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Me.....being grateful for every thing, every breath, every day of this life

Friday, December 4, 2009

Recipe for Relaxing


Sometimes anxiety comes. It comes to all of us at different times, for different reasons and in different ways. Anxiety brings on complicated emotions. We feel trapped. We sometimes with this anxiety can feel unable to get out of a sticky web that covers and suffocates our mouth and clouds our eyes. It can feel as though we are drowning in a large body of endless water, not knowing where to come up for air.

In my life time I have worried much about what others are thinking when they think of me. I have cared far too much for people's approval, from second grade on. Did I say something that came off as rude or was perceived incorrectly? Did I unknowingly do something that could explode into a war between people when I had no intention of even being noticed? How did my expression lines in my face appear just then, confused or angry? Often while growing up and through school, I had people tell me, "I thought you were a snob" or "I thought you hated me!" When none of these many things and reactions I heard from others were ever how I really intended on acting, or feeling. Their impressions were wrong! I always felt slightly sad, pretty isolated and alone while growing up. My childhood at first glance, seems to me to be dark, quiet, with few friends, feeling awkward, sticking out oddly and never getting to feel like that last puzzle piece, making a complete picture, fitting in perfectly. I felt like the old, broken toy, unrepairable and dirt ground in not able to be cleaned.

I am not sure if it just was the particular kids I was surrounded by in my neighborhood or school system, I do not think so. I just never felt like fully relaxing into life, or excelling at anything. I think the problem was just with me. I didn't do horribly at anything and in many activities like some sports and art I was actually quite good. I felt coordinated and confident. But each time a bully pushed me down, insulted me or report card came back average, I continued to travel deeper and deeper into my own awkward darkness. I felt like the color grey up until about the age of 18. Then my palette began to emerge and I refused to be lonely. From college on, I have felt like a spectrum of gold and began to come into my own.

But childhood is always underneath though, for everyone. And from time to time these days, I feel those wounds, that self esteem, uphill battle creep into the back most layers of my psyche and come through, here and there, in my 30 year old adult experiences. From a survey I conducted, it showed that 100% of people felt they had one or more bullies within their childhood. 0% of those who voted chose the answer "I never had a bully." We all have sorrow and have all had school-aged struggles, each one of us! So I know we are all dealing with a patchwork past and have all had many opportunities to deal with sadness and anxiety.

As an Army wife, having to be alone often and meet new people almost all the time, there are plenty of opportunities to feel sad, scared, lonely, worried and filled with anxiety. Today I passed a woman in the store who I felt I had offended on accident the first time we had met. I was still adjusting from a serious jet lag, months after arriving at a new international home and was out of sorts when I met her at a Halloween party. She was kind to me and I was agitated with my toddler who kept running off out of my vision. I was hoping that my tired eyes and irritation with toddler-hood did not appear to be annoyance with her or our conversation. When I passed her today, she seemed like she did not want to talk to me, when we met eyes and recognized one another and I said a kind hello and she quickly said "hi" back and rushed past me. I felt anxiety for her thoughts. I felt anxiety thinking of that party and my daughter misbehaving. I felt anxiety for our time change. And I later found myself in my car hardly able to breathe over such a silly experience. She might have been having a bad day, or was in a hurry. She might think I am a bad mother. She might have just lost a loved one. She might have been totally fine and I was exploding my worries upon her image. It brought me home to thinking about letting go of silly things and reflecting upon my worrisome childhood spilling into my todays.

But in my sad adolescence came some bright rays of sun. Two separate times, I had two profound ideas each time strike into my mind as sure as a blinding, bright lightning crash into your front yard in the middle of the night. These ideals and epiphanies are what still guide me and my ease in life, to this day. And when repeated as a mantra, can release me from just about any anxiety.

The first bright light flew into and out of me when I was at a church self esteem-youth group meeting. The leaders were talking to us about love and relationships, and I think they even brought up sex. I was about 11 years old. They asked of us, "how do you think you know for sure if you are in a loving relationship?" The leader looked to me for a response and I immediately said (out of no where), "you cannot love anyone else until you know you love yourself." The youth leader was pretty much silenced and stopped dead in his tracks. He laughed and continued on, saying yes, I was right, but then had to dumb down the rest of the conversation for the other 11 and 12 year olds so they would understand. It was a profound thought for an 11 year old and the teacher told my mother how mature he thought I was. I had no idea why that flew out of my mouth, but it came from my subconscious.

The next crash of electricity came to me at the end of high school. I was feeling overwhelmed about arguing with my parents, preparing for college, feeling misplaced and lost, lonely and trapped in a maze of emotions I had no way of knowing how to get out of. And so I went to a journal that I had kept. It had artwork, magazine clippings and inspirational quotes in it. It was my place to go to make me feel better. And in it, this day, I wrote 5 clear, concise words to myself:
"When life gets complicated, SIMPLIFY."
And these would be the most profound words I repeated time and again to myself for the next 12 years. It is such a simple thing to do. Get rid of junk. Stop yourself from worrying about what other's think REMOVE those people from your life anyway. Let go of what you cannot control. Throw away the torture of things you wish you could change. Dump wasted heart ache into the trash. Clean your insides. Let go of, well, everything. And what you CAN control: SIMPLIFY. And feel the weight lift.

We have to love ourselves. We cannot do anything for anyone if we do not. If you feel busy, too busy for yourself or to be good to your kids or your family, stop all the running around. Hey, quit that job that keeps you busy! Whatever it might be that is preventing you from taking time to clean, relax, let go, enjoy, and just........be, be simple. Do not think about the way it might be complicated to let go of stuff......just simplify. Usually the hardest decisions are the easiest answers. Straight and to the point, one solution. It is our emotions that complicate it all. Let go of your emotions. Simplify. Throw away clutter. Wipe the slate clean.

Clutter can even be things we cherish....we just have to get rid of some of our "stuff" in order to feel tidy, in order to release old feelings we might have attached with the things. This can be an example of cluttered emotions or an example of the material things in your home or space and often times these examples can go hand in hand.

And one thing that is hard to do is, if you have something in your life that bothers you, irritates you or brings you down, change it! And if for some reason you cannot change it, then change how you feel about it.

So to remind again, love yourself first. And when life gets complicated, simplify.

Relaxation is a way to love one's self. And from there comes the quiet to know how to simplify.

My favorite recommendation for relaxing is a simple meditation. When you have a chance to be alone, or are laying in bed trying to get to sleep at night:
1. close your eyes softly
2. relax the muscles of your face
3. relax your tongue
4. relax and loosen the place where your thumbs root into your hands
5. let your belly be at ease
6. and finally, relax your feet and toes
From there, give all your troubles to the atmosphere around you, outside of you, the sky or to a prayer, let them float away from you for just a moment in an exhalation and just..........be. Then the clear choices will eventually and lightly materialize into your mind and ease and relaxation will be gifted to you, if not right away, surely it will come in swift time. I promise.

As those troubles come back down, returning into you, now that your mind is more at ease and clear, the solutions balance, order and regulate themselves quite simply. Today feeling all out of sorts about my new life, I remembered my simplicity. I let go of worry about what others think, it is none of my business anyway. And if I see that fellow military wife again, I will stop her, tell her I had a hard time getting used to this time zone and hope I never offended her. If she feels strange about me, we are not in line to be friends anyway. If she thinks I am nuts, then we will most likely have a good laugh! And that is that. Now, onto reading my anxiety-free book and feeling simple.

Love, Peace and Rock n' Roll y'all

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Heart Songs and Happy Bellies

We have been blessed to be so enjoying getting to know our new Japanese friends, while living in Okinawa. We met this wonderful family at a festival when our children were smiling at one another. The husband, Kunyo expressed wanting to learn English better and we expressed the same about our journey toward learning his language. So we exchanged telephone numbers and have been having regular dinner parties at each other's homes every other weekend or so and stumbling and laughing through translation, ever since. It has been a fantastic, joyous and loving learning experience.

We had Kunyo's family over to our home the last time. At this party his wife, Yayuee asked me what kind of food was my favorite. Not at all yet speaking one another's languages well, I took her to my pantry and showed her what I usually cook. Before ever moving to Japan, my favorite food has always been sushi since my freshman college dorm roommate introduced me to it. Sushi dinners became a regular thing with my sisters and I over the years, also. Both my my college roommate and sisters taught me the way and I have been hooked on this light, healthy and artistic food for over 12 years now. So I showed my new friend my sushi-seaweed-rolling sheets (Nori) in my pantry and signaled in silly sign language that sushi was my number one favorite dish. She then explained to me, through our mobile phone translator application, that she would have a sushi rolling party for me and my family soon. I was elated.

When it came time to go to their home for our next dinner party, I knew it was the "sushi rolling party" this time around. What did that mean? Was I supposed to bring my own supplies to have for us or them, or to contribute? She knew I had my own Nori, was I supposed to swap sushis with her? Our language barrier was not so much of a problem until this past Saturday when I had no idea what to do or bring?! So I figured, she knew we were Americans and clueless about this kind of event. So like true Americans, we baked an apple pie and came with some other small gifts of gratitude to present to them and that was that. I felt good about it.

It was a joy to see their family again and to be in their home for our second time. All the kids started to warm up to the other family's adults. We all seemed to be continuing the getting-to-know-each-other-journey through sincere smiles and warm laughs and the growing small bits of education we struggle to have for each other's foreign language worlds. They even presented us with a wide array of Christmas gifts, knowing this was a big American tradition coming in December, which they do not really celebrate. They gave us things like Sake wine, Japanese fall jackets for both Chad and me, flip flops custom made with our daughter Mirabelle's name carved into the shoes, one shoe with her name in English, the other with her name in Japanese, a fabulous princess dress up set they knew she would love and for her also a gorgeous traditional Japanese wooden doll. They also gave me a card with Japan's islands and cities listed in English so we could better understand where the adults were all born and what cities each of our gifts were from. These are truly heart felt and wonderful, gracious gifts. They spoiled us with their abundant kindness!

After the gift exchange, came my favorite part of the evening, the table filled with FOOD. This was not just food. It was a plethora of nourishing, fresh and flavorful local fare. I felt at ease when she began to explain (through a translating friend) how she wanted us to dig in. The hostess did not make us feel dumb, Yayuee simply knew we most likely had never been to a home dinner party of this kind and I knew she was bringing out the best for us. She told us to each take a piece of Nori (seaweed-sushi roller paper) place on it a pile of rice, a piece of beautiful fish, lettuce, tofu, hot wasabi or whatever we wanted from the spread and she showed us how she rolled it right up and dipped it in soy sauce and began to eat it, without cutting it, just like a burrito. It was just like the sushi maki rolls you would see at any sushi restaurant or grocer, without all the cutting and presentation. I loved every second of it and we could personalize all of the food we each enjoyed on our own.

There was a gigantic bowl of sticky rice for the whole table to share. We each had our own rice spoon to use for constructing our rolls.

Even their children (who are 1 and 3) ate the sushi. My daughter does not seem interested yet in the seaweed wraps but we are working on it through continually offering it to her. I love how healthy all of the Japanese children eat from day one and so then, inevitably throughout their lives.

We had fresh, raw Salmon, Shrimp, Tuna and Mackerel to choose from, as well as Squid tempura and Mackerel tempura (which is lightly fried fish). There was pickled radish salad, salmon, cucumber and octopus salad, egg salad sandwiches, tofu with a scallion sauce, local seaweed salad, miso soup, spicy fried chicken, fresh bread and macaroni salad. If you could not find something you liked to eat at this table, there is something wrong with ya. We learned that not all Japanese people eat raw fish, just like Americans. So, there was something for everyone in their group of family and friends. I dove right in. The first time we were at their home I ate like a bird, pick, pick, didn't want to seem like a big, fat, rude American coming over. This time, and after knowing them better, I went for it. I ate the fish alone (sashimi style), in rolls and wasabi-ed up my plate and learned to enjoy and have a great time eating with them. I learned many things. For one, you do not have to be super tidy when eating their food. Often in sushi restaurants in America and Japan, I sometimes feel awkward while eating a hand roll or a piece too large to fit in my mouth in one bite. So what, they say! Get messy with it. Eat with your hands, devour, enjoy, if it crumbles and piles up on your plate with the first bite, scoop it up with your next bite. They often take their plates or bowls right to their mouth and literally shovel the goods into their head. I love it. It is very relaxing and it makes it seem (to who prepared it) as though you love and adore each bite you consume. Also, I had been told (I think by an American some time in my past) that it was inappropriate to take the wasabi and mix it around in your soy sauce creating a "wasabi soup" for dipping. Well, the woman who prepared the food, the lady of the house, a born and bread Japanese and a food expert who used to own her own food store, ate her wasabi and soy sauce that very way, stirred in. So never again will I feel timid about eating in a Japanese or sushi restaurant. Now I know what to do. For dessert were lovely hot cakes (they tasted just like American breakfast pancakes) with a soy and peanut paste topping. It was simply scrumptious.

The interesting thing about our friend's home is that their kitchen table is topped off by a huge TV at the foot of the table and end of the eating room! Their traditional Japanese kitchen table is on the floor, like usual, but what shocked me was how they watch TV the whole meal. A typical Japanese person will never have anything, not one thing left to prepare after their guests arrive. It is considered rude to be doing anything away from the conversation dinner table once a guest is in their home. If they have anything left to prepare after you have gotten there, they prepare it right at the table so as to not miss any time with their guests. It is quite a nice way to be. But then they had on show a variety of Japanese cartoons, game shows and movies all throughout our meal. The night was topped off with a television presentation of the home video of the wife giving birth to their 3 year old son! My husband and I felt completely natural about watching it while at their home and then snickered to ourselves after we left in conversation; "did you think that was odd?" "That would never be done in an American home dinner party!" "Would anyone like more squid?" We got a hearty chuckle. But like I said, it did not seem odd at the time, it just provided us with some laughing later on. They keep their delivery rooms and laboring Mothers very discreet with sheets and covering in Japan, as we clearly learned! They are laid back and kind, relaxing people to be around. We adore our new friends.

We adore as well, this invaluable experience the military has provided us of learning all about the details of the differences between our American and Japanese worlds, histories and traditions. We looked through Kunyo's high school yearbooks after dessert. They did not seem too much different from our own year books. I am pretty sure every single Japanese, school age kid wears a pristine uniform no matter where they go to school. And we could not understand what the hand positions were that they all made in their school photos? We asked and they did not know how to explain it to us. It was so funny, we would never wear uniforms at the public school I attended, but we would also never make a funny hand gesture in our school pictures, either! Mother would kill me if I didn't have a perfectly proper way to document myself at this age or that school year. It is so funny how things are backwards, different and twisted between the two cultures. What is proper at home is no big deal over here and vice versa. This brings me to a point that I feel in my bones and believe to be factual: though we may seem very, very different in specific, certain ways from one culture to the next, really when it comes down to it, we are all the same and balanced. It makes the heart sing and the belly happy to be spending time in another hemisphere and with these lovely people.