Pleasure Can Take Many Forms

As regular readers of my column know by now, my mother really did not like to cook. She did what she had to do to feed her family. However, at least as far as I can remember preparing meals gave her no pleasure. Nor did she want my father to cook because, she said, he burnt everything. Perhaps he was impatient or perhaps he wasn’t watchful. I don’t know because I never saw him in the kitchen except to mix cocktails.

The only household chore I ever knew him to do was to polish the silver. My mother refused to do that and I do not blame her in the least. It is a dirty, tedious job. My father however seemed to enjoy it. I have a memory of him in an apron made from black and white striped mattress ticking material, vigorously polishing some of the lovely silver items he had inherited or been given by family members.

I on the other hand have always derived great pleasure from preparing food, baking, and providing meals for loved ones. For years I collected recipes. In the 80’s I wrote a cookie cookbook as well as a completely refined sugar free general cookbook with many recipes I had created. In those desserts I used only honey or maple syrup. Now even that kind of baking, along with a lot of other recipes I enjoyed making over the years, is history.

Recently I was diagnosed with a medical condition that requires severely restricting my carbohydrate intake. This has resulted in a major upheaval in both my eating and my cooking. In addition to sugars I have had to stop eating rice, pasta and potatoes. Thus I have had to eliminate many favorite comfort food recipes. I can no longer eat the Chinese fried rice I specialized in, the home fried potatoes or the shrimp scampi I enjoyed making as well as eating.

Then along came some difficult news. This caused a reaction I did not expect. I found myself in a depressed state and developed new aches and pains. I kept asking myself why was this happening? Then I realized I had been limiting most of my pleasure to cooking and eating. This is not to say I wasn’t doing fun things or having enjoyable experiences other than with food, however, I had concentrated principally on food related pleasure. I no longer regularly practiced other experiences I found pleasurable, like playing my harp or coloring.

Pleasure can rebalance the body’s ph and help keep us healthy. So now I am working to discover ways besides eating and cooking to give myself pleasure. In so doing I have rediscovered hobbies from the past like embroidery and begun to watch favorite old TV shows we have on DVD. I am spending more time with my harp, simply playing for the pleasure of it rather than working to learn tunes. I got out my coloring books and blank paper pads and began to color and as well as to draw. As time goes by I expect to enjoy new pleasures as well and look forward to discovering them. Meanwhile I already feel better.

The Fruits of Summer

Belfast veggies 12My parents both gardened, but differently. My mother had a vegetable garden; my father grew flowers. She spent her summers growing, harvesting, and putting up what the garden produced. He filled the house with fresh flowers in vases. His roses were lovely. He worked as an arborist and summer was a busy time for him as he helped others plan and tend their property. I always had a little garden of my own. I too grew flowers.

Later as a young wife I grew vegetables, though except for beans, not easily from seed. My children helped some but I did most of the work myself. My tomatoes were successful and appreciated. When I moved to Grafton I enjoyed growing herbs and flowers in my spiral garden, where I learned the virtue of perennials interspersed with annuals here and there. These days I no longer garden, instead I enjoy the fruits others’ efforts.

The farm markets in the surrounding countryside burst with local produce of all kinds. Vegetables and berries gathered daily line shelves and counters, and the freshly picked corn is piled high for the taking. Summer is the perfect time to indulge in this freshness. Between now and harvest time, the hot sun nourishes both roots and leaves. Its warm rays ripen the eventual harvest that people once stored for winter. These days we simply enjoy what grows.

Yet summer is also a time for people to take time off and appreciate the opportunity to spend it relaxing. Whether on the beach or in a park, the hot weeks are a time to be in nature, to let the sun bathe our senses and ripen our opportunities to kick back and nourish ourselves in nature and with play. The long daylight hours encourage extra outdoor activity. The relaxed pace allows time to catch up on reading and as well as see friends and family.

Rest is an important part of good health for everyone. Vacations are intended to provide more than just a change of pace. Whether they are taken at home in the form or staycations, or as trips to planned destinations, days off are a real necessity for everyone’s health and well being. One of the fruits of summer that does not grow on a tree or in a garden is time to let go, to set down the list of tasks and let things slide a bit.

Once a busy gardener with summer weeding chores, I find myself now doing more reading, as well as spending more time enjoying and appreciating others gardens. However, aside from weeding and watering, once the hot days of summer begin a well planned garden does not require much of the gardener. The harvest will come later when trees heavy with fruit and bushes with berries demand attention. For now it is time to enjoy a bit of lazy time, to lean on the fence or sit in my easy chair and let the garden grow.

Tasha Halpert

 

Thorns and Roses

Maine Roses and Hips -15          The season of roses approaches. One of my delights is to drive with the windows open and smell the fragrant wild white roses that border the roadsides. I know they are an invasive species. I found that out when I planted some by our swimming pool and after a year found myself dodging them. Soon they loomed over the fence and began reaching out to snare unwary swimmers, not to mention encroaching on the neighboring raspberries.

However their scent is amazingly beautiful, and for the several weeks of their blossoming any excuse will do for me to drive around just to smell them. Though I have not been able to grow them successfully, I have always loved cultivated roses and to receive them as a gift. Nowadays many commercial roses come without thorns. Somehow this seems wrong. In my mind, thorns and roses go together, and lately I have been thinking about this as a metaphor for life.

My daughter’s beloved mother-in-law passed on a little while ago. I was looking for a card to express my sympathy to my son-in-law and daughter when I ran across the two cards I had bought to send to cheer up the now recently deceased. I had lost track of them and been meaning to look harder so as to send them to her. Now it is too late. However, while I have regrets I will not hold onto them because what’s done is done and cannot be changed any longer.

One of my favorite teachers, the late Pir Valayat Inayat  Khan used to say, “Rather than regret that roses have thorns, rejoice that thorns have roses.” There is always something to be learned from the thorniest situation or relationship. I remember reading an essay by Emerson to the effect that one’s enemies are to be cherished because they help us to learn. Difficult situations do the same, as do difficult relationships. Another recent passing of someone with whom I experienced failure in this regard makes me sigh.

What saddens me is that no matter how deep my regret, the past cannot be changed. This can cause either serious dismay or graceful resignation. The missed opportunity to make up after a quarrel, the disappointed hope or expectation, the fervent desire for a change of heart are all thorns, yet regardless how much I wish things had been different, a least the thorns do in fact all have their own roses.

The pricking of the thorns is also a reminder to cherish the roses. While it is not possible to change the past, there are always opportunities to influence the future. It reminds me to acknowledge and to cherish the friendships I do have and to appreciate the gifts of generosity and love that bless my life. To regret the past is to cloud the present and perhaps even tinge the future with unnecessary sadness. As I work to cultivate the garden of my life I will water the roses of my resolutions with joy.

The Dailyness of Doing

Nature's Art 1. 2012-06- While I was growing up, when it came to household chores my mother did not consider me to be capable. This may have been because she expected more of me than I was able to do at a young age, or it may have been that she was so particular that my childish efforts were simply inadequate. She had very high standards. Regardless of the reason, she never encouraged me to do any cleaning or other household tasks even after I was in high school. What this meant was that I never really learned how to clean properly.

I remember the day I came home to the first apartment my young husband and I had and found my father sweeping the rug. I asked him what he was doing. He said he was cleaning the rug. But I don’t have a vacuum, I told him. You don’t need one, he said, and inquired of me where I kept my dustpan and brush. I had never realized you could clean a rug just by sweeping it.

I had to learn how to keep house the hard way, by trial and error and doing it. The other day as I cleaned the sink in the bathroom, I began thinking about household tasks in general. I realized that when I complete some tasks, I give a sigh of contentment and think to myself: good, now that’s accomplished. There are others I complete and with a sigh of resignation wonder how soon I’ll be doing it over again. Much depends on the task in question; some are more satisfying than others. Cooking, for example is my delight and I have no problem making three meals a day.

On the other hand, when I wash the kitchen floor, although it looks very nice, I don’t feel happy because it doesn’t last. Somehow it gets dirty practically immediately. Although small in surface, it is still a chore to keep clean. The stove presents the same issue. It seems that no sooner do I clean the pans under the burners than when I next turn them on, they’ll emit a bit of burning smoke from another stray crumb.

It is hard for me to take much satisfaction when I finish doing something I know I will have to do again practically immediately. Yet when I do not allow myself to take that satisfaction, I do not feel rewarded. If I do not feel rewarded it is much more difficult to do what needs doing again with any promptness. The good feeling I get from completing any task is an important part of what helps motivate me to repeat it, no matter how soon.

There is only one solution I can think of: to do the task as fully as possible in the present moment. What this means is that while I am doing it, rather than thinking of how soon I will have to do it again, or how onerous it is, I focus exclusively on the performance of it. It helps almost any situation to be mindful during it. As I direct my attention and my energy to the activity of the task, I am not only more efficient, but also more able to find pleasure in it.

Tasha Halpert

 

Practicing Unconditional Love

 

Sidney and pony 6

 

          Holy week celebrates the life story of Jesus, specifically its culmination. His life is a very special example of unconditional love. Whatever you may or may not believe concerning His life, you cannot argue the fact that here is someone for whom love was the supreme guiding light. In his life and in his words there are numerous examples of unconditional love: that love which is given without expectations or parameters. While Christians are supposed to practice this kind of love, they may or may not focus on it to the extent He did. Unfortunately, it is often not easy to do. It begins in families.

          We learn about love in childhood. If the love we are given does not feel to us like love, we grow disappointed and eventually believe we are not loved. To a child’s mind, if we are not loved it must mean we are unlovable. With the help of a therapist I learned to see my parents love as authentic, thus I was able to begin to love myself. The more I can love myself, the easier it is for me to be grateful for and accepting of the love of others.

          My parents did the best they could. They were two very different, very volatile individuals. Their attitude toward one another was so fierce and their fights and disagreements so frequent that even though now I know I was loved, I could not feel it then. In addition they had high standards for me, their oldest child, and were quite strict in what they expected of me. Too often they stressed my inadequacies rather than my successes. This attitude, with which they both had been raised, did little for my self esteem.

          As a result of learning to love myself, I started to practice unconditional love. I began with people I didn’t know well, went on to friends, and finally to family. It is most difficult to practice unconditional love with dear ones because I have expectations of them. Expectations and unconditional love do not mix. Still as I learn to love more deeply I can allow myself imperfection. After all if I do not spot my errors, how can I correct them. If I love myself enough, I can smile at my errors and congratulate myself on my efforts rather than criticize.

          Awareness is important; it is easy to justify criticism of others by thinking of them as in need of correction. However, when I encounter what seems to need correcting, I can ask myself if the fault I perceive in another is a reflection of something in my own being that needs work. If not, it may be that what I am uncomfortable with in the other person stems from a wound of which I am not aware. Then perhaps I need to relinquish judgment and practice compassion. The practice of unconditional love is ongoing. As I work at it I find that as well as deepening my love of others I am deepening my love of myself. In this way I find more and more harmony in the beautiful song of life.

Tasha Halpert

Watching the Pot by Tasha Halpert

I have always been exceedingly curious. This is one of my chief characteristics and while it has occasionally gotten me in hot water, most of the time it has only added spice to my life. Why people do things and what makes them tick has from my childhood been a vital interest of mine. I also enjoy observing people as they go about their business, especially in public. When I commuted on the train between my high school in Boston and my home on weekends I used to sketch my fellow passengers.

I was fortunate that my mother encouraged my curiosity. Children’s curiosity is precious and while it can also be annoying, it is important to encourage this trait. My brother did all sorts of experiments that unbeknownst to my parents could have either set the house on fire or blown it sky high. Fortunately, that never did happen. He grew up to be a wonderful scientist and together with his wife has written many helpful books.

Most all of the world’s great discoveries began with someone saying, “What if…” and then following up with an investigation or an experiment. I find it fascinating to read about some of these people, like Edison, for instance, who when something didn’t work, never felt he had failed but only that he had discovered another way not to do something. One person who inspired me was Mr. O’Connor, my 6th grade teacher. “Okie” used to demonstrate scientific principles with wonderful and seemingly magical experiments.

Seaside Perspective   I hope never to lose my desire to investigate. For instance, just for fun the other day I decided to see if a watched pot really would boil. I put some water in a pot, turned on the stove, and then observed the tiny bubbles as they gathered on the bottom. I wondered if they would change into large ones. They didn’t. As I watched and waited, I looked for it to boil, keeping my eyes glued to the water. After a time it actually did, so I proved to myself that the adage truly was inaccurate.

To be sure, most of the time when I put water on to boil I don’t bother to watch it. When I prepare a meal, I do several things at once–chop vegetables, stir up ingredients, and so on. Who has time to watch a pot boil? Still as I told my daughter when she laughed at me, I wanted to do this as a scientific experiment. I was intrigued by the thought of observing the pot to see if it would boil while being watched. Since it did, I also wondered why that saying has persisted.

I had to conclude that perhaps the saying had something to do with the nature of anxiety it represents and the tendency to keep lifting the lid to see whether or not the contents have come to a boil. Since I didn’t have a lid on the pot I was watching, I didn’t interfere with its ability to boil either. Nor was I anxious. I was simply observing. Perhaps that is the secret: to observe without interfering might not hinder the boiling process.

Me and My Subconscious by Tasha Halpert

Peace Village Pond 1I was excited when my daughter invited me to go to a weekend conference with her in upstate New York. It would be a wonderful opportunity for us to spend time together. She leads a very busy life and I was pleased to have this treat in store. This being a time of year when the weather is unpredictable, I was unsure about what clothing to bring. However, there were certain items I knew it would be important for me to take and I began by assembling my list of what these would be.

Once I finished it, I mentally ran over the list of these essentials I knew would be vital to my comfort and well being. One was my pillow, because I don’t sleep as well if I don’t have it. Another mainstay of my life is the various supplements I take daily to support my health and well being, as well as my homeopathic remedies. Then it was time to figure out what to choose for clothing.   This would depend on the weather where we were going. Advance weather reports can be reliable, however you never know.

As I moved around my bedroom I found myself mentally saying, “I must not forget–.” When I heard that I went “oops, that was definitely the wrong approach. “I must remember,” I corrected myself. I have learned that it is important to put one’s wishes and hopes in the affirmative rather than the negative. My subconscious mind hears what I say and does its best to fulfill my every wish, however a positive statement works better than a negative one.

One help I have in making correct choices is that of my subconscious mind. My kindly subconscious is very good about helping me along. This might sound odd yet there is a vast amount of information available from this part of me and I have access to it because I have learned to work with it.

Working with my subconscious is like having an invisible friend. This inner friend helps me by pointing out what I need to see or giving me suggestions to do what seems good. I’ve been fortunate in having learned to listen to this part of myself, and I’ve had plenty of practice in doing that. It’s not all that difficult, it’s just a matter of letting my intuition surface alongside my thinking mind and listening to what it has to offer.

My intuition is a function of my subconscious. This part of my mind holds all the subliminal information I absorb and process as I go about my daily doings. It also has access to any stored memories and accumulated data I may not be consciously aware of. The more I’m able to access this part of my mind the better I can function. It’s like having two hands to use instead of one. So as I pack for my weekend away I allow for what I know I need to remember as well as what I think I might need. Together me and my subconscious will pack successfully and whatever I might forget won’t be that important.