It does take time to pull out my cell phone and take a photo of what I’m about to eat, and to put them all together at night, just before bed. But I have come to appreciate that time; a moment to breathe before taking in food, 15 minutes to review my day, with eating times as landmarks. I really did miss it during the time I skipped my photo-taking, and the sense of “not enough time” affected much more than whether or not my food collages were part of my day. That was symptomatic of a larger sense of squeezing in too much, and finding time to re-establish this ritual is a message to myself that my self-care routines are worth doing.
I had no Passover seders to go to this year, so I did what I usually do in that situation: I took care of bringing a mini-seder essence of Passover to whoever I was with. We were with a small group of friends who have become extended family over the many years we have gathered with them (since 1987 for some, 1992 for the others in the group). I made charoset (symbolizing the mortar used for building the pyramids when the Jews were slaves in Egypt) and brought something to cover the symbols on the seder plate and matzo (the unleavened bread, symbolic of leaving Egypt before the bread could rise). There was at least one person there who found my simple introduction to Passover educational, as she had not known any of this. A reminder to me that what I take for granted is not always common knowledge. It was a good day, with a walk through the Berkeley Rose Garden and Cordonices Park before our meal, then a shared potluck after my Passover introduction, then improvisational sounding and singing after. Not the traditional Passover, but I felt satisfied to be with community and share meaningful time together.
My friend Dan asked all of us at dinner at the Conscious Creations Café in Santa Cruz what our current passions are. After I’d finished talking about my teaching and finding ways to touch people in a way that can make a difference in the world, I realized that truly my latest passion is this process of photographing my food and creating daily collages. It has become such a reliably meditative ritual every day. I often have a sense of relief while doing it – there’s nothing else I need to deal with during those times, nothing else I am obligated to do. I am fulfilling a commitment I’ve made to myself, and that is all I need to focus on for that amount of time. Who knew it would become such a satisfying part of my life?
When days fly by and I feel like I am barely keeping up, I especially appreciate the wisdom of keeping a practice like this food journal going. It has become routine, something stable and reliable that I have committed to. On weeks when I can hardly track how I got from there to here, I have this visual accounting of the process of feeding myself to remind me of the basics. As I put together these collages from almost a week of eating, I am invited to reconnect with the momentary awareness that occurred as I took each photo and the daily awareness of putting together the collage. I have instituted a structure on which to hang my self-awareness, and I am grateful to that when my awareness feels like it could easily wander off. Right now, as I struggle with a relapse of the cold I thought I had finished with, pulling together a post with 6 days of food feels comfortable, a pattern I have established that I can relax into. The serious cognitive work of reading and responding to student posts and papers is next on the agenda, and something about finishing up this process of posting feels like a good foundation. I can feel more ready to think about other things when I have taken care of this small ritual.
When people ask why I am doing this, I usually refer to the accountability of presenting what I eat so publicly. But I know that the ritual of self-reflection that I have established in doing this is very stabilizing and reassuring, in the midst of many commitments that might leave me feeling fragmented. So to those of you seeing this, thank you for being witness to my process and providing such an anchor in my day-to-day life.
I don’t take photos of the tea I drink, but I do drink a lot of tea. I usually start the day with green tea, then have a yerba mate based tea later on, and sometimes something herbal. I bring plenty of tea bags when I travel, so I can have the kind I like. Here in the hotel, I make use of the coffee maker in the room to heat the water for tea in the morning before my movement practice, and at night as I’m winding down and putting together my food collage. It’s a simple ritual that helps provide a structure for quiet time with myself in the midst of a busy schedule.
Rituals are transformative, while ceremonies are confirmative (Heinz, 2004), although there is certainly room for overlap. In my work I have tended to focus on rituals, planned sequences in sacred space that are designed to shift consciousness, both in the moment of the ritual, and in lives beyond that moment.
In my workshops teaching ritual I often provide an opportunity for the participants to think of a difficulty in their daily lives that might be supported by a brief ritual. Often this involves transitions that are a challenge, like coming home from work – what does it take to move gracefully out of work consciousness and into being home, either alone or with family? Sometimes this is the time of the day when people struggle with compulsive eating, which might be an unconscious way of nurturing their drained self at the end of a work day. This is a perfect opportunity to invent a ritual that can consciously provide that inner self with some acknowledgment of what is felt in that moment, and a way to move into a different state of consciousness.
Ceremonies, on the other hand, are a formal acknowledgment of a transformation that has already occurred. This brings an internal change into the community’s awareness and the shift is in the consciousness of the community, who can now see the individual in a different light, in a new role or status.
I have already done all the work to achieve this PhD; the ceremony on Sunday will not change anything internally for me. The graduation ceremony focuses on the larger perspective of how I am seen by my friends and family and the community at large. The ceremony is an acknowledgment of the ripples that expand outward from the work I have done, and the ability I have to expand my work beyond myself and beyond the scale of my past endeavors.
This ceremony is also an opportunity to express my gratitude to all of those who have contributed to my process along the way, starting with my parents and grandparents, whose support created a foundation for this possibility long ago (my mother said in an email to me yesterday, “Little miss ‘I want to do it myself’ indeed did it herself”). Every teacher who has ever recognized and supported my gifts and potential in a positive way is part of the path that brought me to this moment. I especially want to recognize a few teachers and mentors, some of whom have become friends, whose influence made a memorable difference in the development of my work: Phil Soinski, Anne Welsh, Sara Shelton Mann, Laura Dean, Stuart Schlegel, Noel King, Frank Barron, Philip Slater, Konrad Fischer, Stephen Gilligan, David Lukoff, Eugene Taylor, Stanley Krippner, and Allan Combs. For a long time I have been teaching and collaborating with a few friends and colleagues, primarily Anodea Judith and Kylea Taylor, and our work together has been an important part of my continued development as a teacher. In addition, the hundreds of students and clients I have worked with over the years have played a significant role in the evolution of my work and my thoughts about how we grow and transform and how we live to the fullest.
These folks are the tip of the iceberg – I am so aware of how I am touched and influenced by everyone I come in contact with. I continue to grow and learn and understand more deeply, and I thank all of you who are part of my life in any way, and those of you who I have yet to connect with. May we all grow and evolve together!
Heinze, Ruth-Inge. (2004). The nature and function of rituals.