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Showing posts from October, 2012

A very green soup - healthy and tasty

It's getting cold here and I like soup but the ones in the shop give me digestion issues. Here's a very green soup that tastes good too - you can't really go wrong and even my children like it. If you get into soups, a hand blender is an essential kitchen gadget.


2 medium leeks
1 or 2 medium potatoes
1 or 2 carrots
A bag of spinach (washed)
A bag of watercress (washed)
2.5-3 pints of vegetable stock (or water)
Seasoning to taste


1. Chop up the leeks, carrots and potatoes. Put them in a pan with stock and bring to a simmer.
2. Simmer for 20-30 minutes until they look done.
3. Add the spinach and give it 5 more minutes.
4. Turn out the heat, add the watercress.
5. Blend it until smooth, and season to taste.

If you're feeling a bit drained, then this soup seems just the ticket.

Go deep

This is an interesting idea to explore: the idea that there is something 'deep' within us. We use the word deep because that's the best word to describe the feeling when something reaches right into the heart of us. Rare are the deep moments of this life.

We can attempt to explore the depth of our minds directly. Imagine the mind as an onion or leek or any layered thing. The outer layer is busy, doing things, adjusting our experience. If we quieten this, we might find a more gentle layer of thoughts about yesterday or the days events, or about past experiences or other esoteric associations. Beyond this we find the body and sensations of being alive in a body. If we go deeper, we might find silence in the body and a place where there is no language, just felt sensations. Forging even deeper, we might uncover a deep sense of who we are in this body and mind - perhaps we are totally at home and feeling peaceful. We could go further into the fathoms of the mind, peeling off t…

Another way of looking at calming meditation

Well, you can probably figure what this picture means. We start off with a choppy mind, there's a lot to get through (the 5 hindrances is the kind of standard way of looking at it). There are many analogies for getting through this busy mind: climbing through the forest layer on a mountain, breaking the surf zone on a beach, a bird trying to take off, and so on. We probably spend most of our efforts in meditation trying to get through this phase - this is what I would call "settling down" (see this post I did on the Jhanas).

Then the mind gradually gets a bit calm, maybe drifting into thoughts but there's a kind of separation going on - we are calming down, the activity in the mind is harmonizing. Pleasure, sizzling thrills, contentment, happiness may or may not arise. This continues until we reach a kind of gathered, stopping point. Here we find the beginnings of deep refreshment and things will move on from here quite naturally if we manage to stay out of the way …

Can we allow ourselves to be happy even though we are ill?

A complex area this one. You might like to examine your own beliefs about how an ill person should behave. The very language of illness is a kind of set up - there is something wrong with you, you are not quite right, and so on. This creates a perception of illness and this shapes our thoughts and beliefs in a limiting way. And yet, happiness promotes healing. A sense of well being is a good thing, even if we are not actually well. So we experience a kind of contradiction - we are unwell but point ourselves towards well being. Resigned but somehow happy.

Does it make you feel uneasy? Does it not seem quite right?

There is more I could say but I don't know how to say it, other than: it's a complex area.

Perhaps nothing really happens

You might enjoy this thought or you might find it completely nihilistic. Consider the last ten years of your life - how much of it can you remember? Which parts have lasting meaning? What really happened? Where are the monuments of your existence?

I spend a good deal of time looking at old books and music. There are whole lifetimes invested in these things, an entire career, an entire way of being in the world. They are beautiful things, some of them, but perhaps the beauty is in the moment of their creation, like flowers or trees. Here then is something we can enjoy - the transience of all things, rather than any lasting meaning. Perhaps it is enough to be in the world, but that is perhaps just me talking through the function of my circumstances.

A standard view of the Jhana states (what happens when we meditate)

Here is a diagram of the Jhana states as they are generally explained. The first row consists of the Jhanic factors (I have compressed the first two, applied and sustained thought, into one called "Settled mind" to make the diagram more consistent). The second row are the first four Jhanas, and the bottom row are the formless states of mind. (If you click the image, it gets bigger).

So then, how do we use this kind of information as we meditate. Well, I spent many years wondering about various experiences that occurred during meditation and only when I discovered this information was I able to get a sense of the whole map. This was helpful.

Generally, I like to use these states not as a list of achievable things but as a conceptual map of what is possible with the mind. As you meditate, it can be useful to incline the mind towards contentment and wide open space rather than simply counting 10 breaths. Even though the depth of the actualized Jhana states is tremendously profo…

Try and sit still for a couple of minutes

This is quite an illuminating experiment if you manage to get into it. Take a seat somewhere and try to sit still for a couple of minutes without moving a muscle - you are allowed to breathe, blink and swallow, etc - we don't want to pass out. So we sit in our chair and the urge to move is suddenly upon us. We might like to try and trace back through the urge and see where it came from, after all we decided not to move but here we are eager to move. Perhaps we are responding to a thought steam - we must do this, this and this. Perhaps we are slightly anxious and movement dispels the anxiety for a brief, fleeting moment. Perhaps our body is restless, bustling with chemicals. Perhaps we realise that all movement stems from our internal, mental landscape.

What happens if we succeed in not moving? Does pleasantness arise? Do we feel better for it? Are we relieved to resume our normal habitual agitation?

Chronic fatigue - the 20 percent rule

Following on from my post yesterday, one useful thing I picked up from GET is never to increase the amount of activity you do by more than 20%. It worked something like this for me:

- you establish a baseline of activity that is OK for you. This involves pacing yourself, living within your energy limits.
- let's say this involves a 10 minute walk a few times a week. You are used to this level of activity, and it does not make you suffer.
- you want to do more. Previously you might have tried going for 20 minutes as this seems reasonable for other people, however, you are not other people. Instead, you go for a 20% increase of a 12 minute walk. You do this until you are comfortable with it over a few weeks, or perhaps even longer. It may be the case that you need to go back a bit.
- and so on. Increasing activity in a very gentle fashion.

It might seem like a very long winded process but this is an illness that spans many years and there is certainly time to take it slowly. Very sl…

Chronic fatigue - graded exercise therapy

Graded exercise therapy (or GET) has a mixed response with the chronic fatigue world as it seems to suggest that a chronic fatigue sufferer could get better if they just tried a bit harder and do some exercise (although activity seems to be a better description of it). However, chronic fatigue is a complex illness and it is not as simple as that. For me, the illness seems to be going through a process and I need different therapies at different times as the illness evolves. This will be different for everybody and it may be the case that the illness gets stuck at a particular level and that is that - although 80% of people regain some form of life.

So then, I am not content with achieving a basic form of living - I want to regain some of my old magic. If I want to get from a position where I am existing to a position where I am living then increasing my activity level over time seems to what I need to do. Now, I have tried this many times over the years to no avail, because it made me…

The beetroot smoothie

The breakfast smoothie has transformed my relationship to the beetroot (and other salad vegetables). It has gone from an eating chore to a drinking pleasure, and I get five-a-day before I leave the house in the morning. I would recommend getting a smoothie machine (blender) to everyone, and I should probably link to a commercial product at this stage but I'm not there yet. Here's the recipe:

Basic beetroot smoothie

1 precooked beetroot
1 unpeeled carrot
1 unpeeled chunk of cucumber
1 large orange, squeezed
some apple juice (optional)
5 cherry tomatoes

Whizz it up in the blender. It's very nice.

Some variations

Once you've enjoyed the delights of the basic recipe, then you can enhance even more with some of these variations:

A handful of blueberries (just add them to the above)
A peach - even the rock hard peaches add pleasantness (maybe omit the carrot)
Some melon - melons and peaches are divine in smoothies.