Thursday, February 12, 2009

Chocolate Is My Life

I was nursed on chocolate. No, really! Chocolate runs in my blood and is just as important.
I think it is in my DNA.

You see, my mother was one of the last of a dying breed......a chocolate hand-dipper. I was raised in a chocolate factory, surrounded by rollicking, laughing, passionate, sometimes explosive, but always forgiving family.

When I was very tiny, my mom would take me to work with her. I would sleep in one of the chocolate boxes. As I grew, she took my pillow and blanket, and I slept between the deep shelves.

When I got a little older, all the dippers would give me fifty cents to run next door to the Royal CafĂ© to bring them fresh lime cokes “with lots of ice”.

I wandered to the potato chip factory in back where I could eat fresh, hot chips coming down the conveyor belt, then buy a bag to take home, or eat while I passed the time, waiting.

For good behavior, I was given a puddle of warm melted chocolate and some peanuts, where I could practice dipping nut clusters, much like other children make mud pies.

I washed my hands carefully to rub the husks off the roasted peanuts and hazelnuts. I learned to carefully wrap bright red or gold foil squares around the specialty chocolates. I was about 5 years old.

After I started school, I could no longer go to the candy factory with Mom. During the hectic holiday chocolate season, she would work until after my bedtime. I would beg whoever was babysitting to let me stay up and wait for Mom.

I would fall asleep in the couch, and I always knew when she came home; she would carefully drape her fur coat over me and I would be surrounded by the comforting smell of warm chocolate mingled with fur. I could smell chocolate on her hands and hair as she carried me off to bed. She later told me she had to put her hands under the pillow at night so she wouldn’t smell the chocolate on them, and could sleep.

So you see, chocolate is more than comfort food to me.Chocolate means nourishment, togetherness, security, nurturing, life force, laughter, fun, family tradition, well-being, health, energy, vitality, abundance,and memory.

The smell of chocolate puts me right back in that nostalgic place of childhood, where my world was safe, and I went home with my Mom wearing her fur coat, both of us smelling like chocolate.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Revisiting the Past

In 1972, John and I worked for a summer at Yellowstone Lake Hospital. He was an "extern", which was not quite an intern. I worked in the hospital office, registering, billing, filing. We arrived there over Memorial Day with our canoe on top of the car, our little raft and our hiking boots, and John's guitar in the backseat, excited for a new adventure. We drove a Volkswagen Squareback, which was like a mini-sized "station wagon" for a VW. While driving through the park, snow still covered the peaks and Yellowstone Lake was frozen over. Of course we put our canoe on the lake as soon as we arrived, because here is the interesting part.....The ice on the lake was really billions upon billions of icicles on top of the water loosely held together at the surface, so as we paddled, the bow of the canoe broke the surface of the icicles, and we left a small line of trail behind us. Each day as we looked out over the lake, as the sun began to warm it, the surface started showing more water. About the middle of June, with about half of the lake still showing ice, we witnessed the total and complete transformation from ice to water within just a few hours. It was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen.
That summer was transformative in many ways. We went to church at Lake Lodge in the huge, beautiful wooden recreation room. Two young missionaries were assigned to hold services there, usually only one sacrament meeting, and the few employees who were members did the regular jobs. During the week we often had activities as a group, and one of the missionaries was a folksinger---small world. John had taught himself how to play the guitar when he was 14, and had sung with folksinging groups in high school, and arranged 4-part harmonies of folk songs for 18 months on his mission in France. The fun thing was, this Elder Van Wagoner had a whole series of songs we didn't know (imagine that!) by a songwriter named John Denver. It didn't take long for us to learn all the new songs Elder V sang, and around the campfires we could all add our harmonies. It was so exciting to bring home a new repertoire.
During that summer, we were supposed to meet Ginny and Al and their 3 little kids in Jackson Hole for a river trip in our little raft. Ginny took Mom along to tend the kids while we were on the river. The night before the river trip, after we set up camp and tents, John and Al thought they might take Mom on a little run of the river so she would feel included. Mom sat in the front of the raft, while Al sat in the rear. A small piece of information needed, is that Al was a great big man---over six feet tall, and large. When the raft went through King Rapids, the front of the raft sank into a hole, and when the back of the raft hit the hole, with the weight of Alvin being unbalanced in the front of the raft by little Mom, the raft flipped, sending Mom into the freezing cold water of the Snake River. Now, this might have been an adventure for some, but another vital piece of information is that Mother never learned to swim, and when she flipped out, she came up underneath the raft, which held her down and scared the gejeebers out of her. Another vital piece of information is that before coming to Jackson Hole, she had lost a lot of weight rapidly, and she was already in a compromised health condition which, of course, no one knew about.....she hadn't told anyone, nor had she seen a doctor. So, after fishing her out of the freezing river, she was gray and ashen, couldn't stop shaking, and we had her lie in the tent under all of the sleeping bags to get warm while we went to cook dinner.....which never happened, because Mom started coughing up blood, which necessitated a trip to the Jackson Hole Emergency Room, where they thought she was having a heart attack.....and so did we. Mom spent a week in intensive care, where she was diagnosed with "thyroid storm", which often mimics a heart attack, I guess. Turns out they had a terrific cardiologist in Jackson Hole who caught this in time to correct it. Well, Ginny and Al never got their river trip, John had to go back to the hospital to work, and I stayed in Jackson Hole by myself for two weeks sitting all day at the hospital by Mom's side. To say that it was traumatic for all of us would be an understatement. John was certain he had nearly killed his mother-in-law, Alvin felt responsible, Ginny did too, because it was her idea for the river trip. I remember when everyone left me alone, I went to every motel in town for a room and "there was no room in the inn." As I was passing the Jackson Hole Ward, I saw it was open, so I went inside, and there were older missionary sisters there. As I saw them, I burst into tears and blubbered the story about my mother and no place to stay. Well wouldn't you know it? Within 5 minutes they had found a place for me in a basement guest room of a lady who owned the Antler Motel. The motel was full, but she graciously invited me to stay with her. I wish I remembered her name, but I didn't pay her a cent. I think I gave her flowers when I left. Anyway, while I stayed with Mom, I did several crewel embroidery pictures, which hung on my Mom's walls until she died at age 90, nearly twenty years after her thyroid storm, and our collective terror.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Yogic Primer, Context and Content

Years ago, in one of those many personal growth seminars in the 80's, we were introduced to a concept of "Context" in an energetic sense. The idea is that context defines the boundaries around an idea, which sets the rules for the content allowed. It would be like the sides, top, and bottom of a box set the boundaries for what can go into the box, labeled for easy identification. So, the context would be the container. The context would be the "allowing" or the "limiting." In an energetic sense, it would mean that the intentions and objectives define the rules for how the game is played, whether in a business setting, a government institution, a family unit, or an individual growth program. Understanding the importance of setting clear intentions and objectives is paramount to improving situations. In the yoga sutras, or principles, the rules are laid out in the first two chapters, and in the third and fourth chapters, the benefits of following them are given, as in mystical promises and powers.
For example:
The five external disciplines are not harming, truthfulness, not stealing, morality, and not being acquisitive. These are the first 5 "commandments" in yoga, also known as the yamas. You can see how far from these principles we have drifted in America---or in the world even. Our many troubles in present time can be identified by the total disregard in one or more of these five precepts. Now, the promises given for keeping these principles in integrity are:
Being firmly grounded in nonviolence creates an atmosphere in which others can let go of their hostility.
For those grounded in truthfulness, every action and its consequences are imbued with truth.
For those who have no inclination to steal, the truly precious is at hand.
The chaste acquire vitality.
Freedom from wanting (clinging, attaching, needing) unlocks the real purpose of existence.

Now the next 5 commandments, known as the niyamas, state: The five internal disciplines are bodily purification, contentment, intense discipline, self-study, and dedication to the ideal of yoga, (also translated as the Ideal, or Lord, or God). There are promises to go with these observances as well:
Purification brings about clarity, happiness, concentration, mastery of the senses, and capacity for self-awareness.
Contentment brings unsurpassed joy.
Intense discipline burns up impurities, the body and its senses become supremely refined.
Self-study deepens communion with one's personal deity.
Through orientation toward the Ideal of Pure Awareness, one can achieve integration.

Why would I even blog about this esoteric stuff? Well, I'm watching the government and the economy play out the theme of CONTEXT. President Obama clearly stated his intentions to bring integrity back into government. In that clear objective, we are now seeing those who have slipped up in their integrity being brought into focus. To say that this is just the tip of the iceberg is an understatement. We are now seeing the massive extent of greed, arrogance, dishonestly, lack of integrity, and these things cannot be changed while they are hidden. The world is in a downward spiral in so many ways because individually and collectively, we haven't been vigilant in keeping the basic commandments of every religion on earth. The idea of "DO THE RIGHT THING" got lost somewhere, not for everyone, of course.....anyone reading this would be doing the right thing, I'm sure. But I am convinced that even making a commitment to do ONE (ANY one) thing and practicing it unequivocally, we would be changing the world. (Sing along...."What one man can do is dream.....what one man can do is love.....what one man can do is change the world and make it new again, do you see what one man can do?" John Denver)
When I was working on my yoga certification, we had to choose to practice the yamas and niyamas and observe the affects on our lives and selves. "They" say if you can do one thing for 90 days, you own it. Does anyone feel up to that challenge? 90 days takes us up to May Day. How about we all practice "contentment", or maybe just practice keeping our word--doing what we say we will do? Wow, what a different world we would be creating. The context of our lives would create such promise for the content to be different.
So now you get to comment. Was this way too heavy for you? What one practice do you want to undertake? Gratitude? Kindness? Compassion? Love? Forgiveness? Letting Go?