Thursday, February 23, 2017

Can doodling and colouring be a gateway to creative expansion and increased intelligence?

Can doodling and colouring be a gateway to creative expansion and increased intelligence? Short answer: yes.

Long answer: there's a delicate balance that predicates the functioning of the human mind.

Modern medicine has made many breakthroughs in the field of neuroscience, which is the study of the workings of the human brain. While the wealth of knowledge gathered about the brain is too vast and extensive for a mere blog to do it justice, I'd like to mention one main point that should be understood by anyone who has a curiosity about the value of doodling, colouring and other forms of art in life: the brain has two main hemispheres, which are called the right brain and the left brain. The right brain is responsible for our creative thinking, which includes visualization, problem solving, spontaneity and observation. The left brain is responsible for our formulaic thinking, which includes language, memorization, following instructions and internalizing rules.

For example, in baking, following a recipe is left brained; throwing ingredients together based on personal taste is right brained. Teachers who read out of a textbook then ask standard questions about the material covered are using the left brain to convey the message; teachers who set up centres with themes for their students to discover the lessons for themselves are implementing right brained spontaneity. In legal practice, knowing the law is left brained while bending it and discovering how and where it can be differently interpreted is right brained.

You may be wondering what all this has to do with doodling and colouring; stay with me here:

Kyung Hee Kim, an educational psychologist, has linked the propensity of addiction to video games and television to the lack of creative activity in general and art education in schools in particular. In general, American (and Canadian, and probably most other countries, too,) parents typically value athletic ability and academic success over artistic ability and spontaneous thinking. While of course physical health and academic learning are important, our thinking ability and brain power becomes lopsided and incomplete if sports and core subjects aren't paired with art and spontaneity. The problem, according to Hee Kim, with the kinds of activities most kids - and now, adults, too - are doing when not studying or practicing their sports, is that they are just mentally stimulating enough to entertain without actually encouraging creativity. Even activities that seem like they offer creative options really don't; for example, playing video games may seem to offer us the opportunity for endless options to win, but the options are not endless; they are, in fact, finite, and exist within the framework created by the video game designers.

Doodling, on the other hand, allows the right brain to play while also occupying the left brain. Experts say that regularly doodling, which means drawing freely and spontaneously without pre-planning the composition just for the joy of drawing, (or to pass the time,) without investing into the end result of the image, helps the brain in creative problem solving.

"You may find that the solutions to problems come to you when you take breaks to doodle," says brain researcher Regina Paul.

Colouring is the same way; it's a meditative activity that allows the right brain to be occupied and stimulated, while the left brain is free to wander. This means, you'll often stumbling upon answers to questions you've been searching for, or bringing back long forgotten ideas, while you colour.

Intelligence is about more than just grades on a report card; intelligence includes the ability to memorize data and also creatively use that learned information in life. But besides just balancing the brain and thus increasing our intelligence, doodling and colouring also give us something much more, which is vital for a happy life: creative gratification.

Anyone who has ever written a book, composed a song, completed a sculpture, made up a cartoon character or finished any other kind of right brained activity, knows the value of creative gratification. Artistic fulfillment. Satisfaction. They also know that being production is much more stimulating, and makes for a much more contented feeling, than consuming.

In my book Free Yourself from the International Conspiracy Against Enlightenment, I dedicate a sub-chapter to this subject: the difference between being a consumer and being a producer. Obviously, unless you're self employed and live off the grid, you're a consumer. So am I. It's not a bad thing, but it's also not the best thing. Consumers are those who purchase the products of others. If you watch a television show, you're consuming that show. If you eat a cake, you're consuming that cake. If you read a book, you're consuming that book. Producers, on the other hand, are people who create products, whether for sale or personal joy. When I refer to producers in this context, I don't mean publishing houses or production companies, I mean creative individuals who spend some time making things. Baking a batch of vegan cookies is a form of production; you'll feel more like you've achieved something when you finish a batch than if you just buy a box. Folding an origami crane is producing something; buying one from a Japanese gift shop is consuming. Again, you'll feel the personal accomplishment when you fold it yourself as opposed to buying one that someone else folded.

This is where a lot of people feel frustrated; thanks to the cuts to arts and creative courses in school, (relegated to the supporting role of "optional" classes compared to the mainstay "core subjects,) a lot of people feel like they have no actual talent. Hobbies seem to be a thing of the past. I remember spending weekends with my grandma and grandad as a kid; these were always so much fun. My grandad would build and paint model airplanes, teaching me the history of aviation as he explained the tiny detail brushes for adding just the right touches of colour. My grandma always had a myriad of creative passions; with a shelf full of craft books, she made the coolest greeting cards, some with pop-ups, always with different colourful papers; she folded origami boxes, and even made the jewelry that went into them. She also sews all her own clothing, (which looks better than store bought,) which she tailors perfectly using a plaster of paris bust of her own body that she made in a local sewing guild workshop. Their house was a haven for a creative kid; since my grandad was the director of curriculum for the local school board, he kept a drawer full of educational toys, and gave me a set on each visit- a boxed set of balloons with googly eyes and construction paper to make balloon heads; a book of paper flyers so I could make my own airplanes to throw around in the back yard; geometric magnets to make patterns, a spiral graph... and my all time favourite, a peg board with differently coloured rubber bands. I never watched television at their house; I spend hours and hours and hours drawing, folding planes and figuring out which one would glide the farthest, making jewelry out of Fimo and a cool shrink-art substance called Friendly Plastic...

My mom, as a teacher, would pick my up from my grandparents' house with more fun boxed projects; I remember at least three different candle making sets, more origami paper than I knew what to do with, sets of paints and kids craft books. In fact, whenever it was my birthday or Christmas, I asked for only one thing: art supplies, and I was never disappointed.

My point? I was the kind of kid who always wanted something to do. I wasn't at all high maintenance, though; a grownup could give me any kind of set and I'd figure it out and start doing. If not a formal "craft," I could happily entertain myself with a simple pen and paper just doodling. When I started babysitting in junior high, I had fun bringing my bag of craft supplies to do the same projects with the kids, and they loved it, often telling me they had never before thought of writing a story book and drawing their own pictures, or making a necklace out of buttons, or drawing pictures that don't mean anything.

I hope you're still with me; this blog isn't meant to be a tell all about my lifetime love of crafts; it's meant to be an invitation for you to take up two of my most favourite art hobbies; hobbies that I've carried with me from childhood and continue to enjoy even today. (And honestly, which I do literally every single day.) First, doodling.

Now, I have a bit of a love hate relationship with the word "doodle." It was a nickname my mom gave me when I was a toddler. ("Come on, little Doodle, time to go to Grandma's house.") It was also a put down one of my art professors used during a critique of one of my studio projects in a university class. ("I don't get it... this just looks like a big doodle...") The art community looks down on doodling as the drawing equivalent of speaking in broken slang, because usually, when doodling, the doodler doesn't care about the end result of the picture. It's just something to do to pass time, without much care for skill level or attention paid to composition. It's also possible, though, to doodle at a highly advanced level. When I doodle, for example, I don't think of it as doodling at all, but as abstract drawing; like fine non-objective art on paper, experimenting with different pen and ink techniques, lines, dots, shapes and patterns. Even though I do it more for my own enjoyment than for selling or displaying, I like to challenge myself; to pay attention to the interactions of different elements within the drawing; to the details and also the big picture; to the positive and the negative space in the compositions. And I encourage others to do the same, too!

Doodling is something anybody can do, any time, anywhere. Even as you read this, wherever you may be, there's bound to be some kind of paper and pen or pencil to which you have access. You can finish reading this blog, then immediately pick those up and start putting imagery on paper. (And... for the record... I hope you do!)

Colouring, on the other hand, is something I came to later in life. While I previously mentioned how much I used to love crafts and art projects, one thing I hated, (and I mean, I would never, ever, ever do it...) was colouring. Why?! It might seem like just the thing a kid like I was would have loved! But I did not. What I didn't like about colouring was that someone else already had the fun of drawing the picture, and there was no room, as far as I could tell, for creative self expression. There was an expectation of skin colours, hair colours, the colours used in the grass, sky, flowers... I do remember once in class colouring each flower petal a different colour, making the sky green and the grass blue, just because I could, and the teacher told me I was wrong. That was it... I was done with colouring, and instead, would turn the colouring sheets over and doodle on the back, then fill in my doodles with colour. That I liked. Those were the days before mandala colouring books, abstract colouring books... when colouring books were either Disney, and no crayon or even pencil crayon wielded in the hand of a 6 year old could ever make them look as good as the actual movie illustrations looked; it was a time before the recent trend of "adult" colouring books was even conceivable to people. In fact, (as probably many people like me around the world must also believe about themselves,) I often wonder if I started the trend of colouring books for grown ups when, in high school, my friends and other random kids in the school would pay me a dollar for a xerox copy of my full page abstract drawings so they could colour them in class. They, like me, enjoyed passing the time by filling a page with something new, unique and beautiful. And abstract designs, unlike the fairytale princesses and superheroes that graced the pages of actual colouring books of the time, offered endless possibilities for colour, blending, style and even allowed many to add to them, filling in more dots, patterns and designs.

Back to how doodling and colouring can awaken our creative expansion and increase our intelligence: Every time you pick up a piece of paper to doodle, you have before you an opportunity to make something brand new, which nobody else has ever seen before. A blank paper is, like the late Bob Ross would say about a canvas, "your own little world." You can draw literally anything. If, like me, you enjoy abstract drawing, this is even more the case; the blank paper allows you to weave and work any kind of like, shape, dots, spirals, symbols of your own imagination... and not only the elements in the drawing, but also the way they interact with each other, is your own style, which nobody else alive will have exactly. It's like your creative thumbprint- it's unique. In the same way, if you really engage yourself in colouring, and opt for designs that allow your imagination to run wild, then colouring will offer the same escape as doodling and drawing, and beyond that, if you're colouring in one of my colouring books, you can also use the drawings as doodle starters and instead of just flatly colouring them, you can draw your own designs into the lines provided.

When you get into doodling and colouring, you'll have fun expanding your skills, and maybe even decide to start sharing your art with others by posting it online.

Now, don't think I'm biased and only enjoy abstract art; I also love representational drawings and paintings, too, and if you're looking to expand your skills at drawing from real life, I highly recommend the book that got me started in my research into art and neuroscience, Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards. She takes her reader on a journey into seeing the world clearly in order to reproduce it on paper accurately, in a way that's fun and guarantees great results.

For those ready to jump into abstract doodling, though, I invite you to check out a big book I made a few years ago, that I still get great comments on, called Awaken Your Creative Consciousness. In it, I share my love for abstract drawing by giving step by step tutorials on doodling, making drawings out of words, doing geometric art on grid paper, and much more, then at the end of 54 pages of unique drawing lessons, I include 56 colouring pages all hand drawn by me. If you'd like to tour the book before you buy, check out the flip through. I've also made this book available as an instant download in my Etsy shop.

I've also made a YouTube video with 5 unique tutorials if you want to learn some abstract techniques right now. In fact, I love sharing my art so much that I've made a whole playlist of art videos.

And... as my little gift to you, to help you get started, here are two free printable colouring / doodling pages, right out of my books. You can choose to either colour these, or add your own doodles and drawings into them. Just drag and drop these images oner a pages or word sheet, enlarge them to your preferred size, print and play. Enjoy!



Saturday, May 17, 2014

Vegan Recipe of the Week

Namaste my veg friends! This week, our vegan recipe was sent in by my dear friend Cathy Chaturi Kali Ma. Thanks, Chaturi!

In order to make it totally vegan and sattvic, I would use liquified coconut oil instead of ghee, and instead of onions and garlic, I would add just a pinch more of the other herbs and spices.

Chaturi wrote:


Namaste Ma Sudevi,

I made this last night for my sons and daughter-in-law. A Chaturi original :-) it is not Vedic though.

1. Yummilicious spinach and potatos

Fry diced onions and peppers, garlic, ginger,  curry leaves, tumeric, cumin, corriander and a little salt. Add spinach. Add a little water and simmer. When spinach has cooked down, add peeled, steamed potatos.
Turn onto a low heat and allow flavours to blend.

2. Mixed bean curry with a tomato twist

Fry diced onions and tomato. Add garlic, corriander, cumin, tumeric, curry leaves, half a chillie or dried chillies depending on preference and a little salt. Add a little water.
Add previously cooked butter beans and sugar beans. Simmer.
If you prefer you can add some coxnut milk. I rarely do.
Garnish with fresh corriander.

3. Side dishes - corn on the cob and fresh cherry tomatos or rosa tomatos.

4. Super soft Roti:

4 cups flour (I use cake flour)
Melt approx. 100 grams ghee or margerine. (*Sudevi's healthy veganization: coconut oil!)
Slowly mix boiling water with rhe dlour, alternating with ghwe until you have a super soft dough.
Roll it out into a sausage. Cut thich slices.
Flatten each round alice and roll out very thinly.
Toast them in a medium heates pan (dry) and brush each cooked roti with a little ghee or margarine. (coconut oil!)
They ahould be soft, not dry

Enjoy!

Sent with love.
Chaturi


Monday, May 5, 2014

VEGAN RECIPE OF THE WEEK: Coconutty Quinoa with Veggie Tempeh Stir Fry (And a quick, creamy, healthy dessert...)



Alright, so this week's blog isn't just a recipe... it's a full-on meal!

First, if you're on a RAW VEGAN diet, all these recipes can be easily converted! Instead of cooking the Coconutty Quinoa as written, simply soak 1/3 cup of chia seeds in coconut water overnight, then stir in the nuts. Instead of stir-frying the vegetables, just mix them together as a salad. The sauce is already naturally raw, and so is the dessert. Enjoy!

Now, before getting to the how-tos, let me first briefly break down the nutritional factors involved in this delicious, satisfying, purely SATTVIC VEGAN meal:

-This meal contains a complete protein! "Complete protein" means any food source that involves all the essential amino acids, and basically combining any pulse with any grain makes a complete protein. Contrary to popular opinion, a vegan diet is NOT a low-protein diet. In fact, almost everything in both of these recipes contains protein; the chia seeds, the nuts, the quinoa, the tempeh, even the broccoli and kale! Eat these foods and build your muscle!

-It's full of Omega fatty acids! These are the "good" kind of fats that nourish brain cells and keep your skin youthful. Coconut and coconut milk are both full of Omega Fatty Acids. Not only that, they are also anti-inflammatory, and they help your body digest other nutrients. Some Omegas are also found in walnuts (known in both Ayurveda and Chinese medicine to improve brain health,) and almonds.

-It's packed with vitamins! Lycopene, which is great for your eyesight, is in the tomatoes. Vitamin C, the immune-system strengthener, is in the orange pepper. Calcium, needed for strong bones and teeth, abounds in the kale. (Keep in mind: your body is a human body, not a calf body, so if you want a source of calcium that you can actually digest properly, don't look for it in dairy.) Purple cabbage has vitamin A, C, folate, magnesium and potassium. And if you go a step further and have the berries for dessert, you're getting even more vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese, and also copper, folate, and antioxidants. (Antioxidants are like master-cleaners of the body, removing toxins that build up in our system, boosting the prevention of cancer, slowing the aging process!)

-Fiber, fiber, fiber! Vegan food (or, more specifically, healthy vegan food,) will keep you regular and maintain your digestive health.

-Feel good! When you eat healthy, cruelty-free food, you won't feel bloated and over-full. Especially if you eat it consciously, slowing down to savour the flavours, you'll never be heavy or too stuffed. After eating this kind of food, you can be satisfied, knowing that your culinary enjoyment was beneficial to your health and well-being, and that no animals were harmed needlessly to please your tongue.

Now, to the recipes!

Coconutty Quinoa

Coconut and Nuts make these grains Coconutty!

-2/3 cup mixed quinoa and chia seeds (I filled the measuring cup nearly to the top with quinoa, then rounded it off with about 2 tablespoons of chia seeds)

-the water from one can of coconut milk

-handful shredded, unsweetened coconut

-handful chopped almonds

-handful chopped walnut pieces

-handful chestnuts

-pinch pink Himalayan crystal salt

Bring about one cup of coconut water to a light boil. Add the pinch of salt, and the mixed quinoa and via seeds, then reduce heat to low. When the grains have fully soaked up the coconut water, add a little bit more. When that is soaked up, add a bit more. When the quinoa looks transparent, taste- if it's chewy, add the shredded coconut and nuts and remove from heat; if it's still a bit crisp, add a little bit keep adding more coconut water until it's soft, then mix in the other ingredients.

Yes- it's really that easy, kind of like a vegan take on risotto style pilaff but with quinoa.

As delicious as this is served with a stir-fry, you can also make it as a high-protein, high-energy, filling hot breakfast! Instead of the salt, add a dash of maple syrup, a drop of stevia, or a bit of agave nectar, throw in some dried fruits and play around with your combination of nuts- try pecans, cashews, and even macadamia nuts. Hearty, nutritious and so delicious! As a real treat, top it with a dollop of Coconut Whipped Better-than-Cream (recipe below) and a sprinkling of cinnamon, and enjoy!

Veggie Tempeh Stir-Fry

Fresh, tasty and oh so healthy...

-half a head broccoli, cut into long florets

-one yellow pepper, chopped

-1/4 head purple cabbage, chopped

-15-20 grape tomatoes, sliced

-2-3 generous handfuls baby kale

-dash of low sodium soya sauce

-tempeh, cut into small cubes

-1/2 teaspoon coconut oil

An important thing to remember when making a stir-fry is timing: each vegetable cooks at a different rate, and to make the most of the nutrients as well as textures and flavours, we should be mindful of when we add which veggies to the mis. This way, none will be "overcooked" or "undercooked." 

In a large frying pan, melt the coconut oil on medium heat, then add the chopped yellow pepper. Let it brown slightly, stir, and wait about one more minute. Then add the broccoli, and stir. Wait three to four minutes, until the florets are bright green, and throw in the tomatoes and purple cabbage. When the purple cabbage looks just lightly wilted, sprinkle a bit of low sodium soya sauce over this whole mixture, and stir. Next, push all the veggies to the side, add just a touch more coconut oil to some exposed frying pan, and there, brown the tempeh cubes. They taste best if they're just a bit crispy, so don't stir them in until they've browned up for at least one minute, then flip, and brown the other side, as well. Last, mix everything together, and top with the baby kale, and mix. The kale doesn't need to be cooked, and actually, it will retain more of it's health benefits if it's warmed by the other veggies without being cooked itself. 

Tahini Lemon Vinaigrette 

Just right on this stir-fry, but great on salads, too...

-1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

-1/3 cup lemon juice

-1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

-2 tablespoons tahini

-sprinkle pink Himalayan crystal salt

-fresh ground black pepper

-1 teaspoon crushed ginger

In a glass jar, mix all these ingredients together. Voila! That easy...

I make it in a jar so it can be kept (don't know it's shelf life; I keep it in the fridge and usually use it within 3 weeks; it's never gone bad on me...) for re-use. If the oil separates, just make sure the lid is on tightly and shake it up. If you have a taste for spice, add some chillies, more pepper or a dash of hot sauce to kick it up a notch.

Berries and Coconut Whipped "Better-than-Cream"

Simple but Decadent...

-handful strawberries

-few blueberries

-coconut fat

-maple syrup or stevia or agave nectar

Remember for the quinoa, I said you can get the coconut water from a can of coconut milk? Well, here's what you can do with the solid coconut fat scraped off the top of the can! (Obviously, cans of coconut milk say to shake well before use, but you definitely do not want to shake it if, like me, you prefer to use the water for one dish and the cream for another.) Spoon the solid coconut fat into a bowl, add a little bit of sweetener, whisk until frothy, and voila! The easiest, creamiest, tastiest vegan version of whipped cream you'll ever have! 

One can of full-fat coconut milk has enough of this good stuff for about 6 (!) servings of cream about the size of the dollop in this picture above. Don't over-do it; healthy as it is, it's still a form of fat. It can be used on anything sweet- cakes, cookies, frozen desserts, bars, etc. Wondering what to put on vegan apple crumble or pumpkin pie? This is it!


(Beneath this thick creamy surface lies pure coconut water!)

Want a rich, buttery, spicy vegan spread for sandwiches, wraps or other savoury snacks? Instead of mixing in the sweetener, blend the fat from one can coconut milk with about a teaspoon of curry paste, a pinch of salt and some spices of your choice. It will keep in the fridge for a couple weeks, and also makes a delicious dip for veggies or home-baked pita chips!

(Note: when buying a can of coconut milk, opt for organic!)

Enjoy!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

May Day: A Protester's Tale

Happy May Day, everyone! May this story inspire you to stand up for the Truth!



As I was lying there, tear gas stinging my eyes, body burning in the mid-July sun in Washington, and head pounding from the shots of rubber bullets, I knew it was over. It became clear, finally, in a burst of consciousness to which words would not do justice.

In my first memory, I was a middle aged man in the sixteenth century somewhere in the Southern United States. My family was rich, my clothing was stiff, expensive and tailored, and I was unable to shake the disapproving scowl from my face. The sharper my memory of this version of myself grew, the more ashamed I became. A distinct picture of my hand raised to beat a young black girl materialized. She couldn't have been a day over fourteen years, and trembled in fear. The vision faded and my awareness was brought back to the street.

Could I really have been a slave owner? The kind of racist person I've spent my life avoiding? No; impossible. It must have been a dream... my subconscious talking... maybe heat stroke.

Startled by what my mind's eye had just witnessed, I stumbled to my feet, only to be pushed back down.

"Stay down, punk! You're in enough trouble as it is!"

The police were all around, as I had expected. This was not my first major protest, and the pre-event hype assured at least a hundred of them decked out in riot gear. As I tried to explain my need to get out of the sun, I was silenced by the blow of a baton to the back of my head. I had no choice but to get down and do as I was told.

Then came my second memory flash: this time, the roles had been reversed, and I was the slave. It was obviously still the seventeen hundreds, although now the latter half. In my mind my flesh turned brown, darker than any I had seen before, badly burnt by the sun. My hands were calloused, my shoulders hunched from years of back-breaking manual labour. Without time to react, my hands were tied around a tree, and the sudden flick of a whip stunned me to the core as it sliced through the flesh on my back.

Of course, I knew why I was so abused; what goes around comes around, and if I hadn't mistreated the poor young girl, I would not have had to come back and experience the poverty, sorrow and pain I had inflicted on her.

Unaware of the stampede of protesters and police around me, I remained on the ground and presented to myself my third life. Looking down on my body, I realized that I was a large, scruffy man in leather boots, and a woollen plaid shirt. I was carrying a rifle, and tip-toeing through the woodlands of Canada. Before me, about a hundred yards, stood a beautiful, majestic, noble looking deer; the kind whose head could hang proudly, staring blankly through lifeless eyes, across a Western-themed hotel lobby. Shuddering, I knew what was about to happen, and didn't want to watch; didn't want to relive that moment I previously would never have imagined myself capable of living. But I did. I felt the muscles in what were once my arms tighten as I aligned with my living, breathing target, and pulled the trigger. A triumphant smile spread across that rugged face...

Without even a moment to process my sentiments about having killed a deer, I went on to experience a glimpse of my fourth life. Just as I had been a bigot and then a slave, the roles once again reversed, and now I became a deer. A doe, actually, and caring for my newborn fawn. I felt the serenity of maternal pride as I helped him take his first steps, with the love and patience welling up wordlessly within me. This fawn was my life, small, leggy and precious, and I knew that without me, he would never survive.

Then the unthinkable happened. Instantaneously, I heard the boom and saw a throng of birds lift hurriedly from the treetops... it took a moment before I understood why I was looking upwards. The bullet had struck me in the neck, blood was spilling out in copious amounts and every short breath I took in struggled to reach my lungs through my paralyzed body. Despite the excruciating pain, my mind was not on my own body, but on my fawn. He was not yet stable on his feet, and had been knocked over in the commotion when my legs buckled beneath me. I watched in helpless despair as he struggled to stand up again. Seeking comfort and protection, he stumbled to the side of his dying mother, and I yearned to be able to somehow express my love to him; to ask him to run away; to do for him what he needed done. Through the surging pain, all I managed to express was a whimper.

The hunter who had taken my life squealed stupidly and cried out, "I got her, Daddy! I can shoot!"The boy and his father trampled through the grass to reach me, and the boy pointed at my baby mockingly. "Hahaha, look at that! He can't even stand up! Should I kill 'im, too?"

That was the end, and as my doe eyes closed, my human eyes opened to take in the now-foreign sights of Washington once again.

I raised my head and immediately felt every orifice on my face burning with tear gas. I raised my arms to dry the streaming tears and cover my face, and when I lowered them again, I was a forty-something man sitting in fast food joint eating a burger. I listened in horror as my own beef-filled mouth sloppily bragged to a friend about the innovations in egg farming. "Now, we can keep over a thousand hens in a room no bigger than your shitter. The air is putrid in there, a course, but whatever... the egg collectors get ta wear masks and they don't hafta be in there long or nothin', just get in, grab the eggs, and get out, y'know? Hm... oh, no. There ain't no risk of getting pecked at. Ain't ya ever heard a de-beaking? When the chicks are still the size of fuzz balls we clip their beaks off like clipping finger nails; some of em never get to eat after that cause o' the infections and what not, but it's better an gettin sued by a pecked-bloody farm worker."

With a jolt, I was locked in a cage. My stomach was beyond rumbling as I hadn't been fed in days, and the water I had to drink was contaminated with dust, feathers and rotting food pellets that had spilled into it. My body was weak and sickly, feathers falling out due to malnourishment, head constantly throbbing with pain from the violent slicing off of my beak at birth; it felt like a sinus infection combined with repeated hammer-hits to the nose. Like so many of my other cell-mates, my beak had never recovered from de-beaking, and the smell and taste of pus had become my sickening permanent state; I gagged constantly from the repugnance of my own odour. The wire bars of the cage were so close together that my wings had never been spread; my head had never been lifted. Finally, though my unexercised muscles could not support my body's weight, I could no longer tolerate the urge to stretch; in a desperate attempt to break the cage, I stood tall, summoned all the strength I had to stretch my wings, lifted my head until the wire above it cut and sliced through the down to my skull. My neck snapped from this intense pressure, and so ended my life as a battery caged hen.

This was the last of my past-life flashbacks, and now my present life experiences flashed before my eyes. When I was four years old, I tried to watch Bambi, but ran from the room in tears. I felt an odd sense of oneness with the cartoon on the screen, and could never quite figure out why I empathized with all the main characters; not only the doe the fawn, but even the uncouth hunter.

In my early teen years, a new girl came to our school whose family had just immigrated from Ethiopia. Some of the other kids were afraid to talk to her, since her's was the first African-Canadian family to move to our not-so ethnically diverse town. Somehow, though, I knew from deep inside of me that skin colour and facial features are only surface, but the awareness in all of us is the same. She became my best friend.

Back to Washington. I was a nineteen year old activist taking part in the largest protest my generation had seen. We had gathered from all across North America to take a stand against the capitalist agenda that forces people to work in sweatshops overseas; the corporate agenda that gives more rights to plunderers of the world than to the world which is plundered; that forces animals to live in squalid conditions on factory farms to feed the gluttony of people never taught an alternative to gorging on death; the militaristic take over of other nations for their resources... our numbers were strong and our message was clear: we must destroy greed before greed destroys our planet.

Lying on the pavement, tear gas burning my body inside and out, for the first time in my life, I felt real peace within myself. I understood the meaning of life, and laughed at it's simplicity: the meaning of life is that all lives have meaning. We are here to live in love, to give the best of ourselves to others without causing harm to those with whom we share our beautiful world.

It had taken me seven lifetimes to realize something I would have known from the beginning if only I had been able to put myself into the other's shoes. Lying in the street of the Washington protest, I knew my last life was over and from here, there was no other body in which I would have to live. I was being killed in this protest; I was being set free. I felt no anger even against those whose corrupt means of business I was protesting, nor against the police officers who had gassed me, shot at me, beaten me; they would surely learn from their own experiences now and to come that we are all one. They were all bound to come to the same clarity I enjoyed as I breathed my last breath with a smile.

Everyone will.

***

Happy May Day! May 1st has been celebrated as a springtime holiday for generations, but now, it has also become synonymous with protest and breaking down the systems of corruption in the world. To commemorate the spirit of this day, I'm sharing with you a short story I wrote for English class when I was in high school. It was the first school project I really felt proud of, and it earned me my first "100%" mark. Thanks to the encouragement of my 11th grade teacher, I've continued to write for social change ever since. You might at times wonder why words like "karma," "reincarnation" and "enlightenment"aren't used, and the answer is simple- at the time that I wrote this, I was not yet familiar (consciously) with Hinduism or these Vedic concepts, but now that I know about such things as the trans-migration of the soul, and the fact that a being, once enlightened, is free from the karmic cycle and no longer needs to take another lifetime, it makes even more sense, and validates what I had felt all along. The "Advaitha" realization that "we are all one" which I wrote in this story, and held well into my adult life (inspiring even the title of this blog) really is the Ultimate. Have compassion even in your righteous anger; protest to instigate change, and remember that even those against whom you are protesting are on their own path's to conscious awareness that all life has meaning. I love you, and I wish you well on your quest to make right the wrongs in the world!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

EASY GREEN SMOOTHIE (Vegan Recipe of the Week)

As a way of sharing my enthusiasm for the cruelty-free lifestyle, I've decided to start a new weekly blog segment here, in which you'll find my favourite Vegan recipes with easy-to-follow instructions and pictures!

You've probably already heard that green smoothies are one of the healthiest, most easily digestible, vitamin-filled energy sources for your body. I, personally, start every day with a blender of green smoothie for brunch! (Breakfast and lunch put together.) So many health experts and dieticians recommend including these in your diet that really, anything I have to say about them will only be a repetition of all the great facts already out there. Even still, since the care for your physical form is of vital importance not only for your body's health, but also for your mental clarity and spiritual joy, (remember- the body through which you express yourself is the interface through which you experience life and the way you treat your body directly affects the experiences you gain!) I'll repeat a few of those benefits before getting to the good stuff.

-By "drinking your greens" the nutrients and vitamins are more easily digested and converted into energy than they would be if eaten solidly as salad

-It's faster and easier to drink a smoothie than to eat the equivalent amount of fruit and veg, so this is a perfect meal for those who lead busy lives. (Remember: a smoothie is not just a drink; it's a meal!)

-Children love smoothies! If you have a picky little eater, a cold, sweet, fruity smoothie (in which spinach, spirulina, wheatgrass juice, cucumber and other veggies have been cleverly hidden) is a sure way to make sure he or she is getting enough healthy stuff.

-Believe it or not, even some vegans don't get enough veg in their diets! That's because many vegans go vegan just for animal rights reasons without necessarily caring about their health, thus, they wind up eating a lot of processed, grain-based, snacks foods. (Like instant noodles, crackers, breads and baked goods, pasta, etc.) Going vegan for the animals is great! But- you can be of more use to the animals if you're healthy and fit! So, if you're a "potato chip vegan," make sure to give your body a break. Eat less processed junk food, and treat your physical form to more nutritionally rich treats.

-Smoothies are affordable! Since a smoothie can be made with whatever ingredients you choose to put into it, the cost will be as much or as little as your food budget affords. If mixed frozen berries, spirulina powder and Vega protein mix are out of your budget, you can use whatever seasonal fruits are available at a low cost (or pick your own when you can!) and simply freeze them yourself. Soy flour is much cheaper than protein powder, but still contains a high protein count. (If you go this route, pick a non-GMO soy flower, and use it in moderation; it's not for every day, but only the days when you'll be eating less protein.)

-Smoothies give you energy without weighing you down! If you have an active day ahead, (going for a long hike or picnic, or running errands without much time for a break,) make a smoothie in the morning, pour it into a travel cooler or thermos and enjoy a refreshing, portable, energy-boosting treat throughout the day.

Now, for the recipe:

What you'll need:
-a blender
-fruit
-liquid
-greens
-protein powder (optional)
-green powder (optional)

First, the blender! Many smoothie-advocates recommend getting a top of the line, expensive model, but for me, this low-end ($25 on sale!) works perfectly- crushes ice, blends fruit, gives good consistency.)


First, as a base, pour some liquid into the blender. Be sure to always add liquid first, or else the frozen fruit and veggies will not blend, and that can dull your blender blades. I'm using a store bought green juice that contains wheatgrass, alfalfa, cucumber, plus some fruit juices for sweetening. You can use any kind of juice or non-dairy milk as the smoothie base- try soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, hemp milk, etc. Keep in mind that the flavour of the juice should complement the other ingredients you put in! If you're using berries and vanilla flavoured protein powder, don't use a tomato-based juice, but sometime mild like almond milk! If you're putting in only salad greens and veggies, then by all means, use a tomato juice, carrot juice, or pure green juice. (Pure meaning, no or little sweet fruit.)


After the liquid, add your spirulina powder, or whatever other "green powder" you may pick. It's best to add it before other ingredients so it has a chance to blend in nicely, and not clump. Spirulina is a super food, and has been praised by the UN for it's perfect blend of nutrients. If you only have one superfood added to your ordinary diet, spirulina is a good choice, since it's packed with essential amino acids, vitamins and nutrients. It's a pure micro-sized plant, and full of green energy! A teaspoon is enough- this stuff has an intense flavour, and you don't want it to overpower the other ingredients.





Next, add your greens! I like to put in a lot of spinach. When making your green smoothie with a lot of fruit, spinach is the ideal salad vegetable because it blends smoothly and hardly changes the flavour of the drink at all. You can add as much or as little as you choose; notice, I like a lot! This is what makes the smoothie a "meal;" like drinking a salad!



Because the leaves are lighter in weight than the fruit, it's important to put them in first so the fruit can push them down towards the blades. This saves you from the trouble of later scraping down the sides of the blender. 

Next, add your fruit! I've gone with a cup of frozen mixed berries, but you can also use apple slices, kiwi, mango, melon, orange, papaya, pineapple, starfruit... anything! If you have a sweet tooth, including a slightly-brown skinned banana will give the smoothie an added sweetness and also a smooth, creamy texture, as well as add some starchiness, which is good if you're very active.



Now for the protein powder! I really like "Vega" brand, since it was created by a vegan athlete, and never has sugar, animal products or artificial chemicals added. The vanilla flavour complements this fruit and spinach blend really nicely. I've found the chocolate (!) Vega protein powder goes well with soy milk, one banana, and a cup of frozen blueberries. If you're using chocolate, skip the spinach and spirulina, because somehow they combine to form an unfortunately cheesy taste... You can also find flavourless powders, like hemp protein, soy protein, or chia protein. If you don't have any kind of protein powder, you can add a scoop of plain chia seeds, or even pre-cooked (and cooled) quinoa. 



To get all the powder dissolved, and to aid the blender in it's mixing process, I add a cup of (filtered!) water. You can also add a non-dairy "milk" or more of your juice if you like a stronger flavour.


Now you're ready to blend it all up! Choose a "liquify" setting, not a "chop" setting, or, if you have a blender like the one pictured, opt for "dispense" setting, as that gets all the lumps out!



You'll notice that even after so much spinach, green juice and spirulina has been added, the colour still comes out nice a pinkish-red. If you're making this for children (or grown ups) who have a prejudice against drinking green things, pick really intensely pigmented fruits, like blackberries and raspberries, and add just a little bit of beet juice or pomegranate juice for more colour. Cheers!

Monday, April 21, 2014

You're Invited to my Sattvic VEGAN Easter Dinner!

This is my first EVER "food blog." I've been a strict vegetarian from childhood, and a vegan from my early teen years on, but for me, the choice to "go veg" was always based on the well-being of animals, not the diet angle. Only in recent years, since I've discovered yoga, ayurveda, and the Vedic lifestyle, I've come to appreciate the myriad health benefits that come along with my ideal animal-friendly diet. In fact, it's not just a diet for me, but my passion! I'm passionate about the elevation veganism gives to health, the environmental benefits from the reduction on world resources, and especially, the right animals have to live their lives. If you're vegan, I'm sure you know exactly what I mean...

But what to do during holidays, when the celebration goes against the vegan way of life?

Easter represents the rise of Good over Evil; the triumph of Life over Death; the greatness of Compassion in a world full of suffering.

And yet, somehow, the way people celebrate Easter completely contradicts the joy and love spiritual celebrations are meant to engender for us. The "Chocolate Bunnies" now synonymous with the season are made with milk cruelly taken from cows who are raised in brutal captivity, whose calves are ripped away from them prematurely and killed for veal, and whose own bodies are turned into burger as soon as the milk stops flowing. The eggs people colour with their children are no less tainted than the milk in their chocolate counter-parts; the egg industry employs some of the most brutal practices known to modern farming, including battery cages, "debeaking" and the careless disposal of live baby chicks. Besides these sad "ingredients," Easter Sunday Dinner is often ham, (dead abused pig meat,) turkey, (dead abused turkey meat,) or the meat of some other horrendously killed animal.

As a vegan, it can be difficult to enjoy holidays because wherever we look, we are reminded of the pain and suffering experienced by our animal friends. Just seeing how many people teach their children to celebrate by eating sweets made of suffering is very sad; smelling the dead flesh of a once-living creature is sad; pretending not be offended at a social gathering where you might have to "pass a plate" feels like living a lie.

Of course, I don't want to depress you, my dear reader- I don't want to make you feel bad about this, or any, holiday, nor to "guilt" you if you haven't gone veg yet.

Instead, I want to offer you a solution:

Next time your family is getting ready for a holiday, offer to host the dinner! Not only will this make the feast guilt-free and enjoyable for you, but also, it will be a very special gift of nutritious and delicious veggie fare for those you love.

On that note, I'll get to the good stuff: our Menu and my Recipes!


                                                                  On the Menu:

-Jasmine Green Tea

-Spinach Salad with Super Green Goddess Dressing 

-Baked Ginger Tofu Strips 

-Super Rice

-Mixed Vegetable Curry

-Heart's Choices "Kung Pao vegan faux Chicken" 

-Coconut Lemon Bar

                                                                  Jasmine Green Tea

Boil (pure, fluoride free!) water, and pour over jasmine green tea. Let steep three to five minutes, and serve hot.

                                            Spinach Salad with Super Green Goddess Dressing

The Salad:

-Organic Baby Spinach Leaves
-Olives
-Sunflower Seeds
-Balsamic Reduction (also called "Creme Basilica," thickened vinegar)

The Dressing:

-1 Avocado
-1 teaspoon Spirulina powder
-2 tablespoons fresh dill, or 1 tablespoon dried dill
-1/2 teaspoon Himalayan pink crystal salt
-juice of 1 lemon (or 2/3 tablespoon lemon juice)
-2 tablespoons tahini
-dash extra virgin olive oil

(Green Goddess dressing was first invented in a high end hotel resort, but the original is neither healthy nor compassionate; it's full of mayonnaise... My variation is "super" because it includes the superfood Spirulina with other wonderfully flavourful raw vegan ingredients... delicious and healthy!)

This salad is extremely easy: just put the spinach in a bowl, and serve the balsamic reduction, seeds and olives on the side so your guests can customize their greens. Spinach is a superfood in it's own right, and makes a substantial salad, but of course, you can add any fresh vegetable you like to make it even tastier- sliced red pepper, cucumber, grated carrot, beet root, broccoli, whatever!

The dressing is also extremely easy! In a small mixing bowl, mash the avocado with a fork. Once it's really creamy, whisk in the tahini and olive oil, then add all the dry ingredients, stirring to prevent any clumps. As it is, the dressing is very thick, and makes a great sandwich spread, or dip for veggie sticks. 

If you prefer a runnier dressing, you can make this into a green-goddessey-vinaigrette. Instead of mashing the ingredients with a fork, mix them in a blender or food processor, along with about 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. For a lower far version, use just a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, and 2 tablespoons (unsweetened!) non-dairy milk, like soy milk, almond milk, hemp milk, etc.

                                                          Baked Ginger Tofu Strips

These are always a crowd-pleaser! You can throw them into a stir-fry, add them to a sandwich or wrap, or munch on them just the way they are.

-1 package extra firm, organic, non-GMO tofu
-soy sauce
-minced ginger
-coconut oil

(The night before...) Slice tofu into strips; they should be thicker than matchsticks but thinner than baby carrots. Spread them out on a baking sheet that has been very lightly greased with coconut oil. Drizzle soy sauce over the whole batch, then smear each piece with minced ginger. I use about 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 2 teaspoons minced ginger, but you may prefer more or less depending on how salty and spicy you like your food.

(The day of...) Bake at 350 degrees for about thirty minutes, then broil the tops for one minute, until crispy.

                                                                 Super Rice

Easy to make, this protein-rich grain medley is a perfect side dish for any curry, vegetable stew, stir-fry or sauce.

-1 cup brown rice
-1/2 cup quinoa
-1/2 cup chia seeds
-water
-dash Himalayan pink crystal salt
-1 teaspoon extra virgin coconut oil

This recipe is adaptable, and can be made with various ratios of the three grains. How you prepare it depends on the particular kind of rice you buy. Some rice requires more water, some less, so I've left the water measurement ambiguous. 

First, read your rice and quinoa packages to find out how much water to use, then, add the water for both into one pot, and bring to a boil. Add salt, coconut oil, rice and quinoa, reduce the heat to Low, and cover. In a small bowl, soak the chia seeds in 2 tablespoons water. Once the rice and quinoa are fully cooked and all water is absorbed, remove from heat. Strain the the chia seeds if they haven't absorbed all their water, then stir into the rice mix. 

Variation: for a rich, flavourful treat, substitute coconut water instead of water, and add a half cup shredded, dry, unsweetened coconut instead of chia seeds. No need to soak the coconut or add more water, just stir it in when rice is fully cooked and it will soften by itself.

                                                         Mixed Vegetable Curry

-10-15 miniature red potatoes, cut into fourths
-1/2 head cauliflower, chopped
-1 large zuccini, cut into rounds, then cut the rounds each in half
-2 medium tomatoes, chopped, or two handfuls cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
-2 large carrots, cut into rounds
-2/3 tablespoon turmeric
-curry paste (measure to your liking and pick one you enjoy; my favourite for flavour is "Madras Curry" but it contains some garlic and onions, which the Sattvic diet recommends only to take medicinally, and for a batch of this size, I usually use 3-4 heaping tablespoons! Spicy! If you don't have access to curry paste, substitute curry spice mix powder, adding one tablespoon at a time, and tasting before adding more.)
-two cups (or 1 can) coconut milk (make sure to buy organic, and if, like me, you live somewhere that only sells this good stuff in a can, check the label to make sure it's "BPA Free")
-fresh herbs
-1/2 teaspoon Himalayan pink crystal salt
-two cups chickpeas (garbonzo beans/ channa) pre-cooked

Boil the potatoes until "almost cooked," then strain. In a large pot, add the coconut milk, turmeric and curry, stirring until fully blended. Add the cauliflower, carrots and mostly-cooked potatoes, stir, cover, and let sit on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender but not soft; about fifteen minutes. Reduce the heat to low, and add the chickpeas, as well as the herbs, (basil, parsley, dill, and cilantro are all lovely in a curry; experiment and see what you enjoy,) salt and any other spices you're tempted to throw in. Let sit on low hear stirring occasionally, for at least one hour. This will soften the vegetables, and allow the flavours to really blend and absorb. Enjoy!

                                       Heart's Choices Kung Pow VEGAN faux-Chicken

This is the only thing on my dinner menu that can't really be called "health food," since it's pre-packaged, not particularly high in protein or vitamins... but as a rare treat, and on a special occasion, it sure is tasty! Heart's Choices is a Calgary based company that specializes in Thai vegetarian and vegan food. They import these Kung Pao treats, which are made by strict vegetarian Buddhist monks in Thailand! If you're in Calgary, check them out at the Farmer's Market.

Literally, just open the package, and heat in a frying pan on medium until fully hot.

                                                       Coconut Lemon Bars

After having something similar to these at an amazing little vegan restaurant earlier this year, I decided to challenge myself to re-create the treats at home. These are easy to make, sugar free, and delicious! My new favourite raw vegan dessert! Enjoy!

Base:

-6-8 soft, pitted Medjool dates
-handful raw pecans
-small handful cashews
-large handful raw rolled oats
-small handful shredded dry coconut
-zest from one lemon (make sure to buy organic, and wash before zesting)

Topping:

-1 cup extra virgin coconut oil, melted
-3 tablespoons coconut cream
-3-4 tablespoons pure maple syrop
-juice from three lemons (or 3 tablespoons lemon juice)

Garnish:

-dollop coconut cream (sweetened by stirring in maple syrup or agave nectar)
-sprinkle of shredded coconut and lemon zest
-raspberries

In a food processor, blend together all the "base" ingredients until the nuts are crushed, oats are blended and the mixture holds together like a thick cookie dough. If too dry, add another date, or a few drops of water. If (like me!) you don't have a food processor, with a little patience and hard work (much scraping down and restarting) you can make this base in a bowl with a hand-mixer.

In a double boiler, (or a tempered glass bowl nestled over a pot of boiled water) melt the coconut oil until fully liquified. Once liquified, add the coconut cream, maple syrup and lemon juice, and stir until well mixed.

Spread the base layer evenly in a small cake pan, lightly greased with coconut oil. Make sure to cover the entire bottom of the pan, then pour the filling over top. Leave it in the fridge overnight (or at least for a few hours) so the top layer solidifies. When you're ready to serve, flip the pan over into your hand, and be ready to flip it over again onto a cutting board. It's slick, so it slips right out of the pan very easily! Cut into squares, (not too big, as it's very rich!) plate, garnish and serve. These are really tasty!

Enjoy!

                                                                      Note: 

You'll notice these recipes don't give precise measurements, cooking times or too-picky directions. That's because I cook more intuitively than methodically. Please feel free to customize, and make these dishes your own!

The meal includes all different flavours, colours and textures, making for a complete culinary experience, as outlined in the recommendations of a Sattvic Diet. The curry is spicy, the rice is mild, the salad dressing is pleasantly bitter, the olives are salty, the balsamic vinegar is tangy, and the lemon bars are sweet and sour. When we eat foods of all different flavours and textures, we stimulate every part of our palate, and this creates balance in life. Many of the ingredients used are labelled as "Super Foods" by modern nutritionists, including coconut oil, which is the perfect cooking oil as it's nutritional benefits don't diminish when it's heated; spinach, which is rich in calcium and vitamins; Spirulina, which is a powerhouse of vegan nutrition, rich in calcium, iron, protein, and vitamins... even B 12!; chia seeds and quinoa, which are both higher in protein than other more conventional grain options, and more. Since more than half the foods are raw (the salad, including the avocado dressing and sunflower seeds, as well as all the ingredients in the dessert,) the nutrients are easily digestible, and fully usable by the body.

 If you're thinking of going vegan, or if you're already vegan but looking to revamp your diet to make it more healthy, the rule of thumb is this: make sure each meal includes a protein, (here, the garbanzo beans, tofu and "Super Rice" are all great sources of protein,) vegetable and grain, and throughout the day, fill up on fresh fruits and veggies instead of packaged goods like crackers and pre-cooked packaged dinners. 

Compassionate food is nourishing for your body, mind and spirit; so try this out, share it, and enjoy!

So, here's how it all came together:

                                                                          The salad:

The Super Green Goddess Dressing:


The curry:
(Pardon the blur- it's an action shot, lol.)

The Kung Pao:

A finished Plate:
                                     
                                            (Note: you can see the super rice on the right!)

And... best for last... the dessert!

(And this one above, specially made for my diabetic auntie- with more oats and fewer dates in the base, liquid stevia instead of maple syrup in the topping, and all measured for proper diabetes-friendly portion control!)

If you try these yourself (which I recommend you do!) let me know how the recipes have worked for you in the comments! And, if you have a go-to vegan recipe you'd like to share, please do!

Friday, November 22, 2013

If you can laugh at yourself, you'll never feel needlessly embarrassed again!

An old saying tells us that "Laughter is the best medicine," and it's absolutely true. Our feelings have a tremendous effect on our health and wellness, and genuine laughter is the expression of one of the best possible feelings we can have- joy! 

Since embarrassment is basically the antithesis to joy, the feeling of lone shame and fear of public scrutiny, the ability to laugh at our own selves is absolutely vital towards feeling well and inwardly balanced. 

Laughter cures humiliation. By this, I don't mean that when we slip up or make mistakes we should scoff at ourselves, or have an outburst of sardonic cynicism; I mean, we should genuinely enjoy the joke played in life, even when the joke's on us. By doing this, we can go beyond ego; we can go beyond the typical feeling of separationwe ordinarily experience, the 'dvaita' duality of 'self versus others,' and instead rise into a feeling of inclusivity with everyone else, the 'advaita' non-duality of realizing we are all in this together. With the mirth of the laughing Buddha, and the selfless surrender likened to the saints who know that we are not our own selves, but expressions of the Divine Self, we must laugh merrily in those situations that would ordinarily make us want to crawl into a corner and hide. The witness can laugh at life; the struggler cannot. When even your own life is something about which you have awareness, when you witness your own thoughts, actions and experiences, you will be able to enjoy it so much more fully. Laughter is the technique and the result. To utilize this technique and realize this as a result all you have to do is be aware of yourself. The next time you find yourself in an "embarrassing" moment, look deeply, and find the humour in the situation. Laugh at yourself! When I say "laugh at yourself," I don't mean to imply that you should all be self deprecating, no. I mean, be grateful for the humour in those little jokes life makes of which you are the butt.

The title of this blog is something I "Tweeted" last week after scrolling through my past YouTube videos, and finding that one particular Q&A from last year had a rather... um... unfortunate thumbnail:


For a split second, I felt that lightheaded sensation of pure embarrassment I'm sure we've all had from time to time, as I realized that this video still (which awkwardly mixes the cliched facial expression of a sleazy used car salesman with the elegant Hindu finery I had worn in celebration of Deepavali, for a final result that looks pretentious and preposterous,) had represented "me" in the world of YouTube for over a year. But after a very short moment of cringing, the enlightened realization that there is no separate "me" returned, and the true hilarity of this ridiculous picture took effect. As a witness to the absurdity of the fact that this comical expression had somehow slipped past my information editing and made it into search engines everywhere played out like a comedy, and I simply erupted in laughter. (The YouTube fates hath made me to laugh so that all who see this can laugh with me!) No embarrassment, just enjoyment. It was then that I composed the Tweet, and very nearly shared this screen shot there, but decided to save it for a blog, so as to allow for a bit of expansion on the topic.

Two years ago, while I was in India, I made a short guided meditation video in the garden of the Rajarajeshwari temple called "Let Go of Embarrassment to Overcome Ego." In that video, embarrassment is overcome by flooding embarrassing memories and ideas with awareness to the point that the realization of self beyond public scrutiny is realized:



About a week after this video was published, I received an email from one of my dear viewers, Jenn, (the lovely organizer of my Vancouver events, who has a wonderful blog of her own that I highly encourage you to read here!) shared an experience: after watching the video, she was confident within herself that she had completely overcome any tendencies towards the ego of embarrassment. However, as life often tests us on those very things about which we have newfound confidence, the very next day, she found herself in an embarrassing situation: she got herself a hot cocoa during a break in a large work related seminar, then realized everyone else in attendance had returned to their seats and the program was starting up again. Hurrying to get back to her place, her pant leg caught in her heel, and she tripped and fell, spilling the hot chocolate all over herself! Meditation or not, she felt intense embarrassment. (Imagine, a conference hall full of business professionals all watched this happen.) In time, though, she remembered the meditation, and came out of the humiliation, recovered her true self, and now, I'm sure, two years later, she's able to laugh at this and more!

Like this, I invite you to think back on your own life, and recall any moments in which you felt truly, deeply mortified. As you reexamine these experiences, look deeply until the humour becomes obvious, and when it does, laugh! Innocently, lovingly, and free of self-consciousness, laugh! And, if you're feeling bold and eager to welcome others to laugh with you (not at you!) share your embarrassing story as a comment here! I may read it in an upcoming video.

To get the ball rolling and to (hopefully) give you a couple laughs, allow me to share two stories of embarrassment:

First, something I witnessed in a cafe in Vancouver in 2007:

One morning, on my way to work, I stopped in a busy cafe in front of a street that was being expanded through road work. About five spots ahead of me in the queue was a lady in uniform who was clearly a member of the roadwork team- she wore the reflective orange uniform and hard hat. After placing her order, she went outside, most likely to tell her coworkers that their coffee would be right out. Her order was up before she returned, and since it was a lot of coffee, there wasn't room on the waiting counter to hold all of it. Now, it just so happened that the barista was an exchange student from Japan, and though her English was very good, she had not yet mastered all the idiosyncrasies and nuances of the language. After glancing around the cafe, she called, "Street lady! Street lady! Your order is ready!" Everyone in line started to chuckle, and quickly, the manager of the shop rushed to her. I heard him say, "Dear, in Canada, the phrase 'street lady' means 'homeless lady.' Our customer is a lady who works on the street, but she's not a street lady." The humble employee reddened with embarrassment, and meekly said, "Oh, I hope I did not offend her." Her boss reassured her that the customer hadn't heard, and walked away. Still eager to fulfill the order, the coffee shop girl tried again, this time calling, "Five coffees for the lady who works the streets! Hey- lady who works the street- come get your coffee!" That time, not only the customers in line, but also the manager himself, burst out laughing! Through his wails, he explained to the girl, "'Works the streets' is even worse than 'street lady.' It implies that our customer is a prostitute..."

And now, my own story of embarrassment; this is possibly the funniest scene ever to have played out in my life. (In 2008, about a year before my true spiritual quest intensified and led to my higher realizations... in other words, before I learned to 'Unclutch' and humiliation was still humiliating!)

Once, about a week after I had started work at a shop on Granville Island called Dragonspace, my boss and I were behind the counter enjoying a little mid afternoon break. She was sitting on a little shelf, and I was standing casually, leaning forward with my elbows on the front desk and my back turned to her, relaxed, but ready to greet anyone who might enter the empty store. Birgit was telling me about her dog, Louie, who had recently gone to the vet with swollen anal glands. In detail, she explained to me how the vet had treated the poor dog, but that his symptoms weren't going away. Finally, she said that on her last visit to the animal clinic, she was told that she would have to wear a special glove, and reach in to give Louie rectal massages to reduce the swelling. She was really into her story, and completely hidden from the sight of the windows and the front door behind the tall opaque counter, so she didn't notice a quiet young family walk in, and she didn't see me smile to greet them. Instead, just as I was about to stand upright again and ask how they were doing, she blurted out emphatically, from the hidden spot directly behind me, "No! No way! No matter how much I love you, I am NOT sticking my fingers in your butt!" Of course, she said that in response to the vet in her story who had instructed her to do this for her four legged friend, but to the shocked and appalled parents and the three confused little children whom they were quickly ushering out the door whilst giving me very dirty and disapproving looks of scorn, it seemed as though I had tried to pressure my coworker to do something abominable... Only when the door slammed behind them and the little bell rang, she went quiet, and asked, "Um... when did they walk in?" I was so desperate to try to repair my tarnished reputation in the minds of these five complete strangers that I tried, in vain, to chase them down the boardwalk and explain what they had heard,  but as soon as they turned to see me calling, "wait," they rushed around the corner and ran. (Yes, that's how deplorable I seemed in their eyes...) Rather than make a further mockery of myself, I slunk back into the shop, where my boss was verily rolling on the floor in laughter... finally, after a few minutes of cheek-burning, my reluctance to see the humour in the situation overtook me, and I laughed, too. (But still, for the next few months, any time a memory of the incident creeped up, I would blush and recoil, wondering whether these people ever told their friends or relatives about the perversions going on behind the Dragonspace counter...)