Note to self: Next time you’re on the comparison road to hell, go to a park, sit under a tree, pull up this article, and read.

The Path of Contentment

We start out in life thinking that we’re awesome. We can dance in public as 5-year-olds, and not care what others think of us. By the time we’re adults, that’s been driven out of us, by peers and parents and the media and embarrassing situations.

As adults, we doubt ourselves. We judge ourselves badly. We are critical of our bodies, of ourselves as people, of our lack of discipline, of all our faults. We don’t like our lives.

As a result, we try to improve this lacking self, try to get better because we suck so much. Or, we doubt our ability to get better, and are very unhappy. Or we sabotage our attempts at change, because we don’t really believe we can do it.

This self-dislike results in worse relationships, a stagnant career, unhappiness with life, complaints about everything, and often unhealthy habits like eating junk food, drinking too much alcohol, not exercising, shopping too much, being addicted to video games or the Internet.

So what’s the path to being content with yourself and your life?

The first problem is if you don’t trust yourself. That’s an important area to work with.

Your relationship with yourself is like your relationship with anyone else. If you have a friend who is constantly late and breaking his word, not showing up when he says he will, eventually you’ll stop trusting that friend. It’s like that with yourself, too. It’s hard to like someone you don’t trust, and it’s hard to like yourself if you don’t trust yourself.

So work on this trust with yourself (I give some practical steps in the bottom section below). Increase it slowly, and eventually you’ll trust yourself to be awesome.

The second problem is that you judge yourself badly. You compare yourself to an unreal ideal, in all areas. You want a beautiful model’s body. You want to achieve certain goals, personally and professionally. You want to travel the world and learn languages and learn a musical instrument and be an amazing chef and have an amazing social life and the perfect spouse and kids and incredible achievements and be the fittest person on the planet. Of course, those are completely realistic ideals, right?

And when we have these ideals, we compare ourselves to them, and we always measure up badly.

The path to contentment, then, is to stop comparing ourselves to these ideals. Stop judging ourselves. Let go of the ideals. And gradually learn to trust ourselves.

Read on for the practical steps.

– A Guide To Practical Contentment by Leo Babauta

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I came across this post today from a very cool writer, teacher and mother of two daughters, Rachel Macy Stafford. She writes a blog called Hands Free Mama, which illuminates the freedom and beauty that arise from unwiring oneself, and focusing completely on parenting, living and just being. She wrote a post this month, What Our Children Want Us to See, in which she offers this poem.

What I Want You to See (From the Voice of a Child)
by Rachel Macy Stafford

See the way my tongue sticks out when I’m making a beautiful creation for you.
See all the things I am doing right, not all the things I’m doing wrong.

See the way the way my eyes scan the auditorium until I find you.
See how the sight of your face makes me sigh with relief.

See the way my face changes when you take time to explain things to me.
See what a little patience and compassion can do for my scowl.

See the way I look at you when you read a book to me.
See that it doesn’t take much to make me feel loved and secure.

See that I gave it my all even though I didn’t quite succeed.
See that I’d do anything to make you proud.

See that my pants are too short because I am growing, not because I am an inconvenience.
See that I want to grow up to be just like you.

See that I’m calm and quiet when I am sleeping.
See that I’m carefree and joyful when I am running.

See that I’m gonna be something great if you can just look beyond the flaws.
See how a few words of affirmation make my shoulders rise.

See that my eyes tear up a little when we say goodbye.
See that my favorite pastime is spending time with you.

See that you’re the light of my life.
See that I desperately want to be the light of yours.

See me for what I am: a child who has many needs, but also a heart full of love.

See that beneath the dirt-stained pants and pouty lip, I am your everyday miracle. 
Your everyday miracle. 

And if you look a little deeper and gaze a little longer,
You’ll see all that am.

 

Fooa Bamoni Wedding Dance

If you knew you had only one hour left to live, and you had to make a choice between being happy or sad for the duration of those 60 minutes, which would you choose?

I think most people, if it really were a choice, would choose to be happy. I know I would.

That’s what this picture made me think about. Here, my uncle, Suresh Fooa, is dancing with my sister-in-law, Bamoni on November 13, 2010. Bamoni passed away on September 24, 2012.

That’s less than 24 months.
Or to be precise, 97 weeks and 2 days.
Or 681 days total.

What I like about this photo is that in typical Suresh Fooa form, my uncle is very much his jolly, carefree self, and as a result, I think Bamoni too felt free to experience sheer joy in what would have otherwise been a very controlled moment.

You see, the event at which they’re dancing is my wedding. Because Bamoni organized and hosted the entire event, and due to the natural customs, both cultural and familial, Bamoni was required to be gracious, composed, and measured at all times.

In this moment, though, she was finally able to exude something else: Silliness, and unbounded joy.

While there may be circumstances or times in our lives that may seem to call for something other than unbounded happiness or silly joy, could it be that even then, we’re still free to choose it?

This photo is a reminder to me: In the moments when we are sad, depressed, hard on ourselves or in a martyr mindset, we should remember that we have a choice.

And we may only get to exercise that choice for another 681 days.

“It is easy to overlook this thought that life just is. As humans we are inclined to feel that life must have a point. We have plans and aspirations and desires. We want to take constant advantage of the intoxicating existence we’ve been endowed with. But what’s life to a lichen? Yet its impulse to exist, to be , is every bit as strong as ours-arguably even stronger. If I were told that I had to spend decades being a furry growth on a rock in the woods, I believe I would lose the will to go on. Lichens don’t. Like virtually all living things, they will suffer any hardship, endure any insult, for a moment’s additions existence. Life, in short just wants to be.” ― Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything

“Not only have you been lucky enough to be attached since time immemorial to a favored evolutionary line, but you have also been extremely- make that miraculously- fortunate in your personal ancestry. Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth’s mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life’s quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result — eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly — in you.” ― Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything

“It is a slightly arresting notion that if you were to pick yourself apart with tweezers, one atom at a time, you would produce a mound of fine atomic dust, none of which had ever been alive but all of which had once been you.” ― Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything

“When the poet Paul Valery once asked Albert Einstein if he kept a notebook to record his ideas, Einstein looked at him with mild but genuine surprise. “Oh, that’s not necessary,” he replied . “It’s so seldom I have one.” ― Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything

“Disassemble the cells of a sponge (by passing them through a sieve, for instance), then dump them into a solution, and they will find their way back together and build themselves into a sponge again. You can do this to them over and over, and they will doggedly reassemble because, like you and me and every other living thing, they have one overwhelming impulse: to continue to be.” ― Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything

Life just wants to be; but it doesn’t want to be much.” ― Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything

“Take a moment from time to time to remember that you are alive. I know this sounds a trifle obvious, but it is amazing how little time we take to remark upon this singular and gratifying fact. By the most astounding stroke of luck an infinitesimal portion of all the matter in the universe came together to create you and for the tiniest moment in the great span of eternity you have the incomparable privilege to exist.” ― Bill Bryson, I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” ― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

When it comes to men who are romantically interested in you, it’s really simple. Just ignore everything they say and only pay attention to what they do.” ― Randy PauschThe Last Lecture

“The key question to keep asking is, Are you spending your time on the right things? Because time is all you have. ” ― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

“You give your children enough money to do something but not enough to do nothing.” – Matt King, The Descendants

“Once you decide on your occupation, you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success, and is the key to being regarded honorably.” ― Jiro Ono, the best sushi chef in Japan, Jiro Dreams of Sushi

“I’ve seen many chefs who are self-critical, but I’ve never seen a chef who is so hard on himself. He sets the standard for self-discipline. He is always looking ahead. He’s never satisfied with his work. He’s always trying to find ways to make the sushi better, or to improve his skills. Even now, that’s what he thinks about all day, every day.”  Yamamoto, food critic, on Jiro Ono, the best sushi chef in Japan, Jiro Dreams of Sushi

“A great chef has the following five attributes. First, they take their work very seriously and consistently perform on the highest level. Second, they aspire to improve their skills. Third is cleanliness. If the restaurant doesn’t feel clean, the food isn’t going to taste good. The fourth attribute is impatience. They are better leaders than collaborators. They’re stubborn and insist on having it their way. And finally, a great chef is passionate. Jiro has all these attributes. He’s a perfectionist.” Yamamoto, food critic, on Jiro Ono, the best sushi chef in Japan, Jiro Dreams of Sushi

“What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” Unknown (to me)

“Don’t pursue success. Pursue discipline.”  CR Choi

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”  Dr. Seuss

“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” ― Maya Angelou

“On the way to wonderful, take a look around at OK; it may just be good enough for you.” ― adapted from Bill Withers, below

“One of the things I always tell my kids is that it’s OK to head out for wonderful, but on your way to wonderful, you’re gonna have to pass through all right. When you get to all right, take a good look around and get used to it, because that may be as far as you’re gonna go.” ― Bill Withers

“Kisses are like tears; the only real ones are the ones you can’t hold back.” ― Anonymous, found in Thumbs, Toes & Tears by Chip Walter

“Expectations are pre-meditated resentment.” ― Anonymous,

About 2 weeks ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with a massive craving for the tofu hoagie from Fu Wah Market in Philly. I am in Pittsburgh, and while trekking to Philly for a sandwich would not have been out of the question for my younger self, my only option was to re-create it.

What followed was a three hour researchfest. I learned that the tofu hoagie is an interpretation of the famous Vietnamese sandwich known as the banh mi. I visited a dozen sites to learn how to create the components of this sandwich, with a vegan twist.

The research paid off and culminated in the creation of a ridiculously tasty vegan banh mi sandwich, otherwise known as Swilly’s Vegan Banh Mi, and served on Superbowl Sunday 2013! (We all agree that the original Fu Wah tofu hoagie still holds the title of best vegan banh mi).

There are just 4 simple steps to create Swilly’s Vegan Banh Mi:
(1) Buy a kick ass julienne peeler,
(2) Make the do chua (carrot and daikon radish pickle),
(3) Marinate the tofu for one hour and cook, and
(4) Sandwich assembly.

vegan banh mi

Step 1: I bought the Kuhn Swiss Julienne Peeler from Amazon. (Husband points out it was made in China). Excellent purchase.

Step 2: Do Chua Recipe (serves 2-4)

Ingredients:

  • 3 small-medium organic carrots
  • 1 medium organic daikon radish
  • 9 teaspoons of raw brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 4 tablespoons of white vinegar
  • 8 tablespoons of warm water

 

  1. Julienne the carrots and daikon radish
  2. Place the julienned veggies in a mixing bowl, add 1 tsp of salt, and 4 tsp of sugar. Mix with hand until everything is covered, and set aside for 3 minutes. The veggies will become limp as water drains out of them.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix the warm water with 5 tsp of sugar. Mix till sugar is melted. Then add vinegar. Set aside.
  4. Wash julienned veggies with cold water, rinsing out the salt and sugar. Properly drain the veggies.
  5. Place veggies in a glass container with a tight sealing lid. Pour the vinegar mixture on top of veggies. Set in fridge overnight (but tastes great even after just 1 hour).
  6. Veggies can last several weeks (some people say months, but I’d make a fresh batch after a few weeks! Not to mention, I’d be surprised if they even lasted that long, they’re so good with everything!)

Step 3: Tofu Preparation (serves 2 hungry people)

Ingredients

  • One container of extra-firm tofu

 vegan banh mi sandwich

Swilly’s Vegan Banh Mi Sandwich served with salt and vinegar chips. Yum!

It’s always fun to learn new things, and here’s something I just came across: Galactagogues. It’s used in the context of breast-feeding moms.

Freda Rosenfeld, IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant), is a straight-talking, quirky goddess. With techniques like the Jim Carrey (an exercise for Harry’s mouth, which made his tiny face look as rubbery as the comedian’s) and full support for formula supplementation (she assured me formula wouldn’t kill my kid, and that like breastmilk, formula is food), she soon had Harry well-fed, satisfied, and nursing like he’d been doing it all his life – without causing me pain. And for my supply issues, she introduced me to a word, and a world, which would become quite familiar: galactagogue.

Galactagogues promote the production and flow of milk. Freda had an impressive arsenal of galactagogues for me to try, some herbal, many of them specific ingredients. For me, a combination of things worked: cups of raspberry leaf and nettle tea plus loads of oatmeal, barley, and almonds. It was a challenge to my sleep-deprived brain, figuring out ways to work barley into my diet (oatmeal and almonds were easy), but I did it.

http://www.babble.com/baby/galactagogues-breastfeeding-help/

I’ve been attending services at the Mt. Arahat Baptist Church in Pittsburgh, where Rev. Dr. William H. Curtis is pastor. I am drawn to the universal messages of service, humility, grace, compassion, and so forth. I find if you replace the words God or Jesus with destiny and/or karma, the message is the same as those advanced in Jainism.

One day, the service was on James 3:13. The passage reads as follows:

James 3:13
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

The pastor asked the congregation, if you could ask God for just one gift right now, what would you ask for? He said he would ask for wisdom. (Or did he say James asked for wisdom? I can’t remember. Either way, instead of riches, good health, beauty or strength, what would be asked for would be wisdom).

The pastor then went on to describe the effects of wisdom. One of the characteristics of wisdom is how it alters your behavior for the long haul, and not just over the short run. One who is wise demonstrates wise and humble attributes that are typical of them as a person, not just a momentary display of humility. Another sign of wisdom is the ability to do favors for others – for people who cannot do favors for me – because I acknowledge that I am full of good favor that God has given to me.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m plagued by the comparison bug, always comparing myself to others — characteristics, accomplishments, and so on. So, the bit I liked best was when the pastor mentioned that if one has wisdom, then there is no bitter jealousy. One realizes that God has blessed others with certain attributes and gifts, and with wisdom, one cannot be jealous of the benefits God has given to someone else.

And that is a great lesson to start 2013 — Happy New Year!

Since most of my cooking experiments are either a success or a failure (usually nothing in between!) I’m going to start recording the home runs here.

Ingredients:

  • Yellow fingerling potatoes (or anything small – I used round yellow Baby Dutch potatoes)
  • Minced garlic
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Pinch of dried rosemary
  • Olive oil

Instructions:

  1. Heat oven to 425
  2. Cut potatoes in half length wise
  3. Mix in oil, salt, pepper, garlic and rosemary
  4. Bake potatoes on pizza pan for 20-25 minutes until soft all the way through
  5. About 15 minutes through the baking, flip as many potatoes as you can before getting bored
  6. After 20-25 minutes of baking at 425, set the oven to high broil for 1-2 minutes – about 500 degrees
  7. Voila! These potatoes are so good on their own… no ketchup needed if you can believe it. The leftover pieces of garlic are TDF… crunchy and flavorful.

SWILLY:

Lately, I’ve been wondering if it’s good enough in life to “simply” be a good wife and a good mom, or whether more is demanded of those of us who are able. By more, I usually mean whether we have a duty to serve those who fall outside of the bounds of our direct and extended families. I usually end up on the side of, Yes. While we must  fulfill our duties to our children, our spouse, our parents, our siblings, our in-laws and so forth, we do in fact have a responsibility to extend ourselves to another. I’m especially convinced that having kids, and multiple kids at that, is no excuse for not serving another. Afterall, for most of us*, bringing life into the world, multiple times if that applies, was our own choice. While it may be time consuming, it is what we signed up for, and it doesn’t excuse us from extra-familiar service.

Today, I read this piece by Maureen Dowd’s called Why, God?, wherein her family friend priest, Father Chuck O’Malley, describes how God enters the world through us. During times of hardship and suffering, others can feel God’s presence by how we choose to help them through these tough times. The Father goes on to describe, “A contemporary theologian has described mercy as ‘entering into the chaos of another.’ … I have never found it easy to be with people who suffer, to enter into the chaos of others. Yet, every time I have done so, it has been a gift to me, better than the wrapped and ribboned packages. I am pulled out of myself to be love’s presence to someone else, even as they are love’s presence to me.”

As often happens with these articles, I often love the comments that folks leave behind. One in particular stood out, from Lee in Naples, FL. He (or she) wrote: “Expose yourself to the pain of another’s suffering and love them and be with them in love, and that is all we can do. That is where we find our divinity.”

I kind of really like that!

As Nipun often reminds us, we need not do big things, simply small things with big love. Lee’s comment reflected that side of service to me. Allowing yourself to be present for one’s suffering — entering one’s chaos — is a type of service. Surely, each of us has a little bit of time to extend our presence and comfort to a few souls, even if the file has to be sent, the house has to be vacuumed, dinner’s gotta be made, the in-laws have to be phoned, and the kids have soccer practice.

*Written based on the assumption that kids will enter our lives at some point, God/karma/destiny willing

SWILLY:

I’ve often wondered what might be an effective form of therapy following the death of a loved one. Here is a Layman’s Guide to Theoretical Physics as Therapy, by Dr. Uniquely Unqualified (inspired, and by inspired I mean taken mostly verbatim from, a NOVA special on this stuff hosted by Brian Greene).

  1. Our past may not be gone, our future may already exist.
  2. There’s no aspect of time which we really full understand.
  3. Time for Issac Newton was an immutable property of the universe. Time changes at the same rate for everyone, was the prevailing thought, and part of Newton’s reality.
  4. Einstein discovered, incredibly, that time could run at different rates. Time for me may not be the same as time for you. He smashed Newton’s conception of reality. Time is experienced individually. Everyone has their own private time which runs at their own private rate. There are “times.”
  5. Einstein came to this revolutionary conclusion by uncovering a special connection between space and time. He discovered a profound link between motion through space and the passage of time. The more you have of one, the less you have of the other.
  6. In other words, motion through space affects the passage of time. Time is running more slowly for the person who’s moving. That was uniquely Einstein.
  7. On Earth with such slow speeds, motion’s impact on time is so small we don’t experience it.
  8. So in 1971, an experiment was set up. Folks took 2 atomic clocks set to the exact same time down to the millisecond, left one on a jet airplane that few around the world, and compared it to one they had left on the ground. After the flying clock’s journey, they were compared, and the 2 clocks no longer agreed! They differed for a few hundred millionths of a second, but it was real proof of motion’s effect on the passage of time.
  9. Space and time could no longer be thought of as separate things. They were fused together into “spacetime,” a 4-dimensional structure. This fusion would lead Einstein to the most mind bending realization of all: The sharp difference we see between past, present and future may only be an illusion.
  10. In day to day lives we see time as a continuous flow. But you can also see time as a series of snapshots, unfolding moment after moment after moment.
  11. Picture all snapshots lined up – every moment on earth, earth orbiting sun, and every moment in universe, you’ll see every event that has ever happened or will ever happened, each any every moment in time – from the Big Bang 14b years ago, to creation of earth 4.5b years ago, to events happening on earth today.
  12. Think about the simple concept of now – what’s happening on this “now” snapshot on earth, in our galaxy, on other galaxies, and so forth. We can call this the “now slice.”
  13. We would all agree on what happens on a given now slice. But Einstein says when you take motion into account, this common sense picture of time goes out the window. Because motion affects the passage of time, someone who is moving will have a different conception of what’s happening now; they’ll have different things in their now slice. They will carve out the slices at a different angle, and their slices won’t be similar to my slices of time.
  14. Take an alien 10b light years from earth, and a guy on earth. If the two are sitting still, not moving in relation to one another, they share the same now slice. But if the alien rides a bike away from earth, motion slows the passage of time, their clocks will tick at different rates, and if their clocks no longer agree, their now slices will no longer agree either. The alien’s now slice is angled toward the past. Even if only by a miniscule amount, over such a vast difference, it results in such a huge difference in time. The alien’s now slice no longer includes the guy on earth, or even 40 years earlier when he was a baby. The alien’s now slice has swept back 200 year’s in earth’s history. (Watch the film to see an graphic description that makes it much more clear).
  15. The direction you move makes a difference. If alien bikes toward earth, the alien’s new now slice is angled toward the future and includes events that won’t happen on earth for 200 years.
  16. The Point: Your now can be what I consider the past or the future. Therefore, the past and future must be real — they could be your now slice.
  17. Put Another Way: Past, present, and future are all equally real, they all equally exist. The past is not gone, the future isn’t non-existent, they are all existing in exactly the same way. Just as we think of all of space being out there, we should think of all of time being out there too. Everything that ever has happened or ever will happen, it all exists.
  18. With this insight, Einstein shattered one of the basic concepts of how we experience time. The distinction between past, present and future is only an illusion, however persistent.
  19. Every moment in time already exists. e.g. just as all frames of a movie are already on a reel of celluloid, think of all moments of time already existing too.
  20. So how do we explain the very real feeling that times seem to endlessly rush forward? The flow of time may be just an illusion.

Because the past is not gone, and the future already exists, your loved one is still very much present in someone else’s now slice. Present, and fine. Present, and happy.

Like with many things in physics, one day this theory may be overturned (it very well already could be, when was the NOVA special produced?). But in my current now slice, it’s true. And it’s therapeutic.