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Taking Time To (Re)Treat January 25, 2014

IMG_4834So many things have helped me on my path to health, but one that I have been practicing for over 25 years is the retreat. I love this word. It means to take a step back; it means to take refuge. It also means to re-treat: to treat oneself, again. I first came to Santa Sabina in the mid-eighties, when I was a budding calligrapher (little known fact). I signed up for the Friends of Calligraphy retreat,  not really knowing what I was getting into.

It took my breath away. Silence, and beauty. The scratching of pens on paper in what had been set up as the Scriptorium. Words on paper (or on walls). A great spaciousness. My mind was blown.

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Once I started coming to this place, I felt I craved it like one craves chocolate, or oxygen. Once or twice a year (especially when I had babies and small children), I would slip away for twenty-four hours, to step into the quiet corners. I could climb the steps to the straw-bale Hermitage and “be the hermit” for a brief while.

IMG_1617 IMG_1612 IMG_1611Sometimes I came on my own, or with other writer friends. Sometimes I came with groups- calligraphers or poets. I experienced several amazing poetry weekends – one focusing on the work of Rilke, others with Jane Hirshfield and Naomi Shihab Nye. There is poetry everywhere here, and art. The art basement is a generous space filled with art supplies of all kinds – a calligraphers’ nook, a collage room. It invites gentle creativity.

IMG_1633 IMG_1630Several years ago, I began offering group retreats myself at Santa Sabina. It has been one of my greatest joys. Two years ago, I led a retreat called Stories of the Body. Participants came together to share stories through collage, art, writing, movement, and to be with their own bodies’ stories in silence and reflection and silent, mindful meals. It was so moving and beautiful. I have been trying to book a date for a return visit for years, but the center has been undergoing many renovations and there have not been dates open — until now! I am thrilled to be offering Stories of the Body again at the end of March.

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There’s an early-bird discounting until January 28th, and I’m also offering a discount to YOU, blog readers. (you can take advantage of both!) For readers of this blog, just enter the code FOODFOODBODYBODY and you’ll get an additional reduction in price.  I am also offering a deposit option with extended payments for those who cannot pay all at once.

I am hoping to be able to offer a weekend scholarship for one retreat assistant to this retreat this year. The work involved would be minimal but of great help to me (registration, set-up, logistics). If you feel that you would benefit from this special time away (and into yourself), please email me with the following:

  • Why you feel this retreat would benefit you at this time
  • Your commitment to attend if chosen
  • Experience in dealing with groups (ie your “people skills”)
  • DEADLINE: February 1, 2014

Exercise and eating well have been so elemental in my health journey, but this – THIS- has been an invaluable element that I often forget. Being with myself. Taking time for the quiet. I hope you will join us.

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MindMindBodyBody July 12, 2013

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It is amazing how things have a way of coming together, all at once somehow. It is a strange and wonderful story. Back in the beginning of May, I was in a kind of bleak place. My hip was hurting. I had not been able to exercise the way I wanted to. My weight was bumping up and up.

Then I got the dreaded email from the Powers That Be at Weight Watchers. Because you know, they keep an eye on these things. We staff members have to weight in once a month and show that we are either in compliance with the Staff Agreement (that we will be within 2 lbs of our goal weight), or that we have an Active Plan in mind to get back there. It was just a form letter. It wasn’t aimed only at me, but I took it absolutely to heart. I was utterly disappointed with myself and for the first time in four years, I felt hopeless. I went into this whole spiral of: I am a failure. I am a a fraud. How can I be standing up in front of people when I have let myself down so terribly?

I got that email about an hour before my regular WW meeting. I broke down in the parking lot and cried. I texted another leader friend intending to beg her to cover for me. No way could I go in there. But she didn’t answer back, she didn’t answer and finally it was time to go and I had to just suck it up and go in there. I bumped into a member who greeted me so enthusiastically. If only she knew, I thought. We walked over to the center and there was already a long line of people waiting to get in. “Look at all the people!” she said. “They’re all here for YOU.” Which made me feel even worse. My eyes filled up again and I thought about quitting. For good.

I went up to the leader area to prepare for the meeting. I noticed that the new Routine of the Month was: Mindful Eating, aka Eating Without Distraction. I laughed out loud. This is my favorite topic. This is the thing I am the most passionate about. I laughed. I told myself, all right, I will hang in there for this month and THEN if it still feels miserable, I will quit. I started the meeting and it was just awesome. As they mostly are. I love my members so much.

That next week, I took part in a one-day meditation retreat which was part of an eight week series I have been taking in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. (MSBR) It included an hourlong mindful lunch. I have had previous experiences of mindful eating practice, but it was before I was involved with Weight Watchers. I have also READ about mindful eating a LOT (love the book Savor) but I had not really practiced it in a formal way. So this was, like perfect timing: to have this experience smack in the middle of Mindful Eating month.

It was an astounding, beautiful, altering experience. First, we did the Raisin Exercise as a warm-up. Then we all went into various corners and spots of our own to eat and experience our own lunches. We were instructed not to make eye contact or try to communicate via hand gestures with anyone else. To see what it was like to eat WITH other people, but not in a social way. Interesting. I had brought a sandwich I’d make that morning, a bag of fruit, two little cookies and a bottle of sparkly water. I took it all out and laid it out on a napkin. I took off my glasses and held each piece of food up to my eyes, up close.

The raspberries blew my mind.

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Seriously. The way they had openings like little mouths. The teeny-tiny hairs. The puffy red bubbles. They were so luscious and somehow tender like tiny baby somethings. I was overwhelmed by affection and appreciation for them. Sweet little raspberries! Then I turned to the blueberries. I had never really given much thought to how blueberries looked up close. But they were like little grandmothers. Kind of drier, and a little more wrinkly (which I didn’t expect). The colors were muted and they didn’t have the same baby-like quality as the raspberries. They also tasted so very much themselves.
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The sandwich was another story altogether. I remembered when I was looking at it, how I really don’t like to eat the crusts of the sandwich. But it felt like a virtuous thing to do, to not “waste” food. I thought about why I don’t like the crust. Because it doesn’t have any of the yummy filling or flavor. It’s just… plain bread. It’s dry. There’s no goodness inside of it. So during my Mindful Lunch I paused and made the choice to leave the crusts behind. I didn’t need to eat them. And that felt just right.

It took me an hour to eat a lunch that would normally be snarfed up in about ten minutes. I made many, many decisions during this hour. What next? How much? More? What does it taste like? How hungry or satisfied or full am I NOW? What else is going on? How’s the weather? What’s that sound? It was really one of the most memorable meals I have ever experienced.

I felt changed.

As soon as I got home I emailed my awesome Territory Manager at WW. I told him I had an idea: to bring Mindful Eating practice to our Weight Watchers members. After all, it’s one of our new core Routines. How awesome would it be to invite members to actually practice something, instead of just talking about it? He was in. He was so supportive and excited. The first Mindful Eating session (which I had limited to 20 members) sold out and was held about a month ago.

I loved sharing this experience in this way. I am so grateful to our local WW administration for allowing me to expand the experiences we offer our members. The feedback was so good.

“A calming, conscious eating practice.” “

A very uplifting experience.” “

A quiet reflection, a safe space.”

“The food tasted better!”

“A chance to stop and savor our food.”

It made me so happy. And guess what? That month of focusing on Mindful Eating brought me easily, painlessly, calmly back to my goal weight.  BOOM. :-)

The first event was such a success, I’m offering it again this month at our Emeryville Center. Bay Area peeps, it’s free and open to the public, NOT JUST Weight Watchers members. But all participants need to register HERE (free of charge) to get in, because spaces ARE limited. I’d love for this one to fill up too. (click on image below for details, click on link in previous sentence to register)

MINDFUL EMERYVILLE  copyI am so grateful and kind of amazed at the course of events that have conspired since that day I sat in my car crying, ready to quit. I had no idea what changes would occur, how serendipitous it all would be, but for all of it, I am so very happy.

 

Diary of an Injury May 17, 2013

I’ve been dealing with a hurt hip ever since the Oakland Half Marathon over a month ago. I’ve been trying not to freak out about it, but it continues to persist off and on. I have to admit it has slowed me down both physically and emotionally. Trying to remain positive.

For the first week, it was hurting a LOT. So much so that it made me wince to walk even a short distance. I was traveling that week, and the combination of post-race, then a long plane flight, then a bunch of sitting made it really hurt. I didn’t find relief until I located a used softball for $1 at a sporting goods store.

Insert under hip, and ROLL. Ow! Yay!

Insert under hip, and ROLL. Ow! Yay!

After I got home, I finally decided that I needed to seek professional help. I went and found a physical therapist that I really liked.

I enjoyed the massive ice packs.

I enjoyed the massive ice packs.

However, alas, after three treatments I discovered that this particular place was not covered by my insurance plan and would not be reimbursed. Big sad. :-(

I decided to take a different route. I went back to my trainer, who also is very skilled at body work. I went in there limping about a week ago. He mashed on my hip and stretched me for over 90 minutes. After he was done, I was pain free. He’s so good at what he does.

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magic hands

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I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was kind of discouraging. But I’ve been trying to focus on other things. I started taking a MSBR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) Class. Which has been amazing and wonderful. I think it has helped me cope with this injury more than anything else. It is a weekly class held at the Writers’ Grotto where I write. It’s been a real opportunity for reflection. Am I doing too much? Not enough? Am I getting lazy, or am I resting it appropriately? It is so hard to know. I’m just trying to be patient.

Last week I got this brochure in the mail and damn, I’m tempted to take it just so I can figure out what the heck is going on, and how to fix it. A friend of mine suggested that I look into trying to get some of those black rings inserted. Heh.

Physical therapist, heal thyself.

Physical therapist, heal thyself.

The See Jane Run half marathon is three weeks from today. I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do. Part of me is still so reluctant to downgrade to the 5k, but I kind of know that’s what I need to do. I haven’t run more than three miles at a time since the Oakland Half.

My meditation and mindfulness practice has taught me that this, too, shall pass (I hope).

 

Be Mindful, and Don’t Suffer June 25, 2009

At least once a week I go someplace where I run into someone I haven’t seen in a few months or more. Since Before. And very often they will say, “HOW did you do this?!?” It’s hard to sum it up in a few words, because it truly is a long story, but I think my “elevator pitch” (code for how to pitch a book, or business proposal to an agent or funder in the time it takes to ride an elevator) would be “By being mindful, and not suffering.”

I know, it’s very Buddhist, right? But truly I think this is what has made All the Difference this time. I started attending a meditation class very soon after my pre-diabetes diagnosis. And the idea of being mindful- of paying attention – made a huge impact on my whole weight loss journey. I decided to really pay attention to everything  – to what I truly wanted to eat, and if eating was what I wanted at all, and how much to eat, and everything. It has been absolutely invaluable.

I loved that this week, in my WW mentoring session, the leader spoke a LOT about “being mindful.” I don’t know if he’s a Buddhist or not, but he did bring it up about 20 times during the meeting, and people were nodding and really getting it. I loved that.

Another big concept in Buddhism is that of Suffering.  I know that I have suffered mightily because of my weight and food issues, throughout my life. I suffered when I felt I was depriving myself of food I wanted, but I also suffered when I ate things for the Wrong Reasons (ie for comfort or distraction). I suffered from guilt and remorse, shame and self hatred. There was a LOT of suffering going on.

It’s been shocking for me to notice that this New Way has involved very little suffering, and I know that if I feel like I am suffering, it’s going to come back and bite me BIG time. So it’s important for me to never, ever sigh dramatically and say, “I guess I should eat THIS (salad?) instead of THAT.” Because if I feel deprived in ANY WAY, shape or form, I’m going to overeat. Every single time. I have to find something that makes me HAPPY and satisfied, as well as being a good choice.  Salad is a good example. Sometimes I really crave and love and feel like eating salad. But often, if it’s a cold day or whatever, I want HOT FOOD.  Before, it would be a choice between two kinds of suffering: I’d have a cold salad and feel all deprived, OR I’d have .. I dunno, a huge plate of lasagne or fried chicken and THEN I’d suffer because I’d feel overstuffed, guilty and remorseful. And fat.

So the key is to really be MINDFUL and say, OK, I don’t want salad. (“Then don’t eat salad!”) I want hot food. OK, what kind of hot food will satisfy and yet not make me feel remorseful? Often it is SOUP. I have come to looooooooove soup very much. Because there are so many delicious kinds of soup and EVEN soup that is a bit rich (some cream in it, or meat) a cup of soup can go a very long way. There is a wonderful French food takeout place near my work that has two kinds of amazing soup every day. Usually that will be all I want for lunch, and it probably has WAY fewer calories than a salad with blue cheese, nuts, dressing, avocadoes etc etc.

I have had to build up my repertoire of foods that I both love and feel good about eating. This has taken some time and practice but now I feel like I have wonderful choices.

I still always have half-and-half in my coffee, because I have tried many alternatives (black coffee, skim milk in coffee, nonfat half and half) and they ALL make me suffer. I want my half-and-half. But I have made other changes that allow that to be okay. (more exercise, soup for lunch, etc)

So that’s my short answer for How I Did It (and how I intend to keep Doing It): Be mindful and don’t suffer.

Over and out.

 

What I Did On My Silent Retreat May 18, 2009

IMG_1613Are y’all curious? If not, skip to another post, I won’t take it personally if you don’t want to read about the minutae of my weekend. But if so…

Thursday:
•    Arrived; silent dinner (pasta, pesto veggies, salad)
•    Group gathering. I cried. Lit individual candles and placed in chapel. I put mine at the base of a leafless tree hung with gold origami cranes.
•    Read.
•    Slept for 10 hours, very deeply.

Friday:
•    Woke up. Went to yoga/meditation.
•    Silent breakfast. (veggie frittata, few spoons of oatmeal, fruit, coffee)
•    Made bed.
•    30 minute walk/run. Injuries bothering me. (shin splint, groin pain)
•    Morning gathering
•    Read poems on various walls, copied many down. Spent time in art room but didn’t do art.
•    Spent one hour in straw bale hermitage. Meditated. Cried.
•    Silent Lunch (turkey, tuna, salad, fruit)
•    Walk/ran one hour. Injuries slightly better but not great.
•    Read.
•    Napped.
•    Showered.
•    Silent dinner: chicken, Israeli couscous, salad. Wrestled with apple crisp with whipped cream. Didn’t eat it.
•    Walk, 30 minutes. Slowly.
•    Evening gathering: meditation, elm dance in courtyard garden: slow, mournful circle dance from Russia, composed to mourn death of forests after Chernobyl
•    Slept, but woke from 2-4am

Saturday:
•    Slept through yoga/meditation. Made bed.
•    Silent breakfast. (hard boiled egg, chicken apple sausage, honeydew, brown rice cereal)
•    Very slow walk
•    Morning gathering – re connection with nature, Wendy Johnson book
•    Silent gardening: planted 3 kinds of lettuce, kale. My first garden experience.
•    Read.
•    Very short nap.
•    Silent lunch: chicken broth with toppings (chicken, green onions, carrot shreds, lime), salad. No cookies 4 me.
•    Another slow walk.
•    Silent art: made ‘treasure boxes’ out of matchboxes, homemade paper, shells, leaves
•    Read.
•    Massage. Melted onto table. Injuries completely gone.
•    Showered.
•    Silent dinner: poached salmon, sugar snap peas, salad. Passed up the potatoes and the wine (only night it was offered). Did not pass up poppyseed cake with whipped cream. Meant to have one bite; ate the whole piece. Delicious.
•    Slow walk, 20 minutes.
•    Tested blood sugar, worried about cake. Ecstatic it was 109. (yay walk!!)
•    Gathering in pillow room. Gave thanks to H & S for 23 years of nurturing us. Cried more. Another elm dance, then meditation in chapel.
•    Wrote.
•    Slept.

Sunday:
•    Woke.
•    Breakfast: scrambled egg, toast, peanut butter, grapefruit.
•    Changed bed linens. Packed.
•    Morning gathering
•    Went to art room and hand-copied several pages from Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings
•    Event closing
•    NONsilent lunch! Made some new friends. Beautiful cheeses, salad, lentil soup, crackers.
•    Drove home. Stopped at Spirit Rock bookstore on the way to buy One Bowl and Mindful Eating.

 

foodbodyheartmind April 14, 2009

Filed under: good things,health,meditation — Susan @ 11:26 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Last night I went to the second session of my meditation class. I love this class so much. I have gone to several meditation classes and retreats before, and always ended up feeling like it wasn’t for me, or I wasn’t doing it right, or something. It didn’t fully click somehow. But this class, and this teacher, clicked from the moment I walked in the door.  I love this place in downtown Oakland. The teacher fills me with a sense of calm. Her voice is just amazingly soothing, reassuring, peaceful. The sound of the bell at the end of the meditation is one of the most beautiful sounds I have ever heard.

Last week, when I went for the first time, it was a Monday night, the night before I went to my first diabetes class and started using my blood glucometer. I was wound up tighter than a spring. I was anxious, distraught, grieving the loss of my innocent health, and just a wreck. But I knew that I needed this. I knew that stress is one thing that has a definite affect on blood glucose levels.  It also has an effect on weight loss – if you’re stressed out, your cortisol levels rise, and that makes  you gain weight, or unable to lose it. So I felt like coming to this meditation class and learning how to de-stress was as important as taking my medication or exercising.

I loved it pretty much immediately.  Sitting there, I felt like my heart was breaking and I was just opening up in all directions. I felt like I had found an absolutely essential little sanctuary in time and place.  I needed it.

Last night the teacher opened with this poem by the poet Kabir, and that was it – I started tearing up right away.

You know the sprout is hidden inside the seed

We are all struggling; none of us has gone far.

Let your arrogance go, and look around inside

The blue sky opens out farther and farther

The daily sense of failure goes away

The damage I have done to myself fades

A million suns come forward with light

When I sit firmly in that world.

Whoo. Right? That line – the damage I have done to myself fades – just made my heart start pounding. The damage I have done. I really feel that now, the years that I overate and didn’t take care of myself.  The tendency to want to blame and punish myself for getting to the point of having diabetes.  It makes me want to howl sometimes. But then that other word – fades - is also true. It’s fading. With every thing I do to be good to myself, it fades. But wow, it is there.

The thing that I love about this meditation class is that it is all about love and compassion. Because I think truly that that is the key for me, it is the ONLY WAY out. Because when I was eating more than I needed, for so many years, it was because I was chasing love (in all the wrong places), I was hurt and rejected-feeling and all the food in the world couldn’t make that go away (although believe me I tried). And so while counting calories and points and exercising is all good and important, I don’t think there’s a shadow of a chance it can work unless I find a way to live with more love and compassion, for myself and for others.

 

Assessment: Two Months Today March 17, 2009

Two months ago today, on January 17th, I got my wake-up call and thus began my… what? My New Life? My Healthy Journey? I keep trying to think of how to describe it. I think I shall call it my Turnaround. Also Turnover. I began turning over all of my old habits, thoughts, fears, activities (and lack of) and really trying to examine what got me to that point. It’s been a very busy two months.

Here’s my little self-assessment after two months have passed. In the tradition of the maddening “narrative progress reports” that my kids used to bring home from school, because the poor little darlings were’t thought to have enough self esteem for letter grades:

What’s Going Well:

  • Well, I’ve actually lost 16 lbs! That’s no small potatoes. And I intend to keep going. I’ve been through a plateau or two, and a day or two of discouragement, but the trend is steadily downward. And that can’t help be encouraging.
  • I haven’t had a major bout of Emotional Eating since Jan 17th. I can’t even describe how shocked, incredulous and frankly moved I am by this. Previously I would not have thought this possible. I truly have found ways in which to ride out the emotions, write them out or talk them through. And they have passed. In the many times that I’ve dieted in the past, THIS part was never really addressed. So it’s huge. HUGE, I tell you.
  • I am pretty happy most hours of most days. Which I can say has not been true for YEARS. I mean, I used to have some happy moments in what were either “regular” blah or downright bad-feeling days. NOW, I have moments of absolute ECSTASY within days that are mostly happy or at least content, with little blasts of unhappiness now and then. I don’t know whether to attribute this to the endorphins from exercising, to the fact that it just feels comfortable and nicer to be smaller and fitter, or the fact that I am channeling my emotions properly rather than using food. Probably ALL of the above.
  • Most importantly, I think I am improving my health. I have been able to discontinue my blood pressure medication that I have been on for over five years. I think I’m going to have more improvements when I next see my doctor in April. I’m moving in the right direction.

What is Going Better But Could Be Improved:

  • Low-level anxiety that This Cannot Possibly Last.
  • Insecure in my new habits (this is echo of first point)
  • Probably too much focus on the scale

What Needs Major Improvement:

  • Eating breakfast. I’m getting tired of eggs, not wild about many other breakfast foods, etc. I KNOW it is the most important meal and that it jump starts your metabolism and all that! I really need to work on this one. I am going to experiment with eating lunchy/dinnerish foods in the morning and see if that helps any.
  • (more echo of point one) “Breakfast like a queen, lunch like a duchess and dinner like a pauper.” This is what I’ve read repeatedly but still dinner is THE MAIN EVENT around our house. I wonder how much it would help if I could actually implement this style of eating. We did eat like this in Latin America, where the main meal is at noon, then dinner was more like what we’d call a “snack.” And I did lose 26 lbs while living in Central America, but that was probably the hard labor and turista. :-)

Conclusion: All in all, things are going shockingly well. I have to say that I am cautiously optimistic. But nervous, you know, because I’ve never done this before.

 

The Zen of Eating March 16, 2009

After reading this article, I was inspired to buy the book The Zen of Eating by Ronna Kabatznik. I am really liking it a lot. I’ve been very attracted to Buddhism for a long time and this book just calmed me down and made me feel hopeful. I think that this is going to be very useful for me. A few passages from the book have already made me a little tearful, they resonate so much.

The Buddha defined suffering as a ravenous appetite to find peace and security in places where it can’t be found.

The nourishment that comes from being kind to yourself and to others is the kind of food that stays with you.

Some suffering is inevitable, and some is optional. This is an important distinction. A certain amount of sadness, loss and frustration are built into the framework of being alive. This is inevitable suffering. Optional suffering is within your control: it comes from your reaction to situations, inevitable or otherwise. Optional suffering is what you add on to whatever happens.

It’s good food for thought. (no pun intended) I also just decided to sign up for a beginning meditation class nearby, starting in April. I can’t help but believe that it will help me in this journey.

 

 
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