Travel writing, victims & villans

Quote: Once you refuse to see  someone else's grief and  focus on your own grievance,  it becomes far easier to  reduce your rival victim to  a villan — someone you need  to protect yourself against  and, if necessary harm  before he can harm you.

Background photo credit: jinterwas via Compfight cc

I love travel writing. The ability of narrative to transport me into another country or culture thrills me.

I tend towards reading light-hearted travelogues, like Hitching Rides with Buddha or The Sex Lives of Cannibals, but I’m finding that there’s deep value in more serious fare.

I picked up a book from the The Best American Travel Writing series because I thought it might be like the travel story anthology Not so Funny when it Happened, which contains some of the funniest writing I’ve ever read.

The Best American Travel Writing series is not, however, a collection of humourous travel tales. There are some light-hearted stories, but many of the accounts are pretty austere. Essays include trips to Rwanda, Bolivia, Cuba, Bulgaria, and India – and not the clean, shiny, touristy parts of these countries, but the squalid, corrupt parts that most tourists don’t see.

Tom Sleigh’s essay The Deeds hit me hardest. He wrote about Israel, Palestine, and the Palestinians living in Lebanon with a raw humaness that feels surprisingly non-partisan. Amidst the narrative, Sleigh brings up this idea that everyone involved in and affected by the conflict in the Middle East is a victim; that people can choose to see the grief of others and recognize that the people on the other side are victims as well. Compassion and understanding can arise from allowing for joint-suffering rather than portraying the other side as villainous  This concept that plays out in less intense situations closer to home as well.

This quote stood out to me, particularly as I’d just had a mini-skirmish with someone where I felt victimized.

Once you refuse to see someone else’s grief and focus on your own grievance, it becomes far easier to reduce your rival victim to a villan — someone you need to protect yourself against and, if necessary harm before he can harm you.

~ Tom Sleigh
from The Deeds in The Best American Travel Writing 2009

In that mini-skirmish, I chose not to see the other person’s hardships and focus only on my own. I established an ‘us versus them’ scenario that meant the other person had to be the villan who was trying to destroy my way of life and impede my happiness (in a much more trivial way than in the Middle East), rather than a fellow victim. Although we were both victims in that neither of us were getting what we wanted.

That mental switch from seeing the other side as antagonistic and combattive to also victimized reminded me that there is room for both people to be suffering. Both sides can feel hurt, neglected, and frustrated. I do not have a monopoly on those emotions and someone else feeling the same way does not negate my hardship.

The next time a conflict arises with someone, I hope I’m able to avoid seeing them as the villan. To recognize their grievances and understand that they are not trying to worsen my life, but improve their own… exactly the same way I am.

Sweet pea solstice

Magenta and periwinkle sweet pea flowers with water dropletsSweet peas mean summer to me. And while the grey skies in Vancouver (and the flooding in Southern Alberta) might suggest otherwise, summer has officially begun.

The day of equinox or solstice that marks the division between winter, spring, summer, and autumn rarely feels like the actual commencement of the season. This summer solstice is no exception.

But at least the grass is green in the Pacific Northwest, the flowers are out, and we don’t need to worry about watering gardens and lawns!

There are lots of summer solstice celebrations happening today – including one at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre that preempts my regular yin yoga class tonight. No yin bliss tonight… and next Friday is the last of the month, which brings with it a sublimely soothing yin yoga session with guided relaxation and an extra-long savasana.

Hope the first day of summer is treating everyone well and that you’re able to join me for some relaxation on Friday, June 28 at 6:30pm!

Birthday cookie recipe

A stack of chocolate spice cookiesI really enjoyed teaching on my birthday yesterday. There’s nothing like lovely, appreciative students to make this birthday girl feel valued 🙂

It was great leading the class through some of my favourite yin postures while listening to some of my favourite yoga music (the playlist was heavy on Wah!, Snatum Kaur, and Deva Premal) and even more wonderful to chat with students over cookies afterwards.

As requested, here’s the chocolate spice cookies recipe.

The recipe as written below is vegan and gluten-free, but you could easily use dairy milk instead of coconut (or soy or almond) if you’d rather and you could make it nut-free by using soy milk and omitting the coconut oil (just add a little extra canola oil). I’ve also used barley flour instead of the buckwheat, which makes the cookies less grainy and toothsome.

These cookies come together quickly and can be easily varied by switching up the spices or omitting them entirely and using mint chocolate chips or butterscotch chips – although they won’t be fully vegan anymore.

If you try the recipe, let me know how they turn out!

Chocolate spice cookies

Makes about three dozen bite-sized cookies.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips (I use Camino)
  • 1/3 cup unrefined sugar
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 pinch ground cloves
  • 1 pinch ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup canola oil (I ran out of canola oil so used grapeseed oil yesterday)
  • 2 tbsp coconut milk (the kind in a tetra pack, not a can)
  • 1 tsp coconut oil (warmed slightly)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Method

  • Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C) and prepare baking sheets by lining with parchment paper
  • In a medium bowl, sift together cocoa, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and spices; stir in flour, chocolate chips, and sugar
  • In another bowl, combine maple syrup, oils, coconut milk, and vanilla extract
  • Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until combined; if dough is too dry, add a splash of coconut milk
  • Let cookie dough sit in fridge for about five minutes (or while you tidy the kitchen) to make it easier to roll into balls
  • Form rounded teaspoons of batter into balls and place on lined baking sheets; gently press each cookie ball to flatten slightly
  • Bake for 11 minutes until cookies are firm to the touch, but bottoms are not browned
  • Let cookies sit on baking sheets for about a minute to firm up; transfer to wire racks to cool

It’s my birthday & I’ll teach if I want to

Laura wearing a birthday hat with a cakeToday is my birthday and part of my celebrations include teaching my regular yin yoga class at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre. Class starts at 6:30pm and will feature some of my favourite poses (like supported fish – which might be one of your favourites, too!), a playlist of yin-appropriate music I love, and homemade cookies afterwards.

Yogi Bhajan, who brought Kundalini yoga to the West and founded 3HO, encouraged his students to bring sweet treats to class on their birthdays to share the celebration of with others. The Kundalini tradition holds that what you do on your birthday sets the tone for the year ahead.

Teaching yoga and sharing cookies sounds like a great beginning to my next year.

Happy birthday to me!

 

p.s. Apologies to Lesley Gore for ripping off the title of this post from her iconic song: It’s My Party.

Twice the relaxation

Big graphic M - which is for May
Image from happy_serendipity; some rights reserved

The last Friday of every month I teach a yoga class at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre with an extra-long relaxation period. Last week wasn’t the last Friday of the month (May has 31 days? since when?), but the 6:30pm yin yoga class got an extra-long relaxation anyway.

Maybe I sensed that students (particularly those completing the 40 Day Transformation Yoga Challenge!) needed a little more rest. Maybe there was requiescence in the air. Maybe I just can’t keep track of days and months… Or maybe this May has two last Fridays!

As the second last-Friday-of-the-month class, tonight’s yin yoga class at Bound Lotus will feature an extra-long savasana (corpse pose) with yoga nidra (guided relaxation) to help really dispel tension and stress.

Come celebrate the May with two last Fridays! Class starts at 6:30pm, deep conscious relaxation begins shortly after.

 

P.S. If you want to learn more about yoga nidra, the Yoga Wonders website has a nice overview of the practice.

Gone to the dogs

On Sunday evening, I went to the Healing Circle Meditation at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre, along with 30 or so other people and one dog! My dog, Sofie, is a skilled meditator and has participated in a number of group meditations at Bound Lotus.

During the meditations, which involve chanting mantras and sometimes use mudras (hand gestures), Sofie curls up in front of me and settles into a meditative state of her own. She helps bring out my meditative best and seems to create an even more calming energy for the group. And she loves getting petted and cooed at by students 🙂

Sofie regularly joins me when I practice yoga or meditate at home, so she’s very used to the process. Within minutes of rolling out my yoga mat, she’s on it. Sometimes I can convince her to provide assists, like applying a little pressure to my hips in swan/pigeon pose or letting me use her as a prop in child’s pose. And she’s always willing to rest next to me during savasana.

One of the challenges of any meditation or yoga practice is letting go of all the mental clutter and simply experiencing the present moment. Dogs are masters of ‘now.’ Sofie doesn’t understand ‘later,’ or ‘before,’ she’s entirely in the present. Exactly how I want to be when meditating!

The Healing Circle Meditation is a free monthly event at Bound Lotus. If you or someone you love could use a little healing boost and/or you’re interested in experiencing a group Kundalini meditation look for the next date on the Bound Lotus website. Hopefully Sofie and I will be meditating there with you!

Laura and Sofie stretching together