Photographs by Meadow Linn

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Inhale the Good & Exhale What’s Out of Alignment

Do you look at your bright green lawn and see the solitary dandelion? Do you focus on the few gray hairs on your head amidst thousands of robust dark ones? Have you ever received a flurry of glowing compliments but instead fixated on the single criticism? For some reason, it seems to be human nature to give our attention to the one thing out of alignment rather than all the beauty, magic, and love that surround us daily.

When I received my first set of faculty evaluation forms when I was a new high school French teacher at a boarding school, I escaped to my room and sobbed. In most of the evaluations the students raved about the class. However, hidden amongst the kind words, there were a few critiques. One student said it was her favorite French class ever, but I couldn’t absorb the praise because I was focused on the few minor things that felt like a condemnation of my hard work.

It’s easy to do this with relationships too. I pretty much get along with everyone; however, a number of years ago I had a falling out with a friend. Unfortunately, the whole thing was based on miscommunication. We’ve more or less lost touch, but every so often my mind wanders to him and the pain pricks my heart. In these moments I lose sight of the wonderful relationships in my life and instead fixate on the hurt. 

I’ve come to learn that there are times to fight for friendships and work through whatever challenges exist, but also there are times to walk away. Otherwise, the disharmony can become like the solitary dandelion in the manicured lawn. It can be the only thing we see. Why spend time and energy on something that brings hurt when there is so much joy and love to be sought elsewhere? Even though it can be hard, we can choose to focus on love rather than hurt and on compliments rather than critiques. We can choose to surround ourselves with people who love and support us and make us the best version of ourselves, or we can concentrate on the relationships that bring us down. It’s our choice

Sometimes it still hurts when I think about the friendship that slipped through my fingers, but then I fill my heart with gratitude for the wonderful people with whom I share mutual love and respect, and my heart swells beyond measure. 

Occasionally it might feel impossible to tear your eyes away from the dandelion in the lawn. In these cases, rather than ignoring it or using positive thinking to wish it away, try changing the meaning you assign to it. Rather than viewing the dandelion as a pesky weed, the bright yellow flower can be like a ray of sunlight on a gloomy day. Perhaps the person criticizing you is only doing it because she’s intimidated by your majesty. And maybe the gray hairs on your head each represent a fantastic adventure you’ve had during your full life.

Have you ever admired a stunning sunset only to hear the person next to you grumble that it’s caused by pollution? Which person would you rather be: the person who sees beauty everywhere or the person who focuses on what’s wrong? It’s not always easy to shrug off criticism; however, why should we let one negative comment or experience take precedence over piles of positive, love-filled ones? When you can, absorb the things that lift you up and allow the things that bring you down to roll off you like water on a duck’s back.

When I get mired in the negative or painful, I take a deep breath and say to myself: “Inhale the good; exhale what’s out of alignment.” Somehow it seems to work as a reminder that I have the power to change my focus.

Mystic Miso Soup

When my heart hurts or when I’m under the weather, I crave miso soup. To me it feels like the physical representation of “Inhale the good; exhale what’s out of alignment.” With each bite, I feel my cells responding to all its goodness and releasing all that no longer serves me.

What I love about making miso soup is that there isn’t one right way to do it. In the tradition of Japanese farmhouse kitchens, I love filling my miso soup with lots of vegetables. This recipe uses shitake mushrooms and spinach, but you can use whatever you have on hand, such as carrots, wakame seaweed, or Asian greens. Use this recipe as a guide. As you get the feel for how to make the soup, use your intuition to know how much kombu and bonito flakes are necessary and how much miso paste to add. Taste as you go. There are many different kinds of miso paste and each one has its own distinct flavor and saltiness. I recommend starting with a small spoonful and then adding more until it suits your palate. 

Serves 6-8

16 cups (1 gallon) water
1 - 5” x 5” piece of kombu (dried kelp)
¾ cup bonito flakes (toasted dried tuna skin)
8 fresh shitake mushrooms, sliced (remove woody stem prior to slicing)
1 bunch spinach, stems removed
½ cup miso paste (or to taste)
1 Tbsp. tamari (or to taste)
8 oz. tofu, cut into small cubes
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced

Cut the kombu with kitchen scissors. Bring the water and kombu to a boil. Gently boil for about 20 minutes. Add the bonito flakes and simmer for another 10-20 minutes. Strain the broth through a sieve into another pot. (Be sure to add heaps of love at every stage of the cooking process.) Add the spinach and mushrooms. Simmer until the mushrooms are soft, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat (miso is a fermented food and should never be boiled since this will kill the beneficial bacteria). Put the miso paste in a small bowl and mix with some broth to make a slurry. Add the slurry to the pot and stir to combine. Stir in the tamari. You can either add the tofu directly to the pot or you can divide it among the bowls and pour the soup over it. Garnish with the sliced scallions.

Note: Kombu and bonito flakes are available at Asian markets, many natural foods stores, and Amazon or other online retailers. Miso paste can be found in the refrigerator section of Asian markets and natural food stores. 


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