Anti-Anxiety Tool of the Week: Turn Your Head S-L-O-W-L-Y
If you've had the chance to watch a newborn infant in what is known as the "quiet alert" state, you may have noticed that they sometimes turn their head s-l-o-w-l-y from one side to the other. And then, perhaps, back again, quietly looking around, taking everything in. That's what this exercise offers. Try turning your head very gently from one side to the other, more or less parallel to the plane of the floor, but loosely, as far as you can reach without straining, eyes open. Take maybe 7-8 seconds to go from one side to the other, though you could do it more slowly if you want. Keep it there for a couple of seconds, then go back all the way to the other side, resting for a few seconds, then moving back to center again. Gently observe as you go. Is it safe right here? Is my life okay, just for this moment? You can do this once or a few times, but always pause between. No need to rush.
This tool is from the fifth Toolkit. Here's the Index of all toolkits. And The Mini-Toolkit: For Those with Little or No Time.
An Everyday Holiness
Some of you may not know that I worked as a cook on two different estates--in Westchester County, NY one summer with a friend when I was in college, and on an estate not too far from my home in Charlottesville, about fifteen years later. It was a lot of hard work--among other things it's quite a challenge to cook for people who regularly eat at some of the best restaurants in the world--but it was fun!
But I--who carefully cooked almost everything from scratch (and still do)--was shocked to find out that the previous cook had secretly bought most of what she offered our employer from gourmet-to-go caterers or the freezer section of high-end grocery stores. No wonder the business manager told me she was happy that I spent less on groceries than the previous cook! I don't think they ever knew why.
Eventually, however, I figured out that I prefer to cook for those I love. In my experience, the best kind of cooking is a spiritual gift, an opportunity to nourish body and soul at the same time, a chance for those who eat together to connect and bond. A process that I think has at least some kinship with the intimacy of a mother nursing a child. And so usually offered to people I know and care about.
Cooking also reminds me of the making--and unmaking--of a Tibetan sand mandala, which is a truly amazing thing to observe. The basic geometry for the mandala is drawn on a large flat surface. Then monks, who have trained for years, begin to add brightly colored sands to fill in the design, via tiny tubes and funnels.
Tap-tap-tap-tap...they repeatedly pat the metal funnels with special sticks in order to add just a few grains at a time of a particular color in a particular place. An infinitude of patience and skill, repeated over and over and over, layer after layer, taking days or weeks to complete. It a form of prayer for them, and an honoring of the complexities and beauty of their spiritual universe. (The masks, by the way, are not because of COVID but to keep the monks' breath from disturbing the sand.)
Once it is complete, observers can learn more about the complexity, meditate on the meaning, or just appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of the art. At least for a little while. But then, one day, not long after it has been completed, the monk in charge holds a special instrument poised over this exquisite creation, the fruit of hundreds, maybe thousands of hours of labor. "NO!" you yell silently, knowing what's coming. "DON'T DO IT!"
But he does. Prayerfully, he draws the instrument right through the middle of the design. And then again and again, in highly ritualized and prescribed directions, leading eventually to its complete obliteration. The sand is collected and poured into a nearby river or other moving body of water, "transmitting positive energies back into the environment and sharing the blessings from the beautiful ephemeral form with the universe." [www.worldhistory.org].
And those of us who cook? We do a variation of the sand mandala everyday. It takes me close to an hour to clean and chop the multitude of fruits and veggies I like to include in a big salad. A dessert can take two hours, a complicated main dish four or more. But then to eat it? It's a matter of minutes. But it will, I hope, give joy and pleasure and sustenance to whoever eats it, and become a vehicle of connection and enjoyment for all who share the meal. A meditation on nurture, creativity--and our impermanence, at least in this form.
As Aunt Anna says in my young adult novel, Before, "It is very satisfying to feed people well. There’s a sort of everyday holiness about it.”
Since I'm talking bout food, I thought it would be fun to include my current favorite recipe: Fresh Mango Chutney. With just six ingredients and a very brief sojourn in the microwave, it's very simple--and absolutely delicious. My favorite way to eat it is with Fage whole milk (5%) Greek yogurt--about a 2:1 ratio of fruit to yogurt. Yum!
Fresh Mango Chutney
2 ripe mangoes, peeled and cut in ½ - ¾ inch cubes (see How to Cut a Mango)
or 1 large (24 oz.) bag frozen mango pieces (I use Trader Joe's)
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons white or white wine vinegar
1 - 2 teaspoons finely chopped crystallized ginger (I usually go with 1)
3/4 teaspoon turmeric
salt to taste
Mix all the ingredients. Microwave on High for 2 minutes. Stir. Microwave for another 60 - 75 seconds. Stir again. It will be quite hot.
If you want to eat it immediately, put it in the freezer to cool off, stirring it every 5 minutes or so until it cools to your liking. It will thicken up some as it cooks and then more as it cools.
Two changes to the How to Cut a Mango instructions: (1) I have found that after you turn the skin inside out, a small spoon works better than a knife to carve the mango off the skin. (2) After cutting what flesh I can off the seed, I kind of "milk" the juice off the flesh that is still attached. But carefully, as the seed edges can be sharp. However, since the chutney is almost as good with frozen mango, I usually go that easier route.
This is based on a recipe in The New Basics Cookbook ©1989, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. I've changed it significantly by cutting out several ingredients, decreasing both the sugar and the cooking time, and substituting crystallized ginger for fresh.
Baby, Henry EN, unSplash
Food, Maarten van den Heuvel, unSplash
3 monks building mandala, Jeff Carrion, DePaul University
Mandala close-up, Faena.com
Mandala destruction, Faena.com