Monthly Archives: November 2011

Taking time to give thanks – Cassie Bull

I was at my brother’s house last Saturday for the ‘Saturday Before Thanksgiving Feast’, a tradition put in place by our mother when she was alive. It was particularly poignant this year as our mother’s sister was in the ICU and we weren’t sure whether she would ever join us again. So we set time aside to celebrate, acknowledge and appreciate all who had gone before, all who are still here, and all who will go on after we are gone – three generations were present for the feast.

And we left out the thanks. We simply didn’t have it in our practice to bless the table, each other and the amazing bounty of the earth. How was this even possible? There were 14 of us. We sat down to a table literally overflowing with food. It was amazing and overwhelming in its bounty. Fresh bread baked that morning, thinly sliced turkey and pork that had been deboned and brined, mashed potatoes, roasted root vegetables, a fresh salad with the bright orange of persimmon and sparkling jewels of pomegranate, wine and sparkling cider overflowing our glasses. And for dessert, my newest culinary foray – blackberry, sour cherry and Banbury Pop Tarts used as scoops for sweetened whipped cream.

And we just sat down and ate. I joined them even though giving thanks is part of my daily practice, even though at home and at Maacama we begin every meal with thanks and appreciation, as a practice to generate rather than unconsciously consume. Again, how was this even possible? I got caught up in the eddy of what we always do, I got caught in the eddy of my unconscious behavior when I get together with my family of origin. I was caught as a singular voice in a group that was simply doing as it always does and doing it well, even though there was so much unspoken grace and grief present in the room.

This is what we all do if we don’t bring our conscious attention to doing something different! We do it at school, in relationship to the earth, with each other, and with ourselves. We forget that we aren’t entitled to any of it. We forget that the air we breathe and the rain that falls and the green that grows and the food we eat and the people we love and the health we enjoy aren’t a forever thing. We forget to say thank you. We forget that every day we wake up is a gift and it is filled with abundance, filled with the grace and grief of being alive. We just have to begin paying attention, break the habit of unconscious consumption and begin saying thank you – silently, out loud, shouted from the rooftops of your home town, to each other, with each step we take and every breath that is ours…Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Do it today, do it right now – turn to someone and say thank you, just because.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Take the time when you are home to do something different, to go against the tide of habits and traditions. Take the time to ask others to join you in leading with appreciation and gratitude – see your cup half full rather than half empty. Turn your complaints into requests and remember to lead with gratitude – this life you are living is not a given, it is a gift.

Signs you may need a Gap Year!

Signs You May Need A Gap Year : (source:  Center for INTERIM Programs)

You love learning, but can’t face having to write one more term paper.

You’d like to actually speak to someone in Spanish rather than just take another vocabulary test.

Partying is what you are looking forward to most about college.

Your mom and dad are “helicopter parents,” and going to Australia might be the only way to get them to stop hovering.

Life feels like a treadmill, and you’re only 18.

Something inside you is telling you that the world is just a little bit bigger than your high school football stadium.

You suspect you might benefit more right now from learning how to cook for yourself and find your own place to live, than learning more about string theory or quantum physics.

You know you want to be defined by more than just your GPA and your SAT scores.

You find your job or volunteer work more compelling than your classes.

The idea of having to choose a major fills you with dread.

Though you search inside yourself, you can’t think of anything you really want to do.

You can’t imagine going to college more than an hour away from home.

You are only going to college because all of your friends are.

You have an irrational allergy to talking about college, filling out college paperwork or writing college essays.

Fresh eyes in Varanasi

Impressions of India from one of the Fall 2011 LEAPYEAR group.

Life in Varanasi gives new meaning to the word busy.  Millions of people moving, singing, praying, talking, selling, buying, working, cleaning, cooking, and sleeping.  If New York never sleeps, then Varanasi never even closes an eyelid.  My time here has been less than a week, but it has felt like a lifetime.  So much has happened I do not know where to begin.

The first two days in the city we spent visiting volunteer opportunities and getting to know our neighborhood.  One of the days we took an hour rickshaw ride through the chaotic streets to a rural hospital and refugee camp. I won’t soon forget walking up to the compound and witnessing the line of sick women coughing, lying in the dirt, squatting and holding their emaciated children and toddlers. This is the ugly side of India, the millions of displaced or neglected woman and children.  Those I saw were lucky to even be receiving medical attention.  It was not all bad, there are some great organizations providing for and helping those who need it.  We also visited a school for mentally handicapped men, a widow’s home, and an organization that fights sexual exploitation and forced prostitution.

I have moved in with my host family, a mother and father, grandpa and grandma, and two brothers.  They are very nice, and have cared for me wonderfully.  I am learning the hectic dynamics of Indian living.

I went to the local movie theater to see the latest Bollywood action film, Ra-One.  It is the most expensive film ever made in Asia.  That was a true experience.  Imagine a U.S. movie theater of today, post nuclear war. Bare metal seats, an old yellowed screen upon which the picture jumped about.  At times it would disappear completely, or just the sound would go.  There was even an intermission to go outside and buy a fried triangular pastry.

The blend of modern and traditional is so thick in this city. One day we visited the IP Mall, and the next we were invited tothe Muslim quarter. The reason for our invitation was for the HolidayEid-Al-Zuha, a day to celebrate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in the ultimate test of faith.  In the Islamic faith it was Ishmael, in Christianity it is Isaac.  God replaced the son with a goat which was sacrificed instead, sparing the son.  We arrived at the family home and took a place in the courtyard. We were given food and drink before they brought in two goats.  A prayer was said to Allah, and they sacrificed the goats, in a brutal but deeply moving display of faith.  The goat was then butchered and prepared for lunch.  As the women cooked I engaged in a great conversation with the men in the household about Islam and Christianity.   I impressed them as a Westerner knowing the five pillars and 3 truths of Islam when asked, and with knowledge of similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity.  This is such a harshly judged group of people in the West, and without good reason.  Muslims are truly brothers of both Christians and Jews, and hostility towards us is a myth among all but a few extreme sects.  We feasted on goat meat, liver, lung, and heart in a stew with delicious rice, Roti, and savory sweets.  Hospitality at is finest.  To satisfy our curiosity even further, one of the men took us out of the house to see a water buffalo sacrifice.  It was a holiday of epic proportions.

So Varanasi is keeping me busy.  By bedtime I barely have the energy to scrape the dust off my face from rickshaw rides through the city before collapsing into sleep.  I am currently at the widow’s home for this week, but that will change next week. The time here is going to fly.  Never have I been so overwhelmed by all of senses as here. The ancient and magical city of Varanasi.

A comment from his mother upon reading this blog entry: “Honestly, this is coming from a kid who hated writing a single sentence for English class, I had no idea he had it in him.  His ability to paint a visual picture is stunning and I am amazed beyond words that this is my son.” This is a direct testament to the opening of eyes that results from getting out of the tradition classroom into the ‘classroom of the real.’