Meditation, Square Block Cushion, and Vegan Mushroom Mock Beef Stew
Meditation, Square Block Cushion, and Vegan Mushroom Mock Beef Stew
Why I Care
I live a typical American life, with a busy, stressful job, complete with daily commute and evening exhaustion. Early to bed, early to rise, do it all over again. To-do lists as long as my arm for the weekend, hardly ever completed in full. While my kids are grown, my fur babies are as demanding for attention in the evenings as my human kids ever were. (Although I do enjoy not having to drive the fur babies to and from sports practices, and they have no disharmonious holiday concerts I must endure and appear to enjoy. Sorry, Bud and Smash. No disrespect intended, but you’re old enough to hear the truth. Those concerts were painful.)
My day job has recently changed significantly and every day I feel like I’m sitting in an eight-hour long graduate level class. The space between my ears feels like oatmeal mush by the time I get home. My dreams are filled with – you guessed it – work and more work. I need to find a way to not only digest the complicated information I’m learning each day, but to then clear the deck to prepare for the next day’s learning. The bottom line: I need some peace of mind.
Both my kids – “Bud” and “Smash” and Bud’s girlfriend “Sweetie” have all incorporated meditation into their lives. Sweetie just completed an amazing meditation retreat that I can’t wait to hear all about. Bud seeks in meditation to find relief from his pain caused by Rat Lungworm Disease. He also deeply values the peace found in nature and in growing plants. Smash has made chosen to “reinvent” herself over the past few years and finds deep peace, mindfulness and contemplation of her next journey in life through meditation. Sweetie has an amazing connection to the natural world and finds a transcendence in meditation that connects her to all living things. I envy their results with meditation and seek to learn from each of them as I start to add meditation to my life.
What I Learned
While some people spend years – or even lifetimes – researching and practicing meditation, I’m just beginning to learn. Meditation is found in so many cultures and philosophies that I could not do justice to all of them in this post. Yet there are common principles to be found in nearly all cultures and philosophies: Being present in the moment. Rising out of the self-ego to become more connected to the world around us. The importance of breath and especially the space between the breaths. Acknowledge our thoughts or physical feelings without judgement, but to set them aside and focus instead on our breath or on a mantra that is repeated.
There are many different forms and teachings of meditation. They seem to be of two general types however: Calming meditation, and insight meditation. It seems that calming meditation is the easier practice to learn. The goal with calming meditation is to quiet the mind, focus on being present in the moment. This form of meditation generally includes a focus on something – usually the breath. But it could also be a repeated mantra, visualization, object, or attention on your physical feelings.
Insight meditation also incorporates some of these same techniques, but the goal is more transcendence, or going beyond our normal processes of thinking. As I understand it, calming meditation is the practice of training the mind to be quiet. Insight meditation allows you to go beyond a quieted mind to touch the essence of life itself. The quieted mind can focus on the sound of the waves crashing the shore. The transcendent mind envelopes the movement of the waves and the peaceful silence to be found deep under water.
Needless to say, I feel the need to start with the more basic type of meditation: calming meditation.
Physical and Emotional Benefits of Meditation
While I am looking now to gain emotional benefits of meditation, there are many physical benefits that attend as well. We all know that stress kills, and the stress hormone cortisol is very harmful to our physical health. Meditation is shown in clinical research to reduce cortisol, with effects equal to or greater than traditional Western medicine methods. Reducing stress leads to reduced anxiety and improved emotional health overall.
More and more often we hear of the harmful impacts of inflammation in the body, the root of so many health problems. Meditation is shown to reduce chronic inflammatory conditions, which can help reduce pain. We know that some people are more susceptible to addictions than others. Meditation is shown to help reduce addictive impulses.
All of these harmful effects of stress, inflammation, pain and anxiety can lead to sleep problems. Meditation – by calming the mind and reducing all of these symptoms – can help with deep, restorative sleep. The benefits of better and more sleep compounds into the next day with an increased ability to focus and for memory.
Of course, these health benefits are all tangible and can be measured scientifically. But other benefits of meditation are less easy to quantify but can be just as important for quality of life, including increased empathy, self-awareness and self-understanding. In short, meditation appears to be able to improve not only your physical health, but your outlook on life and therefore the lives of those around you as well.
In my research, I learned that meditation can be incorporated in many daily activities. One form of walking meditation has you walk a short path – 10 to 15 steps – pausing at each end of the route to breathe. You should notice the feel of your steps, your connection, loss, and reconnection of your feet from your path. You should feel the muscles in your legs and how they propel your movement. Feel the weight of your arms at your sides, or with hands clasped in front or behind you. Notice the weight of your head balanced on your neck. Feel the muscles in your core and back supporting your stride. Or just focus on your breath as you step. If your mind starts to wander, reconnect with your breath. Focus on the left side, then right side movement of your body with your steps.
There are even forms of walking meditation that you can do while walking your fur babies, so they say. That might be hard with my little guys who think every bush or tall blade is grass needs watering and they are just the fella to do it. I think I’ll pass on this practice, for now, until I can convince my Schnoodles to meditate along with me.
I’ve often kidded that knitting is a form of meditation for me. In my research I learned that it’s actually true. Even the physical act of moving the arms and hands in knit-purl, knit-purl, the concentration on the needles and fibers in your fingers, and keeping the tension even in your stitches is meditative.
Some people find meditation opportunities in cooking, especially in the prep work. The rhythmic peeling of carrots or potatoes, the dicing of onions or peppers into perfectly uniform pieces requires focus. The stirring of sauces or washing of dishes can serve as a point of focus and attention and calm the mind from outside stresses.
I really like how Peaceful Dumpling put it: “Meditation does not need to be done in stillness . . . it is any action which quiets the mind and allows for the flow of awareness to the presence of the present moment.”
Meditation is one of those rare healthful activities that requires no equipment and little investment in time. In fact, in my research I learned that regularity of meditation is more important than duration. It is more important that you find time at least three times per week – every day is most optimal. Even 10 minutes of meditation per session has tremendous outcomes. Most experts believe that the habit of meditation will be easiest to incorporate if you work it into your daily routine. Right after waking (and the morning nature call). Right after dinner. The last quarter hour of your lunchtime. Wherever works best for you in your daily routine. Again, regularity appears more important than when or where you meditate.
Of course, also like a typical American, I don’t exercise nearly what I should. For that reason, I’m committing to starting with a 10 minute per day walking meditation, every day. I’m going to adopt this habit just before bedtime, in hopes of quieting my mind for sleep. If that time and form of meditation doesn’t work well, however, I know now much more about other methods to try. I’ll let you know how it goes in my next post.
Okay, even though I’m going to start with walking meditation, I know that somewhere along the line I will choose to sit quietly and meditate as well. The DIY project I’ve chosen for this month’s theme is a meditation cushion. I chose to make this because I tend to attach memories and emotions very strongly to places and things that are meaningful to me. A blanket I bought in Hawaii when my son Bud was very sick still connects me to that time and makes me grateful that I could be there for him. A wooden bowl set my Mom found for me at a yard sale prompts great memories of her every time I use them. I knew that a meditation cushion, for me, would help me to connect with the purpose and action of meditating. I’ll share that pattern with you in my next post.
Since going mostly vegan, one of my most favorite recipes is a mock beef stew made with hearty mushrooms. My family loves this stew, too, and even my all-carnivore hubby gobbles it up. Although it is a bit of work, I enjoy making this stew. It’s a great crock pot meal. I like to try and make the carrots, potatoes, onions and mushrooms all perfectly uniform in thickness. I love creating the perfect blend of ingredients for the rich umami in this stew. Of course, for us, this stew isn’t complete unless it has fluffy clouds of dumplings on top. I think this is the perfect recipe to be able to practice cooking meditatively. I’ll share it with you later this month.
I hope that by the time I get to my final post in this month’s theme, I will have had a chance to learn from Sweetie about her time at the Vipassana meditation retreat she recently attended. I hope to share with you concrete steps you can take to help incorporate meditation into your daily life as well.
Thank you so much for stopping by Kreateedoo. I hope you come by again soon!
Peace and be well.
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