Magic Foot conte crayon drawing by Maria Theresa MaggiChildcraft page from The Blind Men and the Elephant

I was introduced to the well-known Hindu fable The Blind Men and the Elephant at a very early age. At 3, my mother read me the 19th century version byJohn Godfrey Saxe from the pages of the Childcraft volume, Storytelling and Other Poems. This volume was part of a set my parents must have purchased when they knew they were expecting me, because I can’t remember a time it was not on the bottom shelves of the hallway bookcase, ready to be pulled out and looked at whenever the fancy struck me. In fact I still have 4 of the volumes, some of their pages torn and taped, so I was able to snap this photo from the pages I wondered about when I was 3 and 4.

I was fascinated by how the different parts of the elephant could be so like a tree or a rope, a wall, a snake, a spear. And how yet the “whole” of the elephant was none of these things, and could be entirely missed if the whole animal could not be seen or felt in its entirety. And how, at the end of the poem, it says that “. . .each was partly in the right/And all of them were wrong.”

Even though I am fully sighted, I often miss the whole picture of my progress. It’s simply too vast and too slow for me to appreciate. And often, like all of us, I get caught up in coping with the stress of the moment, and only notice that I am stressed, and not how I’m handling the stress way more easily than I used to.

Selling a house and moving to another state is a big undertaking. Often I awake with a list of things I need to do to keep things in motion, wondering how I’ll continue to cope with everything up in the air. If I let them, these concerns could tighten my muscles up into knots. That’s why it’s really important for me to stick to a trick I learned a few years ago from a College Greens Engine 2 ost about doing some exercising at the beginning of the day, before anything else creeps in and takes over.

I know I’ve written about my practice of sun salutation each morning as a way of stretching and getting myself focused in my body and grateful the sun is shining on our beautiful planet for yet another day. And how before I even get up out of bed, I say the beginning of a Hindu prayer that goes “Bless this day!! For it is life, the very life of life!” Then I tell Romeo we’re going to have another good day together. He knows when he hears me say these things out loud that I am about to do my series of healthy back stretches before I even sit up, and he often graciously obliges me by moving back over to “his” side of the bed.

I’ve been stumped as to how to describe this series, or if it even has a Sanskrit name. My teacher simply called it the healthy back series, and she had us doing it before inverted poses of any kind. I find if I’ve done these stretches and twists before I even get out of bed, my sun salutations and other yoga poses –and everything else I do in the morning–goes much more smoothly.

For our purposes here, we’ll stick to the very first movement in the series, which is to raise the right leg straight up while the left one is bent at the knee, and to reach with the arms as far as you can to grab on the extended leg. (This can also be accomplished by using a tie, which, for years, was the only way I could do it.) Especially first thing in the morning, the first grasp finds me at my right calf. A couple more breaths in and out and I’ll be able to extend the stretch in my leg and arms enough that my hands can grasp the sole of my foot. The stretch to the back of the leg is delicious.

But several weeks ago, in the midst of so much going on, before I even got to the point of stretching my arms and hands all the way to the sole of my right foot, something astounding happened. I’ll call it “The Blind Men and the Elephant” effect. As I placed my hands around my right calf, I gasped. I didn’t recognize it. What was this? Whose was this? A calf with a right calf muscle? This could not be mine, or be part of me. But it was.

Because of the mild hemiplegia from the cerebral palsy I was born with, I’ve never had much of a calf muscle on my right leg. To be honest, it was pretty much straight up and down the first 40 years or so of my life. During my 40s when I took therapeutic horseback riding, the need to hang on with the legs to the side of the horse produced a slight definition between the bone and back muscle that I never remember feeling before.

It wasn’t really until I changed to eating very low fat whole plant foods that I gradually noticed more definition in that muscle. It will always be smaller than the left one, which has compensated for it all my life. But apparently all the walking I’ve been able to do in the last 7 years (with a respectful nod to my more recent ability to walk up and down the Jefferson Street hill to the library) and consistently doing my yoga each day has added enough bulk that it startled me into non-recognition.

It wasn’t as thick as the leg mistaken for a tree trunk in the fable, to be sure, but I’d never felt myself have such muscular bulk on the side I’ve always known, as weaker, smaller, and, just in general, more ephemeral.

The feel of my muscle also startled me out of my worries about whether I was handling the prospect of this transition well enough. It demonstrated to me that all this while, I have been growing more solid, more present, and that I will have the stamina to go the distance. There will be hills and valleys, and times of treacherous overstimulation, but apparently I literally have the “muscle” to carry me over and through it all.

In some ways, the parts of me that are used to a life-long physical challenge are like the blind men in the fable who can’t feel their present reality in its entirety. But in that moment my hands felt for all those parts of my selves, and the silence of doubt that followed was pregnant with possibilities and hope.

In this most humble and tactile beginning of my day, a single auspicious part gave me a flash of faith in the whole, sparking renewed wonder at my slow motion miracle.

 

Maria (moonwatcher)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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"Lightning" original chalk pastel drawing by Maria Theresa Maggi

A long time ago I was fielding some very challenging interactions regarding family that were electrified with accusation, inuendo, shock and invisible third parties stirring up even more trouble. Being a very visually oriented person, I asked for an image that would help me negotiate this charged situation safely and gracefully. The one that came to me was to “dance with lightning.” As the light flashed bright and then dark, and the forks touched down around me, I could twirl and turn and move unafraid among and through the spaces between them without getting struck. Just calling this image to mind whenever I became tense about how to handle the situation caused me to relax and trust my instincts. It also helped me not respond without escalating hostility and without backing down.

I know that actual lightning can be quite dangerous; in fact one of my favorite memoirs is A Match to the Heart, about author Gretel Ehrlich’s  recovery from being struck by lightning. But I also think of lightning as the perfect metaphor for instant epiphany or insight that changes the landscape of my perception in a flash. While I’m a person who is often right, I’ve long maintained that I’d rather be surprised and enlightened than right, and lightning reminds me of that feeling that things are different, perhaps even better, than I thought, which always makes me laugh about being so sure I was right.

Sometimes the bolts I’m dancing through are exciting and hopeful–like the transition I’ve created in my life this Spring. In mid April, I had the opportunity to ride over with friends to visit Mike and Kelly again in Portland. Even the dry inland Northwest was vibrant with green and blossoms all across our route. And Portland itself was lush and laden with the colors and smells of Spring. Once again, Romeo and I had a wonderful time, and I hardly thought of coming home. Mike and Kelly and I all agreed how nice it would be on many levels of our collective existence if I lived closer to them. So I have decided to sell my house and move to Portland.

With so many new experiences to field, and 3 art exhibits here in Moscow to be ready for in the coming month, I’ve had to keep my  meals super simple. I’ve been eating the same things every day– versions of my kale breakfast salad and some fig and twig tea oatmeal, confetti salads at lunch, and stir fries in the evening full of veggies, a grain and/or some sweet potato and a smattering of beans. And of course my little tiny tofu pie for dessert. Over and over and over again.

Some days have been so busy I haven’t even had time to whir up the confetti salad in my food processor. On those days I rely on the breakfast quinoa I make ahead. I toss it in a non-stick pan with some greens and a sprinkling of edamame, heat it up until the greens wilt, and call it lunch. Since it might be a long time before I come up with a more involved recipe, I thought I’d share how I prepare my breakfast (and sometimes lunch) quinoa. Just a few extra ingredients tossed in at the end of the cooking time make all the flavors pop. Even omnivores like it.

(Warning: this strategy contains mustard seeds. If you know you hate those, see notes for a possible substitution.)

My new adventure may prevent me from writing on the blog as regularly as usual, but rest assured I am doing fine and will check in as I can. The fact that I seem to be mustering the stamina to pace myself for all this is testimony to the healing power of my plant-based eating style. I am ever grateful to these whole plants that nourish me each day, and the community of folks who share this experience with me. In the coming months, I look forward to landing in a city where I will even find a doctor who knows what I am doing and why.

 

Maria (moonwatcher)

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Knowing When to Say No

April 12, 2015

The thrust of measurable success eating a no oil low fat whole foods diet is decidedly outward. We constantly chronicle our dramatic weight loss, our training schedules, hikes, trips, first marathons, returns to work. In my case I’ve showered you with what I call my “Little Victories Over MS” and ”Plant Based Lifestyle Epiphanies.” More […]

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Little Tiny Tofu Pie (with Two Soy Free Options)

April 2, 2015

I believe in the potency of all that is small. For this reason, I love Spring: small shoots of green, small bright buds of  hyacinth, windflower, forsythia, small baby animals–and the small green promises of strawberries. And today, two small wrens (I think) who, unafraid, hopped along the split rail fence at my driveway for […]

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Elegy for the Blackberry Bramble

March 24, 2015

One summer morning a few months before I began writing this blog in the fall of 2012, I went out to water my garden on Asbury Street. When I came to the vegetables across from my berry patch, I looked up to see the August sun hitting this dew-speckled spider web in such a way […]

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Vegan Versions: Lime Ginger Parsnip Particles

March 20, 2015

I was in my fifties before I tried my first parsnip. They just weren’t a vegetable I grew up with, most likely because my Dad didn’t like them. But when I finally got around to it, the best case scenario presented itself. One of my favorite local growers, Elizabeth Taylor, was cutting them up and […]

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Of Whales and Old Women: It’s No Fluke (and Confetti Coleslaw)

March 11, 2015

My meals have become so simple that I hardly think of them as something worthy of blogging about. Mostly I live on combinations of the four plant-based food groups: vegetables, fruits, grains, and beans–tossed with a little seasoning, sauce or dressing– into a bowl. The longer I do this, the less I feel like developing […]

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Seeds of a Sea Change

February 28, 2015

A while back someone on McDougall Friends started a thread asking how long or how many times others had been exposed to information about a plant-based diet before taking the plunge. Lots of people had a simple answer such as “after I saw Forks Over Knives.” Another remarked that it happened both all at once […]

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Luscious Oat Bars with Orange, Kale and Carob Fudge Topping

February 19, 2015

Years ago when I read Dr. Barnard’s book Foods That Fight Pain I remember learning that food intolerances can change. That seems to be very true in my case. When I first started eating this way 7 years ago I couldn’t eat garlic or ginger. Now I eat them every day. Several winters ago, as […]

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It Takes a Vegan Online Village: Two Simple Meals Plus Salad and Dessert

February 12, 2015

  January was a tough month around here. As you may recall from my post Before The World Changed, we had a terrible shooting tragedy here in Moscow, followed up by me getting a splendid case of the flu. Both murder and fever wipe a sense of continuity clean. It was hard to know where […]

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