40 Days: Equanimity

“To bear all naked truths,

And to envisage all circumstances, all calm,

That is the top of sovereignty.”

-John Keats, “Hyperion”

When I started teaching in an inner Houston city school, I suddenly needed large amounts of a different kind of strength.  I needed to be able to hear a student call me puta and tell me to chinga mi madre and not allow my reaction to be influenced by the anger and whatever other emotions came rising up.  I watched a custodian wipe the blood of two 6th graders off my floor with a mop, I listened as a student explained how a knife held by someone else’s hand left the scab on his neck, and I decoded gang symbols that a student had carved on his own arm in the back of my classroom.

Perspective and equanimity. A linocut by Evelyne Bouchard.

From the beginning, I’ve always been into yoga for the equanimity.  Yoga redefined strength for me.  Before, I thought strength meant being able to lift heavy things, and the strongest person was the person who could lift the heaviest things. Yelling the loudest in a classroom solves nothing.  It was through practicing yoga and teaching broken children from broken homes in a broken system that I began to understand strength as the ability to stay still for a long period of time. To stay still in a challenging yoga pose despite how much your muscles are shaking, or to stay still in a classroom when a student tells you to go fuck yourself.

A conversation with a cardiologist over Christmas break gave me a new physiological framework for this kind of strength.  He confirmed that no, yoga isn’t a cardio exercise, so it doesn’t strengthen your heart by raising your heart rate.  However, practicing yoga can increase a person’s heart rate variability.

Heart rate variability measures how quickly your heart rate can change in reaction to your environment.  Heart rates go up in response to stressors in the environment, and then they go back down again when the body understands that all is well.  In other words, if a person has high heart rate variability, and her heart rate goes up when a student threatens to shit in the skull of another student, she can quickly react from a place of logic and calm instead of anger and stress.

“If you want inner peace find it in solitude, not speed, and if you would find yourself, look to the land from which you and to which you go.”

-Stewart L. Udall, The Quiet Crisis

Comfort food is surely the food of equanimity. I believe that comfort food is forged early in a person’s life, and the food that comforts a person is sort of like a unique fingerprint that our early experiences make on us.

List of My Comfort Foods:

  1.  Grapefruit with salt
  2. Chicken and dumplings
  3. Chocolate chip cookies
  4. Homemade bread
  5. Highly sweetened fresh mint tea
  6. Curried chicken salad sandwiches
  7. Country ham and grits and red-eye gravy
  8. Soft-boiled eggs and toast
  9. Eggs Benedict
  10. Pasta with butter and dill
  11. Tattie broth
  12. Oranges
  13. Citrus of any kind, really
  14. Biscuits and tomatoes and sausage gravy
  15. Pasta salad, especially with Israeli couscous
  16. Rosemary and goat cheese
  17. Dark chocolate

40 Days: Vitality

 “Let us live while we live.”

 

-Philip Doddridge (1764)

One of the challenges of the 40 days is the struggle to bring concrete meaning to abstract ideas.  I am in the second week, the week of vitality.  And I’m finding it a little difficult to wrap my mind around what vitality actually is.  I know that the word “vitality” comes from the Latin word for “life.”  When I think of vitality, I think of green first, then I think of many different colors.  Baptiste, the main 40 days instigator, doesn’t spend a whole lot of time actually defining vitality, but he mentions that a person doesn’t have to go on vacation to find vitality within themselves.  And earlier this week, one of my many yoga teachers said that there is vitality in backbends because in backbends we open ourselves up to the world.

 

The vitality of thought is adventure. Ideas won’t keep. Something must be done about them.

 

-Alfred North Whitehead

But none of this is enough for me.  I still am uncertain about what vitality looks like, concretely.  Vitality is energy, and vitality is life.  Life is the blood pumping away in our veins.  Vitality seems such an elusive thing, something fleeting and hard to grab a hold of.  And even though I don’t completely understand what it is, I’m pretty sure I could use some more of it.

Blood vessels in the human body. Photo credit: www.about.biology.com

“What hunger is in relation to food, zest is in relation to life.”

 

-Bertrand Russel, The Conquest of Happiness (1930)

 

Here’s a question:

What brings you vitality?  

Here is another question, possibly the same question, but certainly more dangerous than the first:

Why do you wake up in the morning? 

My List of Vitals*

  • coffee
  • hot chocolate
  • lemonade
  • travel
  • seeing something old in a new way
  • memories
  • making meaning from travel and memories
  • writing
  • making cookies
  • researching things I care about
  • dancing
  • learning new things
  •  the way the sun looks on old wood floors at 4:00 in the afternoon
  • words
  • books
  • the way deciduous trees look when they are naked in the winter
  • the way deciduous trees sound when they are full of leaves in the summer
  • the way deciduous leaves smell in the fall
  • bonfires
  • meteor showers
  • hyacinths
  • all things citrus, actually
  • curiosity, and questions of all kinds
  • the books I read when I was little
  • dark chocolate
  • bike rides
  • drinking beer in the sun
  • drinking champagne on the seaside
  • drinking anything with friends
  • the clear color of the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean Sea
  • crisp shadows of blades of grass across concrete
  • the way shattered glass looks under a streetlamp
  • the way falling rain and falling snow look under a streetlamp
  • the way sand looks under a microscope
  • farmer’s markets
  • edible leaves
  • salads
  • pomegranate seeds

*This list is a working draft.  I don’t expect it to ever be complete.

Baron Baptiste has a much clearer idea of what vitality means when it comes to food. According to Baptiste, fresh fruits and vegetables have vitality.

Part of vitality may be finding beauty in the ordinary. Maybe.  Photo credit: kimiya-sheklak.mihanblog.com

Baptiste references the produce in Chinatown markets, which I know from experience is definitely worth appreciating.  I’ve taken the liberty of scrolling through my archives and compiling a list of recipes that bring concrete ingredients to the nebulous idea of vitality.

Recipe #1:  Avocado, Peach, and Blackberry Salad

As revealed by my over-enthusiastic use of a filter on the photo, this recipe is from the deep archives, originally published in 2013.  But it is still delicious.  I think, in my older maturity and wisdom, I would rather add thyme as my leaf of choice to add to this fruit salad.  There’s just something about thyme and blackberry together.  Something vital, I guess.

Boqueria Market in Barcelona.

Recipe #2:  Thai Salad

The whole thai basil, mint, mung bean sprouts, lime, sesame seed oil, fish sauce, avocado flavor profile is one that I love to compose on a fresh green leaf canvas.  The only thing that would make this salad even better would be some rice noodles and grilled chicken.  Thai chilies or cracked red pepper could probably create more vitality.  Whatever that means.