Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Opaque Mirror

I recently rewrote my bio for one of the websites I advertise on and, not having done that for a few years, it took me on a little journey of self-discovery.

The request for the bio came on a day I was not feeling my best. My emotions were flat and while I could tell you (with passion) the attributes and skills of others, for myself, the mirror was opaque. In the past I would have pushed through it, writing things by rote, maybe asking friends for advice or just resubmitting an old bio but this time, I really couldn’t bring up the energy to care. I didn’t want to express what I wasn’t feeling or worse, express in writing exactly what I was feeling — for a bio, that wouldn’t have been, shall we say, inappropriate. I felt at the time the only thing I could do was ignore the request and let the fates have their way.

Of course, that is not how the fates, aka website managers work. Employment, marketing, and other people’s needs and demands carry on despite one’s individual moods and peccadilloes. Normally, as I wrote above, I acquiesce and am generally pleased with the result but, on that day, no pleasure would have come from denying my internal state. And, it turns out, it was the healthier (business and personal) option.

As I have written before, our codependent parts can be quite the pleasers, attention grabbers, wall flowers, bullies, or the “whatevers” in order to get their needs met. In regard to this little bio writing episode, one could imply then that my codependent parts were perversely refusing to cooperate so that another would come in for the rescue: tell me how wonderful, skillful, and talented I was; and then recite a variety of bon mots to be gilded on my epitaph. And perhaps that held some truth but, in retrospect, now that I have come through it and, yes, rewritten my bio (quite nicely, thank you), it was more about my Self, my internal leader, taking charge and saying: “you know you are fine. You know you are skillful, creative, and knowledgeable. In fact, Jo-Ann, you know it so well that it doesn’t matter if anyone else does. The important thing is that you know.”

So, perhaps you could say that for a few days I had a distorted image of myself that refused to cooperate with the rest of the world but, on the other hand, you could also say that the “opaque mirror” was just a rebellion of all my parts that were sick and tired of trying to prove to others that I am good enough.

Whatever the reason, my bio is great … and I am not so bad myself.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mother Issues

I was replenishing my sourdough starter the other day when I made a big “oops”. I wasn’t in a great mood but I knew I needed bread and my process from replenishing to sitting down and slathering butter takes at least three days and, well, I just wasn’t in the mood to start things rolling and one thing led to another and “oops”.

But first things first: the process. I keep my starter, aka mother starter, in the fridge. She’s been there for about six months and, as long as I feed her ever so often and give her a good “shake” now and then, she’s happy. (Did someone say “mother issues”?) Anyhow, she was getting kind of low, so I pulled her out, added some flour (kamut, this time, cause I am still experimenting with cutting rye out of my diet), about half as much water, and then gave her about a five minute kneed. I am not developing gluten so its just about bringing air into the mix — starter’s like a lot of air. I then sat her aside, room temperature, for about seven hours. Now, not all recipes recommend this but I find after the first seven she hasn’t really risen enough so what I do is repeat the process of kneading and sitting. After another six to eight hours and a final knead she’s ready to go or, at least, sit in the fridge again. From that stock I take what I need to make a loaf of bread until she’s low again and needs replenishing.

So, there I was, the end of the day, tired, kind of grumpy but more than anything not very mindful. I spray my counter with cleansing vinegar in preparation for mother’s final knead. As I spray the area I remember that I forgot to scrub my hands and nails — I’m adamant about cleanliness when I bake. After attending to the washing I come back and turn the nicely risen, pokey-soft (imagine the Pillsbury doughman) mother starter onto my counter. Immediately she starts frothing. I watch in horror as she spreads across the table top like Elmer’s glue. My brain takes a while to catch up with this bizarre sight but when it does my oops comes into focus, I forgot to wipe the vinegar off the counter. I softly curse as I contemplate the repercussions of my act: have I killed mom? Starters tend to be finicky at the best of times or at least in their youth. Mom was only six months old, could she handle the contamination?

I am glad to say I didn’t panic nor dump her in the garbage. Instead I gave a good sniff and thought, hmmm , sour, that cant be too bad and stuffed her back in the fridge after scooping her up from the counter in dripping spoonfuls.

Mistakes have always been my nemesis. Mistakes showed my flaws; laid me bare to critique and ridicule. From those words it would seem that I came from an overcritical family or was brow-beaten to assumed perfection. Not so. If anything, there was an absence of words, a vacuum that enhanced the feelings of not being good enough. In that arid container where nothing is sufficient, mistakes only compounded the feelings.

Perfectionism, of course, is one of the cornerstones of codependence. Depending on the speaker, to be perfect is to have no needs, no flaws and no weaknesses. So, even though as human we all have needs, flaws and weaknesses, our codependent parts will go through extremes to hide them. To be human is antithetical to their beliefs.

One of my goals in the last few years has been to transform the definition of mistake as a fatal flaw to a more compassionate idea that it is more of a learning experiment. I am quite pleased to say that when I stuffed said syrupy, foaming mother back in the fridge, a part of me was kind of excited as to what would happen.

So, I let mother rest a few days, watching with cautious surprise as she still continued to ferment in the cool darkness. When I brought her out to make bread she responded magically and produced a pleasantly plump round of dough that bounced back nicely when I molded her final shape. Seems mom likes a bit of vinegar. Hmmm, my “other” mom liked to nip a bit too. And there, you see, is the truth of the matter, vinegar is fermented ethanol, otherwise known as alcohol. Moreover, vinegar is the composite of both bacteria and yeast, just like the sourdough starter, with bacteria being the element that gives it its flavour. It is not a simple as I am making it sound as there are many strains of bacteria and yeast and the ratios have to be just so BUT it seems like my vinegar oops was the perfect amount. My kamut/buckwheat multi-seed sourdough not only rose delightfully but has a new distinctive flavor… no quite the San Franciscan flavor created by the Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis but Lactorbacillus jo-annensis will do just fine.

James Joyce said: "A man's errors are his portals of discovery". What do I say? One woman’s oops is another’s loaf of tasty bread.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Love The One You Are With (Part Two)

Happy Valentine’s Day! To celebrate the cause of love I am passing this blog off to Herr Goethe. But before I do I must clarify that I don’t mean LOoooooVE with a heady drawl, but the unconditional kind instead, the kind that lights up the world with understanding and compassion; beauty and joy. Now I am not a Christian by practice, more prone to Animism if anything, but I am rather fond of some of the old Christian poets and their descriptions of spiritual love. Like this one in Faust. It is near the end of the poem (part two) and Mephistopheles (a rather delightful rogue) is standing over the grave of Faust (a rather obnoxious sod) trying to maintain his ownership of the latter’s soul. Although Faust sold his soul to the devil years before Mephistopheles knows he still has to fight for it to the bitter end with the angels.

As Mephistopheles complains:

There lies the body: should the soul seek flight
I’ll show him straight the bond, the blood-writ scroll;
But nowadays too oft the devil’s right
Is thwarted by new means to save the soul.
So, as Faust’s soul starts to rise from the grave, the heavenly angels start strewing roses at Mephistopheles and his crew of hapless demons. The demons cannot bear the “love” and desert their post but Mephistopheles endures, struggling to beat off the hovering roses.

I burn, head, heart, and spleen, a flaming evil,
This is an element of super-devil,
More sharp and keen than hell’s own fire….
Us spirits you call damned, and look askance.
Witch-masters, you, par excellence;
For man and a maid you lead astray. —
What an adventure curst and dire!
Is this love’s elemental game?...
He starts to falter as love enters his dark soul and, somewhat off-balance, begins to see the angels in a more lewd light:

With you, tall youth, I’d choose in love to fall,
This parson-visage suits you not at all,
Then give a wonton loving look, just one.
You could with decency appear more nude,
The surplice vaunts too much the acolyte —
And now they turn, and from behind are viewed —
Ah, how the rascals stir the appetite.
Until he finally pulls himself together and repels the love while admitting defeat as the angels win the right to Faust’s soul.

Sigh… aint love grand? Topples the bad guy every time. So, Happy Valentine’s Day to you all. And, in praise to this thing called love, let us open our hearts to angel (or whoever) strewn roses and, once again, invoke my more earthly hero, Stephen Stills, and love the one you are with.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Love the One You're With

WARNING: I am not only going to write of love in this week before Valentine’s but I am also going to embed a couple of clichés. My apologies but I couldn’t help it, love made me do it!

We all know the quote that suggests when you do something you love you will never work a day in your life. There was a time when I was enthralled with this message; believing it wholeheartedly and even carrying it further to say that if I did what I loved, success in all its manifestations would follow. What I didn’t realize at the time was that there were different expressions of love. Unfortunately, the love that I was expressing back then was that of my codependent parts.

A quick recap. Behind every codependent behavior lies a desperate hope of getting one’s needs met. Said another way, things are given, more often than not, with investment in mind. If I love you, you will then love me. If I help you, you will then help, like; need me. If I show you that I am smarter, stronger; more powerful than you, you will then need me, look up to me, fear me and/or make me important in your life.

What I know now is that to love something or someone is to forgo expectation and to live in the joy of an open heart. To love with our codependent parts is to be imprisoned with a fierce and never satisfied longing. Non-codependent love sets the stage for mindfulness — a joy in the present moment. It is not limited by what we do or who we are but is all encompassing; all expansive. In love you will never work a day in your life because when you are engaged in something or someone you love, the heart opens and life is more play than work. Even the mundane or awful can transform in the face of love.

Love doesn’t mean we will be loved back, make money, have everlasting health, or have good things come back to us. Love is just love. While singular in its meaning it is also a world unto itself — a love without expectations allows us the freedom to live beyond expectations.

So, on this Valentine’s Day, I invite you, as I encourage myself, to look to love not as a step towards a goal but as an expansion of the heart; an expression of beauty and joy in the creative art of living. Love for the sake of loving or, as Stephen Stills so aptly wrote, when you cant be with the one you love, love the one you are with.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Adventures in Buckwheat

I’ve started experimenting, intrepid soul be I, with different flours for my bread. After seven months of baking, I am finally branching out. This is so typical of me. I tend to need a firm foundation, to really feel comfortable with something, before breaking new ground. It is also reflected in my hiking style. As a notoriously directionally challenged person I am at a disadvantage whenever I head into the mountains. Sure I take a compass and map but truly, I have no sense of north, west, east or south. I am lucky to live in a city where from every vantage point you can see the local hills. I know just by looking up where north is, makes life quite easy except, of course, on cloudy days. I wont mention the times I have gotten lost in the rain. Anyhow, regardless of this inherent trait, I prefer to hike alone. Trouble waiting to happen, you ask? Perhaps, but I also have a certain routine I follow. I find a well marked trail and then hike it several times over the course of a few months. During these walks, I gain a certain comfort and, as I ease into the forest, my sense of safety and awareness grows. I start to notice more: the less used paths to the side, a seldom used game trail; a natural landmark. When the time is right I venture off, going slow, never needing a final destination but getting comfortable with this new element of the mountain’s aspect. My needs of solitude and safety combined in one lovely adventure package.

And so it is now with bread. Last week I introduced buckwheat to my ever so tasty, sprouted kamut, pumpkin and flax seed sourdough (rye starter) bread. Buckwheat, for you curious minds, is not a cereal or grass. It is, according to Wikipedia, a pseudocereal, called so to emphasize the fact that despite its name and its grain-like usages, it is not related to wheat. It is, in truth, a seed and the flour is made from the endosperm that feeds the inner germ. Shall I continue? No? Hmmm. Fine. Why I chose to explore this seed of all seeds is a minor case (or major if you are standing next to me) of passing air or gas as some may call it. It would seem that my bread making days are at an end if I cannot find my allergen. I am hoping it is the type of flour I am using and, as such, have chosen buckwheat to being experimentation. But, as some of you may know, not only is buckwheat a seed but it is void of gluten — a detriment for many a baker. My first try worked well, quite tasty, but as I just reworked the ratios of rye and kamut and only added two cups of buckwheat, the source of methane still exists. Next week I will convert the starter from rye to kamut (hopes hinging on the former as the source of all evil) and up the quantities of this upstart seed flour. I will, of course, one way or the other, keep your enquiring noses informed.

Moving slow and creating a strong foundation is one way that I create safety for myself. The other is to be impulsive, even impetuous but, then again, those are the methods of my codependent parts. The mixture, however, is an interesting compilation — at times embarrassing, at times rewarding, but in all ways and all times, unique: my own version of a fine artisan bread.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Hiding Behind the Socially Acceptable

One of the more interesting things I find about codependence is its ability to mask itself as a socially accepted way of being. Included among its many facades are workaholism, over-exercising, and über-independence. All three activities or ways of being are fine in moderation but when used as a defence against feeling, self reflection, or intimacy, they can be aspects of our codependent parts. Another way that codependence can mimic socially appropriate mores is to hide behind values or beliefs such as self-responsibility and the pursuit of excellence.

Self-responsibility is an important and, perhaps, sacred credo for many individuals and even groups, for example, when instituted as a company value. It states that I will look in the mirror first and adjust my behavior before seeking external solutions. It is a belief that most problems are not created in isolation and, rather than resorting to blame, prioritizes self-reflection, clear communication, honesty, and collaboration for resolution. For some, it is the philosophy that lies behind the famous Kennedy quote: Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.

However, the statement can also be used as a defence or a block against further discussion transforming self-responsibility into a message of it is your fault, not mine. An example of this is when a company employee feels management is not listening to or responding to staff issues. If a company upholds the maxim of self responsibility but is using it as a defence, it will put the problem back on the employee and say it is each staff member’s responsibility to make themselves heard. A Catch-22 if there ever was one, especially when the problem lies with management not giving space and credence to work force issues. This can also happen between couples or friends. Even when the person declaring the wrong is not accepting their part of the problem (i.e. not taking self-responsibility), it is incumbent for the one receiving the accusation to take some time and reflect on their behavior before putting the mantra of “you’re not taking responsibility for your actions” back on the person who feels wronged. Solutions lie in safe and effective communication, not aphorisms. Moreover, on the other end of the spectrum, one must know when they are taking too much responsibility. Self responsibility is knowing where the boundary lie: what belongs to you and what belongs to the other.

The other motto that I find potentially problematic is an individual’s or company’s stated goal of excellence. Once again, an admirable pursuit but instead of encouraging high caliber performance it can sometimes become a nagging inner voice (or company voice) that says you are not good enough, that you must always try harder. I had a friend who, after putting in several years of passionate service for a company, found that he had lost his sense of balance: all work and no play. When he started to take care of himself better his work performance went from over-achiever to high achiever. As a result, the company let him go, basically saying his best was not good enough. We all, of course, have the potential to do excellent work but is it sustainable on a continuous level and, if it is, is it healthy? And what is excellence? Who measures it? Is it our personal best or some unobtainable goal?

Taking self responsibility and pursuing excellence are healthy only when partnered with self compassion, reflection and self care. Without these the former, when used as a defence, can shut down one’s humanity or, adversely, become a platform of guilt and self-denigration and the latter can transform into unhealthy and unattainable goals that put unrealistic expectations on self and others. In either case, codependence at its best.