Ratna Ling Week 3: The Hunger Games

SN858122When I arrived here 2.5 weeks ago, almost everyone I met said the same thing to me: “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.” And to some extent it’s true. I’ve gotten used to working in the bindery, and I’ve gotten used to waking up at six every morning. I’ve gotten used to the excessive chanting, the classes, and the people. I’m pretty good with most of it. What I haven’t gotten used to is the food.

I’m not a vegetarian, but that isn’t the problem. I can deal with vegetarian food. The issue here is the quality of the food, and the amount of left-overs we are asked to eat. One shouldn’t heat and re-heat couscous over and over again. It makes it rubbery. I don’t like being served salad greens that are wilted, or slimy. A lot of what is served here I would return at a restaurant. I guess I should mention that my description of meals applies strictly to the food served to the volunteer staff. The guests here appear to get cooked meals every evening, and they share our lunches. They eat well. Us? Not so much.

We’ve spent money buying food the past two Sundays, something that we will be unable to maintain as we are not making any money here. We bought some cans of soup and chili, and even a few cans of Spaghetti-O’s for those nights when we just can’t handle left-overs again. Canned soup is a luxury for me now. While a handful of folks here share our disdain for the cuisine, the majority don’t seem to mind at all. That “majority of folks” are in their early twenties, and thus happy they don’t have to worry about grocery shopping or cooking. Food quality doesn’t come in to the equation. I happen to enjoy grocery shopping and cooking. But I’m also at least ten years older than most of the people here, and I like food. I like eating.

Can we do six months here with the food being less than we had hoped?

SN858167Of course we can. But that isn’t the right question. The right question is: Do we want to do six months with lack-luster vegetarian food? That is a harder question to answer. Both my boyfriend and I are enjoying much of what Ratna Ling has to offer. I like that I get to see dozens and dozens of birds take flight as I walk past multiple times a day. I like that the deer seem to follow me everywhere, and take lunch outside of my cabin. The scenery here can’t be beat, and we are just a hop, skip and a jump away from the coast. We’ve met some really interesting people here, and even made a few friends.

I know that any new situation is going to seem daunting and strange at first, and I’m keeping an open mind. I’m rolling with the punches. The food sucks. So what? I managed to live in Prague for seven years, and the food there is far from good. Like really far. Czech food is somewhere between bland and nothing special. And what they do to international cuisine should qualify as a hate crime against food. If I can manage there, I can manage here. But then again, I was making money and had easy access to grocery stores. I could cook what and when I wanted.

SN858161Between the shopping we did last weekend and the care package of snacks my mother sent, we should be alright for a few more weeks. But after that? I don’t know. I have to decide if I want to work my ass off every day and cross my fingers that we get something good that day, or if I want to just say … screw it.

At this point my feeling is that we’ll stick it out. I’m shamelessly campaigning for care packages from my FB friends, and I’m going to cook some stuff on my one day off – if I’m not too tired. We’ll see how it goes. So far, we’re having fun and working hard. One day we’ll look back and smile at the time we ate microwaved cans of Spaghetti-O’s while watching Top Chef in our cozy, little cabin in the woods.


Zen Habits: Letting Go of Negativity

87511717We’ve all had a friend, at one time or another who, try as they might, only see’s the negative. People take “their” parking spots, or cut them off. At parties he probably hates the food, or thinks the music is lame. Their Facebook posts are always about someone who done them wrong. You might have had the distinct displeasure of traveling with one of these people. Nothing is to their liking, they complain the whole time, and they just want to go home. These people are a real bummer. They might be awesome people most of the time, but once that negativity comes out it’s a downward spiral.

We all fall prey to the temptations of lingering on the negative. I know I have. It’s easy to wallow in self-pity, or make even the smallest thing into a huge drama. It gives us attention and sympathy. You know what they say, misery loves company. But, hanging out with the woman who is so insecure she constantly makes fun of other women gets old. You begin to feel uptight when you see her, or you downright dread it. It is exhausting being around a negative person because it makes YOU into a negative person.

Negativity breeds negativity. We all know that. I was in the break-room at work the other day and it only took one person to complain about the coffee before it turned into a six person symposium on everything wrong with our jobs. Even playful, silly negativity can be harmful to your psyche. I was in a good mood going into work, but I ended up having a rough day. Did that small conversation in the break room shift my inner gear shift into “Negative”? Maybe. Probably.

It starts with being present in thought and word. In order to push negative ideas out and replace them with positive thoughts takes being present in the now. Think about how often during the day you worry about something that cannot be attended to until “later”, or how often you dwell on something that happened yesterday, or last week, or last year. You cannot change the past and dwelling on it won’t help, so why waste your energy? It is just weighing you down. And the future is one big question mark no matter how well you plan. Constantly worrying about “later” will rob you of the joys of right now. Most problems exist only in your own mind, in imaginary situations you make up that you continuously think about. It has nothing to do with “right now” or what is actually happening in your life at that moment.

twomonks_02Eckhart Tolle says, Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time—past and future—the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.” He also says that negativity is totally unnatural. Nature (flowers, trees, animals) don’t have “self-esteem” issues and they are not stressed or depressed. Why? Because they live in the present moment.

Here are a couple of tips I use for staying positive, and letting go of that inner bitch who lives inside me.

  1. Realize that everything “bad” might not be – We all struggle with change and loss, some of more than others. It took me a very long time to realize that sometimes change or loss can feel bad and look bad, but it is actually making space in my life for something new, something positive. I view change like pruning a rose-bush: you have to cut off the flower for more to grow.
  2. Concentrate on the good – I know it might seem silly, but throughout my day I take moments to myself and think about the good things that have happened so far. I try to do this on days when I begin to feel hostile or angry over seemingly small things. I think of things that made me smile or things I laughed at. When doing this I realize that I am holding on to a resentment or an unresolved issue, and that I need to stop and refocus on “now”. It helps, and it works. My mood improves every time.
  3. Remember that negativity comes out of the ego – Tolle says, “…if there is any negativity involved, anger, resentment, irritation, then Ego is present there.” When you make a decision that is reactionary, it was probably made out of anger. The ego likes to be angry. It likes to prove how “right” it is. Your anger or resentment only reenforce the negative thoughts you are having. It feeds on itself. Once you recognize your own negativity for what it really is (ego), you can begin to change the way you react to anger. Instead of letting it control you, you can feel the emotion, observe it, and let it go.
  4. Don’t accumulate negativity – Whether it is a bad day, or a bad break-up, let it go. The longer you hold on to a negative thought, the more power you give it. Don’t tell your best friend, the grocery store clerk, and anyone else who will listen about “your story”. The more you tell “your story” the longer that emotion will linger. That anger will feel fresh and justified every time you talk about it. Your body believes it is happening again because your mind is sending it those signals. Your body doesn’t know the difference – it just tenses up. Instead of focusing on how right you are, or how slighted you feel, do something active. It will force you to focus on the present task (not falling over in yoga? Finishing that last mile?) and allow you to let go of the negativity.

I’ll leave you with this Buddhist story. I think of this story every time I start to dwell on something negative. It helps me to remember to stay in the present, and let go of my anger.

“Two traveling monks reached a river where they met a young woman. 
Wary of the current, she asked if they could carry her across. 
One of the monks hesitated, but the other quickly picked her up onto his shoulders, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other bank. She thanked him and departed.  
As the monks continued on their way, the one was brooding and preoccupied. Four hours later, unable to hold his silence, he spoke out.”Brother, our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women, but you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her!”  
“Brother,” the second monk replied, “I set her down on the other side four hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?”