I have a reader (and friend!) who brought to my attention that the vegans don't get a lot of love from the All Good Things blog. He's right… so this one's for all of my nonviolent animal lovers. As someone who feeds people for a living and tends to their special needs, I actually love when someone has a dietary request. It's a welcome challenge and I enjoy making sure they feel safe and taken care of when it comes to food.
I was a vegetarian for 8 years. It wasn’t a choice based on anything other than a few paragraphs I read in a Tony Robbins book describing how our bodies, minds, and souls are more efficient when we consume less animal products. I put those paragraphs to the test and found that I felt really good with no meat in my diet. But I could never wrap my willpower around eliminating dairy. A few years ago I transitioned back to eating animal protein again. I'll be honest, it's not the greatest decision I ever made. But on my path, there are many roads full of different choices, obstacles, and decisions. This is where I am right now, it doesn't mean this is where I will remain.
I just returned home from a Bhakti Immersion retreat that took place in upstate New York. Bhakti is the yogic path of pure devotion to the Divine. I am studying the Krishna tradition (ISKON) of Bhakti. This spiritual practice and association is a very big part of my path. I was with many of the people with whom I traveled to India earlier this year. It was a sweet reunion. I realize that eating meat isn't in alignment with Bhakti. One of the biggest lessons from this weekend is that Bhakti guides us to what is right, not to what serves the desires of our minds and bodies.
The retreat offered so many devotional experiences, these are some of the highlights from my itinerary. I practiced yoga asana with Bryn Chrisman of Yogamaya in NYC, sang with Gaura Vani one of my favorite musicians, danced, and chanted with Raghunath Cappo of SuperSoul Yoga in Chatham, NY. There were meditation classes and sacred text scripture study with my spiritual teacher Dhanurdhara Swami, body treatments and breath work seminars with Dhyana Masla and Bud Tansey of the Bhakti Center—and I ate vegetarian/vegan for four days! Perhaps my biggest highlight of the retreat was to be on the receiving end of someone else’s culinary efforts. The retreat center, Pumpkin Hollow has a beautiful garden from which a lot of our meals were sourced. Paris Abbasova, the chef, deliciously and plentifully prepared our meals with simple and clean flavors that let the produce shine without any needed flair. It also felt really good to take a break from meat and consume more fruits and vegetables.
Members of ISKON don’t eat meat of any kind nor do they consume eggs. They practice *ahimsa, a sanskrit word meaning ‘do no harm.’ Ahimsa means not killing a mosquito, but gently shooing it away. It means carefully removing spiders from your home and not squishing them. Ahimsa means a lot of things and is a very controversial topic these days. I’m happy to say that I didn’t kill a single bug during the whole retreat. (If you know me, this is a huge accomplishment!) These very small actions, in the scheme of things, are part of a much bigger picture. I’m not writing these words to instruct or inform choices, I’m writing to really shed light on other paths.
One of my favorite things at Pumpkin Hollow was the meditation labyrinth on their grounds. I have a small obsession with these windy paths. An obsession which developed after I discovered the meditation labyrinth in the bottom of the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. This is one of my favorite escapes from the concrete jungle of Manhattan. If you are coming to NYC for a visit, or are lucky enough to live here, I highly suggest seeking out this special destination.
“Your life is a sacred journey. And it is about change, growth, discovery, movement, transformation, continuously expanding your vision of what is possible, stretching your soul, learning to see clearly and deeply, listening to your intuition, taking courageous challenges at every step along the way.”
“You are on the path exactly where you are meant to be right now. And from here, you can only go forward, shaping your life story into a magnificent tale of triumph, of healing, of courage, of beauty, of wisdom, of power, of dignity, and of love.“
As I walked the labyrinth while I was on retreat, I reflected on my own sacred journey of life. A labyrinth has only one entrance and one exit. The path leads you on a circuitous path to the center and out again. It represents a passage to our own center and back again out into the world. My journey thus far has been a meandering, but purposeful path. I’m proud to say that the stones of my travels are made up of courage, healing, and triumph; all those things in Ms. Caroline Joy Adams’ quote. What makes up the stones on your journey?
Returning home after a retreat is tricky. We long to get away to restore, renew, and recharge ourselves. But when we reenter into our day to day life, we hop back into email, texts, calendars, relationships, commitments, and all that goodness from the retreat can easily be unraveled. I once had a teacher that said, “Don’t be quick to spit out the medicine. Hold it in. Get the full benefit.” I came back to a phone and computer which were full of messages, requests, deadlines, clients needing attention, new projects on the horizon, many, many things. But no matter how busy I get, my retreat experience is deeply embedded into my center — into my soul. Bhakti, for me, is permanent medicine. I know I can retrieve those memories, good feelings and revelations at any time. They are part of my path.
I keep thinking about all of the mosquitos that I blew away from my face and shooed away from my ankles this weekend. I think about the spider in my cabin that I gently trapped into a cup and returned to the out-of-doors unharmed. And I’m really thinking about my four days of returning to vegetarian practices while on retreat. How beautiful it would be if I can continue to abstain from these small and large crimes against nature!
I’m not sure what my next choice will be on my path, but I want to honor the vegetarians, vegans, and those doing no harm in this world. I want to give some love to my friend with the vegan request. One of my favorite ways to give honor and love is with food, so I dedicate this recipe to all of you. This dish reminds me of a lentil chutney stew we had on retreat and is a perfect way to use up late summer vegetables from your garden or the farmer’s market. It's also perfect for fall and winter when root vegetables are abundant. The recipe has a lot of ingredients, but don’t be overwhelmed. Use what vegetables and spices you have on hand, feel free to improvise … use this recipe as a suggested path.
Lucky 7 Vegetable Spiced Stew
- 3 Tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 Onions, diced
- 3 Tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 Tablespoons minced fresh ginger
- 1 Tablespoon mild curry powder
- 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 Tablespoon turmeric
- 1 Teaspoon paprika
- 1 Teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 Teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 Teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
- 1 cup diced peeled carrots
- 1 cup diced peeled parsnips
- 1 cup diced peeled butternut squash
- 1 cup diced peeled potatoes
- 1 cup cauliflower florets
- 1/2 cup raisins or currants
- 1 cup cooked chickpeas, washed and drained
- 6 cup vegetable stock
- 1 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
- 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- Place oil, onions and garlic in a large pot and cook over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Add all of the spices plus salt and pepper. Stir to cook off the raw, dusty quality of the spices and let them absorb the oil.
- Add all of the vegetables, raisins, chickpeas and vegetable stock. Reduce heat to low and add parsley. Cover and cook until the vegetables are cooked through, about 20 minutes.
- Serve garnished with cilantro. I make a big batch and freeze half of it!
*A quick side road on the path of this blog is to announce that my friends at the Bhakti Center in New York City have some good news. They are starting weekly ahimsa dairy deliveries from GITA Nagari Creamery every weekend. Honoring ahimsa, this will be milk from cows that will be protected for their entire lives. In normal dairy farms, cows are shipped to slaughter after they do not provide milk anymore... but these cows are loved up and treated with amazing respect. They like to frolic, jump around and cuddle. If you would like to preorder please let me know and I will get you delivery information.
Photos of food by Cheryl Stockton of Stockshot Studio.