Engaging the Rhythms of our Living Earth Part 1

By Martin Ogle

Martin Ogle will be leading Gaia: Engaging the Rhythms of Our Living Earth, March 21-23

Martin-Ogle-La-Plata-PeakIn essence, this upcoming retreat will explore how our human mind perceives and fits in with where it came from! If we accept that our physical bodies evolved from this planet, it is a short leap to understanding our minds as originating from the same source. We are the conscious awareness of Earth! In this, the first-of-two blog posts, I introduce the scientific idea of Earth as a living system, setting the foundation for a second installment that will more fully tie our human awareness to rhythms of our planet.

In the 1960s, NASA wanted to know if there was life on Mars, yet a Mars mission was still decades away. The agency hired James Lovelock, a British chemist, doctor and inventor to look into it. Lovelock decided on a simple test, one that could be done from Earth. Studying Mars with a spectrophotometer, he observed that it had an inert atmosphere (one in which “nothing was happening”), and concluded that Mars was lifeless.

Mulling over his research, however, Lovelock realized that the nature of his atmospheric test had more to say about a planet as a whole than about the presence or absence of living organisms. Although he found the Martian atmosphere to be inert, Lovelock knew Earth’s atmosphere was wildly active – alive! This suggested to Lovelock that Earth is not just a planet with life on it, but is a single, living system. He was soon joined by American microbiologist, Lynn Margulis who saw that early evolution of microorganisms – and all subsequent evolution – involved both natural selection and symbiosis that resulted in a living system.

Lovelock, Margulis and colleagues amassed research that showed organic and inorganic parts and processes of Earth were tightly coupled as a living system that has greatly moderated global temperature, atmospheric content, ocean salinity, and other factors. The maintenance of oxygen at around 20% of the atmosphere and ocean salinity at about 35 parts per thousand over millions of years are examples. To find out more about this science, visit GaiaTheory.org.

Although all signs point to our being part of a living planet, our modern cultural stories do not reflect this. Our language and actions suggest that we consider ourselves separate from the rest of nature, and that nature, itself, operates like a machine rather than a living being. The disparity between these underlying cultural stories and what our senses tell us creates great confusion. Our minds go off on tangents that are not reflective of or compatible with the way that life works. In the next installment, I will propose that Engaging the Rhythms of our Living Earth involves re-linking our intellectual and sensual perceptions of our living planet.

Be sure to listen our recent interview with Martin Ogle, available to stream and download HERE

Martin Ogle will be leading Gaia: Engaging the Rhythms of Our Living Earth, March 21-23. To learn more, CLICK HERE

Floral Notes and Bardo: Howdy/Vanishing

 

Floral Notes and Bardo: The Creative Chronicles of a Shambhala Mountain Resident is a daily feature on the SMC blog in which a member of our staff/community shares his experience of existing as part of Shambhala Mountain Center.

Snowflakes
vanish from palms
in a soft flash.

Thus have I heard:

Once, Trungpa Rinpoche asked William S. Burroughs:

“Why do you write?”

Burroughs:

“You’ve got to do something.”

P1070989

Yesterday, as planned, I spent most of the day practicing meditation to give some room to the explosions occurring in my chest and brain–
Sparkle bombs.
Love bombs.
Confusion in confetti form and twinkles of smile-inspiration.

Lots happening these days.

Moments ago, at lunch, Z (my teacher) said:

“You look more excited than afraid. That’s a good sign.”

He also said:

“You’re a surfer.”

That’s true. I grew up surfing mediocre waves in Florida. Now I live at Shambhala Mountain Center. The waves here are not mediocre.

~~~

A couple of introductory notes (written in pencil on confetti):

I started a blog back in November after taking a writing program here at Shambhala Mountain Center with Bhanu Kapil–a Naropa professor who is clairvoyant and lovely in all sorts of ways. She encouraged me to do it as a way to express myself, practice writing, and share with people what must be a rather interesting experience–living here.

Here: If I may say so–as many others have throughout the decades–Shambhala Mountain is a powerful-sacred-organism. I find the experience of residing here–as a lil’ part of it–to be incredible, and I love telling stories about it.

Recently, Director Gayner (who is also lovely as well as regal, and so on) offered an idea:

He felt it would be cool for someone from our staff/community to write a daily bit about
what it’s like to live/work/exist here.

!!! !!! !!!

I gladly volunteered!

The opportunity to do this as a daily part of my adventure/life on the mountain has me giddy and grateful. I’m amazed and un-surprised. This is the latest in a series of doors to swing open–revealing perks, lessons, gifts; prickly, sparkly, blunt…

Anyway, this is not the first installment. This is the part of the concert where, a few songs in, the dude steps to the mic and says:

“Hi. It’s great to be here.”

Thanks for listening. More to come.

May this activity offer a glimpse into this magical living-situation (living situation).

~~~

PortraitTravis Newbill is a curious dude on the path of artistry, meditation, and social engagement who is very glad to be residing at Shambhala Mountain Center. His roles within the organization include Marketing Associate and Head Dekyong–a position of leadership within the community. 

WATCH: Elephant Journal’s “Walk the Talk Show” Features SMC’s Michael Gayner

 

Yesterday, Elephant Journal’sWalk the Talk Show,” hosted by  Waylon Lewis, featured SMC Executive Director Michael Gayner.  In lively and huge-hearted conversation, the two longtime friends touched on some deep points about SMC life, land and vision.

For those who missed the live broadcast, or would like to watch it again, we offer the recording below. May it inspire you on this final day of 2013!

Q&A: Susan Piver Discusses the Writer’s Groove and “Fearlessly Creative”

By Travis Newbill

Susan Piver leads Fearlessly Creative: A Meditation and Writing Retreat, December 20-23

susan-piver

Susan Piver

A couple of common obstacles that most writers–or would be writers–encounter: 1) No time to write! 2) The fear of putting the pen to the page (err, typing words into the computer).

Meditation teacher and New York Times Bestselling Author Susan Piver has a remedy. It involves structuring daily life in a way that is conducive to creative work, and…practicing meditation. Does that sound simple? Impossible? Worth exploring?

This weekend, Susan will be leading a retreat at SMC which is intended to provide a space for writers to find their groove and produce work, and also to model a routine which will allow them to live more fully as writers in their daily lives.

Recently, Susan took some time to discuss the retreat.

So, what is the intended purpose of this retreat?

Susan Piver: If you have something that you want to work on—a book, a memoir, anything—this program is meant to provide a container for you to do so. It’s not learning how to write, it’s not getting prompts and learning writing techniques, it’s for writing.

Who would you say this program is for? Anyone who wants to write?

It’s a program for artists of any kind—although I never say that because people get intimidated, thinking that they aren’t artists, or that they aren’t writers. But, you know, it’s for people who want to reflect, and create art with words.

Will there be lots of discussion, and that sort of thing?

It’s not about talking. I made it that way because, that’s the program that I want to go to. Maybe I’m the only one, I don’t know.

Does this sort of environment somehow help writers overcome the fear to see a work through or to start a work?

Yes, and it’s rather hard to explain how that happens. It’s not that you get a trick that helps you overcome your fear. Meditation practice is the trick. I never say that. But, there’s something about the combination of meditation, companionship of fellow writers, and specific periods of time for work that calls the words forward.

You say this is not how to write, but it kinda seems like it is?

It doesn’t teach you how to write, but it teaches you how to be a writer. Because every writer has to be afraid, and stay. And then allow. And it’s hard for everyone to do that. But this program shows you that you can do it. And you don’t have to be at Shambhala Mountain Center to do it–although that is better.

What’s the takeaway?

You will learn a technique for writing that you can take home. So, it provides an actual container in which to work, and is also informative for the introverts coming together here to take back into their regular rhythms.

So, folks may learn ways in which they can structure their daily lives to allow for writing.

Yes, it will model a routine–that they can replicate at home–for being a writer. No matter what else they do in their life.

Sounds great. Thanks, Susan.

Thank you.

~~~

Here’s a video with some folks who participated in one of Susan’s past writing retreats.

Susan Piver leads Fearlessly Creative: A Meditation and Writing Retreat, December 20-23

Good Tidings (and a Great Recipe) from SMC Chef Avajra John Russell

P1070923

Avajra Claus is real

By Travis Newbill

Did you know that Santa’s kooky cousin lives at Shambhala Mountain Center? He is just a jolly as Old St. Nick–though much thinner, and his magical sleigh is pulled by a single garuda. His name is Avajra Claus! His specialty is making tasty things in the kitchen for the SMC community—many healthy meals, and some sweet delights as well.

According to folklore, Avajra used to bake cookies for Santa back when they were little elves. Ever since they parted ways, Santa has been searching the world for treats as tasty as the ones Avajra used to make. In exchange for the cookies that the kids leave, Santa brings gifts.

Now, Avajra has a gift for you: a classic holiday recipe! He asks that you enjoy it with your loved ones, and also leave some out for his chubby cousin, Santa.

From SMC lead chef Avajra John Russell to you and yours:

Here we all sing together…

We wish you a Merry Christmas

We wish you a Merry Christmas

We wish you a Merry Christmas

and a Happy New Year.

 

Good tidings we bring for you and your kin,

Good tidings for Christmas and a Happy New Year.

 

O bring us some figgy pudding

O bring us some figgy pudding

O bring us some figgy pudding

and bring it right here.

 

And we won’t go until we’ve got some

And we won’t go until we’ve got some

And we won’t go until we’ve got some…

Well if you want your holiday guests to ever go home, better have some “Figgy Pudding” on hand. It is also noteworthy that here at SMC, we live as a community, so we are all home already, together, which is sweeter than any treat I could make.

Okay, this traditional Christmas dessert dates back to 16th century England. The many varied recipes that have been handed down to us include baking the dessert or steaming it in the oven, some call for boiling it or frying. This sweet gooey Christmas treat is more like a cake than what we’ve come to think of as a pudding. It can be soaked in Brandy, which makes it really luscious. Traditionally, it is served topped with “Hard Sauce”, although whipped cream can also be a fabulous pairing. I’m including two recipes here, one baked and one steamed in a double boiler.

Is everybody singing?? No?? … just the sound of one lone voice wafting out from the kitchen…  Singing & laughing. – Avajra John Russell

TRADITIONAL STEAMED FIGGY PUDDING

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup soft bread crumbs

1 cup water

1 cup molasses

1 cup chopped dried figs

1 cup raisins

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup orange peel strips

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1teaspoon ground nutmeg

Directions

1. Grease the inside bowl of a double-boiler.

2. Mix flour, bread crumbs, water, molasses, figs, raisins, walnuts, orange peel, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg together in a bowl until batter is well incorporated; spoon batter into the prepared double-boiler bowl and cover.

3. Fill the bottom half of a double boiler with water and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer. Place bowl in the simmering water and cover. Steam until pudding is cooked through, adding water as needed, 3 hours. Cool slightly with cover ajar before serving warm.

*Thanks to sueb’s Great Grandmother for this recipe

 

BAKED FIGGY PUDDING

1/2 cup butter

2 eggs

1 cup molasses

2 cups mission figs chopped

1/2 teaspoon grated fresh lemon rind

1 cup buttermilk

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

2 cups brandy

cheesecloth

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 325, grease baking pan(s).

2. Beat butter until soft, add eggs and molasses and beat until fluffy.

3. Add chopped figs, grated lemon rind, and buttermilk, combine.

4. Pour dry ingredients into wet mixture, stir well.

5. Pour into prepared pan(s), and cook 1 hour or until toothpick comes out ‘almost’ clean.

6. Allow to cool for 20 minutes, then carefully dislodge cake(s), and place on baking rack.

7. Soak cheese cloth in brandy.

8. After cake is cool, wrap up several times in soaked cheesecloth and allow to set and seep in brandy cloth for at least 24 hours.

9. May be served plain or with hard sauce.

 

HARD SAUCE

1/2 cup butter

2 powdered sugar

1/4 cup heavy cream

(for non-alcoholic 1 teaspoon rum extract)

1 teaspoon rum, sherry wine or brandy

1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1/4 teaspoons nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

Sprinkle with teaspoon cinnamon just before serving (optional)

Directions

1. Gently heat all ingredients

2. Whisk together over low heat or double boiler.

3. Whisk well until mixture is smooth, warm and fully incorporated,

4. Serve warm or chilled depending on preference.

 

 

 

New Year’s Intention: Take a Leap!

By Jon Barbieri

Jon Barbieri leads Take a Leap into 2014: Establish Your Intention and Commitment, December 30, 2013-January 1, 2014

Jonathan Barbieri

Jonathan Barbieri

New Year’s resolutions have earned quite a reputation with their knack for creating lofty, unreachable, goals. And still, they can be genuinely helpful in opening space for reflection, creating an opportunity to set clear intentions for the year to come.

In making resolutions we often envision what we would like to change about our lives: what to add, remove, or improve to become “better people.” With this approach, the whole thing can get a bit intense and self-aggressive. “I am never going to eat cake again, and I will meditate 2 hours a day if it kills me.”

So, how does the ritual of New Year’s resolutions change, when instead of developing a wish list, we start with our basic human qualities?

We begin by acknowledging that we aspire to do good, to be kind, that we wish for happiness and that fundamentally, we have everything we need to realize these virtues.

Using contemplations, meditation, and discussion, we will touch on these qualities. We will also look at actions or habits we have that are not healthy for us to continue in a very simple and contemplative way. In doing so, we can resolve to pay greater attention to these actions so that over the next year we will acknowledge them and work with them. In addition, we will look at our aspirations for those qualities we wish to cultivate, and make a resolution to nurture and bring them forward.

In this way our approach is not a wish for the year as much as it is a way to look at our life as a journey, and 2014 as the next step along the path.

Join us for this special program and allow your aspirations for the New Year to become clear, confident, and committed through reflection and renewal. What better way to celebrate New Year’s Eve than with a delicious full-course dinner on the magical starry land of Shambhala Mountain Center?

I’m so happy that Jon is continuing  the “Take a Leap into the new year” series.  I participated in the first program “Take Leap into 2012″, and for me the experience was life changing.  Jon’s ability to bring a group together with his warmth, kindness and humor is a gift. This is a wonderful way to begin a new year! — Gayle Sykes

Jon Barbieri leads Take a Leap into 2014: Establish Your Intention and Commitment, December 30, 2013-January 1, 2014. To learn more, CLICK HERE

Q&A: The President of Shambhala on ‘Who is A Leader’ and ‘How to Lead’ (Note: You Are A Leader)

By Travis Newbill

President Richard Reoch leads The Six Ways of Ruling: Surviving, Transforming, and Working with Others, January 31-February 2.

Richard Reoch

Richard Reoch

Who are the “leaders,” anyway? Are the leaders “us” or “them”? Are we all leaders? The notion of leadership may arise in various contexts: we all strive to lead decent lives; when two people are dancing a tango, one person is leading (or else there will be extreme sloppiness, if not injury); some of us are in positions in which we lead groups of people in one way or another on a daily basis.

For leaders of any sort, there is profound guidance to be found within a set of teachings whose roots extend 2,600 years into human history. The Six Ways of Ruling stem from teachings on enlightened society given by the Buddha and were articulated in this age by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche–founder of the modern day Shambhala tradition–as a means to train his successor as Sakyong (“Earth Protector” or “King”). Only in the last decade have the teachings been made available to the public.

This coming January, Richard Reoch, the President of Shambhala, will present The Six Ways of Ruling in a weekend program at SMC. Recently, President Reoch generously made time in his schedule to have some discussion about what these teachings are all about, and who may benefit from engaging with them.

Can you describe the history of these teachings and who they may be applicable to?

President Reoch: When Trungpa Rinpoche first presented these teachings, he presented them as the training of the new Sakyong: When the prince first sees how much chaos and drama there is in the world, of all sorts, and how much needs to be accomplished during his reign, he might lose heart. So, Trungpa Rinpoche says, in order to accomplish his purpose while he’s the Sakyong, he needs to be thoroughly accomplished in the Six Ways of Ruling.

I see.

And from that perspective, these teachings are a recipe, or an orientation, for that kind of leadership. At the same time, of course, the notion of Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo [the female counterpart] is meant to be an indicator and an inspiration for how we lead our own lives.

So, we are all leaders–kings and queens–in a sense?

There is a quality in which you need to attend to your own life. You have relationships with others–whether you like them or not. Most people have to work–whether they like it or not. Most people end up in teams of some sort, and then there’s the larger notion of community and society.

And these teachings are helpful in working with that stuff?

These teachings are completely and utterly applicable whether you’re just figuring out how to lead your own life or whether you’re pondering becoming the next Secretary General of the United Nations. So, no limitations there in terms of leadership.

So, how can we be good leaders?

I think the first thing is to use your own insights about yourself in order to understand the other people that you’re working with. Fundamentally, I believe that most of the leadership work that we do, at most levels in Shambhala, is entirely about working with others, and working with others’ states of mind.

So, the first thing is not to reference a to-do list?

If we approach leadership from the point of view of task first, generally speaking, we find we’re not capable of accomplishing the task.

Interesting.

Because the states of minds, attitudes, aspirations, and insights of others are the raw material that we work with all the time, the first thing really is taking the time and having the insight and the kindness to have a real sense of who the other members of the team are.

Doesn’t that take time away from the “actual work”?

Well, this doesn’t mean we never get any work done, but there’s got to be a sense of “How are we today?” and “Where are we at?” and “Where are we going?” It’s extremely important to lay that sort of ground in order to work for the best interests and the benefit of the whole group.

It seems that, conventionally, people equate speed and agenda-obsession with accomplishment.

That sort of approach produces a certain kind of accomplishment, but usually that kind of accomplishment runs into the sand pretty fast. The alternative is to be a person who kind of understands what the mood of the group is, and where we’re at today, that kind of thing.

Sounds like how to not be a dreaded “boss.”

It’s really a question of being open minded and attentive to people and realizing that there’s wisdom and intelligence in the group. A quality of open heartedness, open mindedness, and intelligence of that sort creates a common spree decor.

And that sort of situation produces tangible results?

I would say that it is capable of accomplishing much more, having much greater stamina, and creating more mutual support than any amount of–no matter how well informed it is, or how well intentioned–directive leadership. That, by the way, is what it says in the Six Ways of Ruling.

How does the notion of renunciation relate to leadership?

In his book Ruling Your World, the Sakyong says–and I am paraphrasing–if you have the feeling that you can do something without working with others, that is a clear sign that you have not conquered self-absorption.

I think this is the key point here: You could say that in some forms of what are regarded as conventional leadership, people are seen as having large egos or being in it for themselves. And then you have extreme forms which we see in the world around us as abuse of power, corruption in high places, self-promotion, and all that sort of thing.

And this occurs on the smaller levels as well…

On the smaller level the person who is leading from the point of view of ‘what’s best for them personally’. Or, they need to accomplish their agenda. Or, they have a kind of narrow minded approach to things, you could say. That is what needs to be renounced. So, in place of what is being renounced, what is being adopted is a more open-minded attitude, a more open-hearted attitude, a concern for the welfare of others, and trying to lead for the benefit of the overall vision or the overall benefit of the group or the people that you’re leading.

It seems that there’s a quality or service.

I’m sure you might be familiar with the phrase “servant leadership.” There’s a sense that you’re serving. So the interesting thing there is that often people hear the word “serving” and they tend to think of it as “low in the hierarchy” or somehow associated with “servile” or has some kind of quality of denigrating oneself: “I’m only here for others,” that kind of thing. And I think the flip in the Shambhala approach is that actually the highest position–or the king’s view, or the greatest manifestation of leadership–is leadership which is totally devoted to the welfare of the entire society, and is ultimately the practice of egolessness.

There’s a line in a Grateful Dead song: “You who choose to lead must follow.” Is that what you’re talking about?

So, there’s a fine line there. Leading for the benefit of all might not be the same as following. Not to take issue with the Grateful Dead, but that’s part of the skill and discernment involved here. Asking “what does ‘serving others’ mean?” “Serving” is definitely not used in the Shambhala teachings as being popular. And at the same time, you have to have enough people like you so that you can be in your position. So there’s a real dance of discernment–of working with others, open-heartedness, dignity and integrity and that sort of thing, and one might be leading in a direction that is counter to what people habitually might want to do. Interesting, huh?

Yes, indeed. Thank you for your time.

It’s been a delight.

President Richard Reoch leads The Six Ways of Ruling: Surviving, Transforming, and Working with Others, January 31-February 2.

SMC Speaks Vol. 1: Executive Director Michael Gayner Discusses Leadership (and plays a flute)

By Travis Newbill

SMC Speaks is a recurring feature on this blog, through which our readers may come to know–and enjoy, no doubt–the people who comprise our unique and flavorful community, and the vision that we collectively aspire to manifest.

GaynerAmong his friends and throughout much of the Shambhala community, Michael Gayner is well known to be an exquisite host. With the artful touch of a jazz pianist, Michael seems to offer the just right stuff, in just the right amount, with keen regard for timing and space.

To continue the metaphor, he offers a few notes and then sits back and lets the tune unfold a bit, listening deeply to the air and fellow players around him before chiming in again to propel the event forward. As Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche might say, he allows things to flower.

Michael’s approach to leadership as the Executive Director of Shambhala Mountain Center has a similar feel. He describes his role as “supportive” and “nurturing”–words he also uses when recalling the first full-time job he held at SMC–fundraiser for the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya. That was back in 2000-2001, just before Michael served as head of personal security for Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche–a position which took him all over the world training members of the community in creating and maintaining a safe environment in which the teachings can flourish. To be sure, none of the gigs listed above have been free of challenge, and that’s likely why Michael has accepted the positions.

In a recent conversation over dinner at his house (he is indeed a lovely host!), Michael described his manner of leading and the way he relates to, and grows from, some of the challenges that come with the territory. And, after dinner–in between tea and a nightcap–Michael delighted his guest with a performance of a Japanese folk song on his shakuhachi (please see the video below).

So your first time at SMC was your seminary?

Michael Gayner: Right. And my permanent ROTA was child care. It’s funny, I’ve baby-sat a number of the people who I’ve worked with on staff here.

And then you came back as head of fundraising for the Stupa. How was that?

I wasn’t painting anything, I wasn’t building anything, I was just kind of behind everyone’s efforts. It was more of a sense of holding the situation than of doing something. That has a particular flavor to it–that quality of supporting and nurturing other peoples’ activity. And, of course, it is inherently its own activity as well.

How does that compare to your position now?

It’s very similar. There are projects that are on my lap, but more often than not, my work is about supporting other people. For example, staff culture–it’s not something I can do. Rather, it’s something that I need to help people understand, and bring in other people to explain it, in order to create a situation where it becomes true for people, experientially. It’s not something I can build, but something that I have to nurture.

Does the situation of not being able to actively do something become frustrating?

One of the interesting things about being in leadership in the dharma is that one sees–when frustration arises–the desire to make something happen; to use the hammer, so to speak. You see how aggression arises so quickly and is such a potential expedient answer to something. But when you’re working at this kind of job–where you’re really trying to create something that is a dharmic approach to professional activity, community existence, and relating with the natural environment–that aggression always backfires on you.

So, you gently put the hammer back in the toolbox.

Right. You start to become very tuned-in to the arising of aggression within yourself, and you have to learn to really quickly work with that and take the longer route–usually of letting people take their time to understand something.

~~~

Stay tuned to this blog for more conversation with the fearless leader of Shambhala Mountain Center, as well as with other members of the community. Next time, you’ll learn more about Michael’s vision for developing staff culture at SMC…as well as a thing or two about his experience as a sumo wrestler.

For now, enjoy the music:

SMC Recipe: Holiday Gingerbread House and Cookies

 

As Thanksgiving will officially kick off the holiday season a week from now, it’s not too soon to start imagining how to best bring loved ones together this time of year. Nor is it too soon, nor too late, to reflect on holidays past. Our wonderful chef, Avajra John Russell, recalls how making cookies can be a magical way to celebrate the good fortune of family–of any sort. The SMC Community is a family and John is our beloved, crazy, artistic uncle. We hope you’ll enjoy his recollection of time spent with his childhood family and the cookies (or houses) that can be made with his recipe.

Avajra John Russel

Avajra John Russell

The holidays can be a special time of creating warm memories together that can stick with us throughout our lifetime. In my family, we always had some kitchen projects going, in the days leading up to Christmas. We used to stuff dates and my mom would always make crabapple jelly with crabapples from our trees–to give as gifts to friends and family. Occasionally, we would also make a gingerbread house and decorate it with all sorts of gum drops, jelly beans and different colored icings to paint in all the details.

These warm memories live on in my heart.

This recipe is pretty foolproof and can be used for cookies or gingerbread houses. It is somewhat flexible and can be adjusted for sweetness and spice. Roll the dough thicker for a moister and chewier cookie. Roll the dough thinner for a more stable gingerbread house construction.

As a side note: The gingerbread house project may seem daunting but please disregard that kind of distraction and build some cherished memories.

–Avajra John Russell

Holiday Gingerbread House & Cookies

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup molasses
2 eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 pound confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
3 egg whites

Instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  • In a large bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar until smooth. Stir in the molasses and eggs. Combine 1 1/2 cups of the flour, baking soda, salt and spices. (Go easy on the cloves. Spices and sweetness are a personal taste. Adjust spice and sweetness amounts according to your family’s preference.) Then beat into the molasses mixture. Gradually stir in the remaining flour by hand to form a stiff dough.
  • Divide dough into 2 pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/8 inch thickness for gingerbread houses; roll out the dough thicker,1/4 inch thickness, for moister chewy cookies. Cut into desired shapes using cookie cutters. Place cookies 1 inch apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.
  • Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • In a medium bowl, sift together confectioners’ sugar and cream of tartar. Blend in egg whites. Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat for about 5 minutes, or until mixture is thick and stiff. Keep covered with a moist cloth until ready to frost cookies.

 

An Introduction to Chi Kung in Recovery

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Greg Pergament shares an excerpt from his new book, Chi Kung in Recovery: Finding Your Way to a Balanced and Centered Recovery.  He will be incorporating this ancient practice in The Joy of Recovery: Buddhism, Chi Kung and 12 Steps–a unique recovery retreat also featuring Kevin Griffin. To read more about this program being held at SMC from December 6-8, click here.

Chi Kung is an ancient Chinese health care system that integrates physical postures, breathing techniques and focused attention. These three attributes make it an excellent complementary practice for anyone recovering from substance abuse and its physical, mental and spiritual manifestations.

Chi Kung creates an awareness of, and influences, dimensions of our being that are not part of traditional exercise programs. Most exercises do not involve the meridian system (used in acupuncture), nor do they emphasize the importance of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAadding mind intent and breathing techniques to physical movements. When these dimensions are added, the benefits of exercise increase exponentially.

The gentle rhythmic movements of Chi Kung reduce stress, build stamina, increase vitality and enhance the immune system.  It has also been found to improve cardiovascular, respiratory, circulatory, lymphatic and digestive functions.

Consistent practice helps one regain a youthful vitality, maintain health even into old age and helps speed recovery from illness. One of the more important long term effects is that Chi Kung reestablishes the body/mind/spirit connection.

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