basil salad dressing, see the way a raw onion sends its sulfurous chemicals to the roof of your hard palate soon after you taste first the sweetness, then the sharpness.

Meanwhile spring has hit California with rain, blooming rhododendrons, pale daffodils, camellia buds, flowering fruit trees. The cold mornings and nights call for wintry soups. Here’s an easy one, a gluten-free, vegan corn soup, made from the kind of things that can get you through the winter and the bright flavors of lime and cilantro, which grows here long after the basil is gone. I copied this from a bowl of soup I once had at Radio Valencia in San Francisco, taught myself to notice the flavors and construct a similar soup. You can make it in the summer, too, when sweet corn comes in, but frozen corn is adequate for these frigid days and it’s a nice change from winter roots and greens.

Easy Mexican Corn Soup

Mise in place: you will need just four ingredients: a bag of frozen corn, a jar of red salsa, two limes,  one bunch of washed cilantro (fresh coriander), including the roots. You may reserve a few cilantro sprigs for a garnish. Equipment: one stock pot, one chopping knife, one blender and two hands.

Get out your stockpot and put it on your largest burner.

Plunk your frozen corn into the stock pot and open your jar of salsa. Pour the salsa over the corn and turn on your burner to low heat. Cut your limes in half and squeeze their juice into the pot (I just use my hands for this). If the limes are hard, roll them around on your cutting board before cutting and squeezing them. Now chop your cilantro, roots, stems and all, and throw it into the pot. Rinse your salsa jar with plain water and add the water to the soup. Cook until the corn is soft and puree the soup in the blender. I do this in several batches, sometimes leaving some whole kernels of corn for texture and appearance.

Food notes: I have made this with one pound of corn and fourteen ounces of salsa and with three pounds of corn and 28 ounces of salsa. I have added roasted squash to it when I had some leftover and the corn seemed skimpy. You can adjust thickness and heat by adding more water or more salsa. I have made it with green salsa (salsa verde): the thing is, green salsa tends to make the soup too hot (this soup gains heat as it sits) and the color is not as pretty — I would recommend using red. If you don’t like cilantro, this is not a soup for you — I can’t think of another winter herb to substitute for it. If you can, go for it and report back to the rest of us. This soup has every virtue you could want: it is low in fat, gluten-free, dairy-free and makes use of seasonal herbs and citrus, plus common foods stored for the winter. The thing is, it does not taste like a virtuous soup, and you can always eat it with toasted cheese. Someone I know once suggested putting shrimp in it. Have at it. For more soups and salads featuring fresh herbs, check out the February entries at No Croutons Required on Tinned Tomatoes.

Chewing notes: This soup will not give you opportunity for chewing practice, but perhaps you could eat it with some bread, tortillas, or a green salad. I can attest to the fact that chewing See’s chocolates does not make you eat fewer of them, but it does allow you to enjoy them more — guess what we eat on Valentine’s Day?