Earlier this week, I mentioned that I’d been a little out of sorts. “Crabby” is actually the word I used to describe it to a friend, which in this case meant irritable, negative, and a little judgy.
I’ve learned that these qualities tend to gather around me when I’m actually feeling more vulnerable things at the core: insecurity, perhaps, or vulnerability, or worry. I retreat to a bulwark of negativity to help defend myself against uncertainty and self-doubt. Not the best strategy.
I think that’s what was up on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I’m a little burnt out on graduate school, in part because of the sheer duration of the process and also because this is simultaneously one of my less captivating and more demanding semesters. I was feeling “stuck” with a couple of work projects, unsure of which direction to take and not at all confident I was qualified to take any of them. There were interpersonal things, too, moments that had made me doubt myself and my instincts.
I’m so glad I found Judith Lasater’s wise and lovely meditation on santosha. Santosha is generally translated as contentment, or satisfaction. It’s one of the niyamas in Patanjali’s yoga sutra; these are presented as approaches or attitudes that help to cultivate happiness (or at least that’s how they were taught to me).
“Contentment is a paradox,” Lasater writes. “If we seek it, it evades us. If we give up on it, it evades us. It is like a shy cat that hides under the bed. If we try to catch it, we never will. But if we sit still and wait in patience, the cat will come to us.”
I smiled as I read these words, recognizing how much time I’ve spent seeking and trying to cultivate more contentment in my life, when of course by definition to be content is simply to accept things as they are.
At the same time, Patanjali doesn’t simply enjoin us to be content. He compassionately encourages us to cultivate contentment through mindfulness. By his telling, contentment is “presented as a practice to be undertaken—Patanjali exhorts us not to just be content, but rather to practice contentment,” Lasater writes. “We are to live it.”
How to do that? I have to imagine it’s like any other practice, big or small, in that it takes patience and a willingness to keep showing up. But I think much of it has to do with suspending that negativity and judgment and itchy dissatisfaction that I was feeling earlier this week. Lasater seems to agree. She writes,
Mind you, contentment is not the same as happiness. Contentment is being willing to accept both your happiness and your lack of it at any given moment. Sometimes we are asked to actively remain present with our discontent—to see it as simply what is arising within us, and to look at it with a sense of nonjudgment. This is not a practice for cowards. Santosha is a fierce practice that calls upon our dedication and surrender, in each moment of our lives—not just on the yoga mat. Can we be radically present with ourselves, whether we get what we want or not? I ask myself this question almost daily, and I’m regularly amazed by how little it takes for me to lose my apparently fragile sense of contentment.
Fierce indeed. I hear so much about how much more energy it demands to be negative than positive, loving rather than guarded or closed. But I have to wonder if the opposite is also, or equally true, because sometimes it feels so much easier to slip into crabbiness and judgment than to practice acceptance.
No matter what, Lasater’s humane words have been a reminder for me to keep softening and settling into things, checking my tendency to evaluate, label, or judge. They encourage me to show up honestly, professionally and personally, cognizant of the fact that I’m doing the best I can. We all are.
I’m wishing you all presence and softness as you greet the week ahead. Here are some of my favorite bits of reading material and food gazing from the last few days.
Sylvia’s roasted cauliflower pasta makes for a beautiful dinner with simple, everyday ingredients. Use your favorite homemade or store-bought vegan parm, and swirl away with your fork.
I love this brightly colored, hearty lentil stew from fellow Food52-er EmilyC. It’s got tons of smoky flavor, and it’s topped with green swirls of a piquant almond and parsley piccata.
Adding this one to my holiday recipe list! Thomas’ creamy carrot and parsnip bake is beautiful to look at and would be such a pretty addition to any Thanksgiving table, but it’s really easy to make.
Few things make me happier than toast for dinner, and I’m just loving this garlicky, buttery, tomato-y medley from Beth over at Budget Bytes. Again, use a favorite vegan parm, or try dollops of my go-to cashew cheese instead.
Leave it to Abby to create the perfect vegan pumpkin doughnut for fall, enriched with some whole grain flour and topped with a simple glaze.
2. The milkweed plant can be a bane for farmers, but a few Canadian clothing companies are thinking of ways to take it off their hands and put it to use in insulation for parkas and outerwear. They just so happen to be creating a plant-based alternative to down! I was excited to read about yet another vegan-friendly fashion material in this article, which Maria sent my way. The Quartz coat mentioned is super pricey, but hopefully if the insulation technology becomes commonplace, it’ll become a bit more accessible, too.
3. An unusual perspective on the idea of a sixth extinction, as articulated by biologist Chris Thomas of the University of York, in England. Thomas’ perspective is not to deny that many species have entered into extinction as a result of climate change and the imprint of human beings on the environment; rather, he suggests that humans have also enabled many new species to flourish, too, thanks to travel and transportation.
As I went through the interview, I felt no less worried for the many species now facing extinction, but I did find it hopeful to think that evolution is ticking along in spite of the dangers now facing the planet. An interesting read.
4. Major kudos, gratitude, and love to Andrea Jarrell for having the guts to speak honestly and plainly about the lingering attachment to eating disorders and their shadows through every phase of life, and especially when we come up against stress or anxiety. Her essay, “My Eating Disorder at 55,” is so raw, at once a testament to the very human experience of flirting with old compulsions and also the possibility of learning to resist them.
5. Some nice news in my hometown: 15 schools in Brooklyn will now be participating in Meatless Mondays, as part of an effort to incite more public consciousness about the link between diet and health and also the impact of meat-eating on the environment. Inviting kids to be more thoughtful about their meals is a great place to start.
As always, thanks for stopping by this Sunday. This week, I have exciting news to share about what I think will be a whole new chapter in my life as a passionate home baker—and a book giveaway and recipe to go with it! Till then, be well.