Posts filed under Rituals

Dinner Partier Spotlight: Meet Ben Kander, Founder of WELLY Bottle

Everyone loves a good lightning-bolt moment: The sudden flash of insight that leads to the birth of an idea, and eventually, in the secret (or not-so-secret) imaginings of every hell-bent entrepreneur, to the next Apple, or Patagonia, or spork.

On Monday, Ben Kander launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the first production run of the WELLY Bottle, a sleek new water bottle that’s both good for the consumer or user (your call), and good for the planet.

Maybe the story begins when Ben, armed with a degree in sustainable business, picked up Start Something That Matters. Or maybe when he learned about the toxic fumes generated by the manufacturing of most water bottles, or the fact that more than 80% of water bottles end up in landfills. Maybe it began while he was working in London, and found himself wishing for a water bottle that could fit in his backpocket. But really, it’s a story that begins with Cancer Be Glammed, and Steeltown Entertainment, and the 21 years Ben spent learning from his mom, Ellen (“Elly”) Kander.

Elly was a pillar of the Jewish and philanthropic communities of Pittsburgh. In 2009, she and a friend, Lisa, who had breast cancer, founded Cancer Be Glammed, to help women recover their self-esteem and feel stylish, amidst the debilitating effects of chemo and radiation treatments and constant onslaught of pity faces. Years earlier, she co-founded Steeltown Entertainment, a nonprofit responsible for bringing millions of dollars of revenue to Pittsburgh, by revitalizing the city’s film and television industry.

The oldest of three siblings, Ben was a senior in college when, in 2012, Elly was diagnosed with liver cancer. A lesion found years before was never checked, until it was too late. She died a year later, just after he graduated.

Shortly afterward, he moved to NYC and started working a standard 9-5 job. It was there that he began incubating the idea for WELLY.

Along the way, he discovered TDP. His fiance introduced him to a good friend of hers, Kevin, who co-hosted the first Dinner Party table in Brooklyn.

He was hesitant at first: He’d tried grief groups in the past, and always left the experience feeling worse than when he’d arrived. When he got to Kevin's, he found something very different. For the first hour so, they simply ate and hung out, as you would with any group of friends. By the time loss was mentioned, everyone was already comfortable with one another.

“I felt so at home,” he says. “My friends would always say, 'I'm here for you whenever you want to talk.' They can listen, but they can't really add. There, we were laughing, there was a lightness to it.”

“Every time I’ve left, I’ve felt a sigh of relief, like I removed this set of toxins. Yeah, we get emotional, yeah, we get sad, but every time afterward, I feel better and that's such a blessing.”

It’s that same ying and yang effect--the good, born of the bad--he says, that’s become a familiar part of starting a company, and everything that’s happened since his mom passed.

Early on, he cried every time he got in the shower. “I've learned that when something traumatic happens to you, you can't fight it. As kids, you numb yourself and you don't take it on, and a lot of times that comes back to you in a negative way.”

The sadness never goes away, he says. But today, he is, in equal measure, fueled by his mom’s legacy.

Inspired by his mom’s commitment to living well and giving back, Ben has built wellness and sustainability into every aspect of the WELLY bottle, from the bamboo and renewable resources that go into its production, to the filtration system, that purifies the water as you drink it using coconut shells. For every WELLY bottle sold, $1 will go to charity: water, supporting sustainable water projects around the world.

“I do it for her, and I do it with her,” says Ben. “When you have a tough decision to make, you hear this voice in your head telling you what you need to do, even if you don't want to do it. For me, that voice is my mom's, telling me everything she's taught me all my life.”

“Listen to that voice. Let it guide you,” he says. “And I think I have.”

 

Posted on May 8, 2015 and filed under Rituals.

RITUAL: MAKING MUSIC -- For The Living And The Dead

For the Yoruba in Nigeria, funerals are week-long affairs, intended as a celebratory send- off as the deceased transition from one form of existence to another. The fourth day is a “day of play” called Irenoku, meaning literally “playing on the deceased’s behalf,” and is preceded and followed by various other forms of celebration, from feasting to dancing. That tradition is one of several influences behind the “jazz funerals” of New Orleans, a city made famous in part by its inhabitants’ unparalleled ability to throw a good party. A typical jazz funeral begins with a march by family, friends, and a brass band, and typically starts with a somber tone. Once the burial is complete and final goodbyes are said, however, the music hits a different note. Hymns are replaced with upbeat tunes and popular hits, and participants are invited to dance their hearts out, in an act that’s part-cathartic and part-chance to celebrate the life of the deceased.

When was the last time you lost yourself to music?

Kevin's Story

I’ve been playing music since I was a little kid. I started singing into a turkey baster when I could barely walk, and then moved to the piano at around seven years old. Music has been with me ever since, and has culminated in the completion of my first EP. Every song, guitar string, and saxophone blow has been as result of my mom’s dedication.

My mom wasn’t exactly a musical connoisseur, and I barely remember her ever introducing me to good music, but that didn’t stop her from encouraging me to pursue my passion. She bought
me my first piano and saxophone, and made sure I stuck with my practice. At every recital, audition, and performance, she was right in front doing what moms do— embarrassing me mostly, but cheering me on nonetheless.

When my mom met my stepdad, he jumped on the Kevin music wagon just as intensely as my mother did. So many great nights were spent at home, me strumming on my guitar and my stepdad clogging away. He was Irish after all, and I guess the music spoke to him, even if I was playing rock music and not an Irish jingle.

When I lost my mom and stepdad in a plane crash, I immediately flew back to North Carolina. I brought a quickly packed bag, and a slowly packed guitar case. I knew all I needed were the clothes on my back and my six-string. I wrote a song the day before their memorial service, played it before a huge crowd of friends and family, and recorded it for my EP. It’s called “Denny’s Song,” and you can listen to it on my website, kevindanielmiller.com. When I need to remind myself how proud my parents were of me, or just feel that connection to their spirit, I pick up my guitar, and start singing.

RECIPE: Eggplant Creole 

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Posted on April 1, 2015 and filed under Rituals, Recipes + Rituals, Recipes.

RITUAL: NOURISHING — Because We Are What We Eat

We are what we eat, so the saying goes. It’s no secret that how we feel often determines what we eat. What’s less known is that what we eat determines what we feel — and we’re not just talking about stomach aches and hangovers. When experiencing loss, our brains often produce more CRH, a hormone that produces anxiety-like symptoms. Increased stress stimulates the central nervous system, which can affect everything from our breathing to our sleep patterns. Our digestion, metabolism, circulation and respiration change. Our ability to concentrate and pay attention decreases. We’re left awash in casseroles and baked goods, yet lack the appetite and energy required to pick up a fork.

Fortunately, there are certain foods that feed both mind and body, and can help to combat feelings of anxiety, fatigue, irritability, and even depression. With the help of our friends at Peace Meals, we’ve pulled together a few tips on finding foods that are chock-full of the kind of vitamins you need to add a spring to your step.

And don’t forget: nourishing ourselves is not just about what you eat, but whom you eat it with, and the care that went into making it. 

So just as you’d pair the right fish with the right wine (see Wine Pairings), try pairing foods according to your mood. Go ahead: Eat, drink, and make thyself merry.

Anxious?
Have a glass of milk, or a fistful of kale. Calcium, the common ingredient in both, acts as a natural tranquilizer. Indeed, calcium deficiencies are common among people who are highly stressed. Supplement that with B vitamins, which help to maintain a healthy nervous system. Pay particular
heed to B1 (Thiamine), found in asparagus, spinach, green peas, and brussels sprouts, B5 (Pantothenic acid, known as the most potent anti- stress vitamin), found in mushrooms, cauliflower, sunflower seeds, and broccoli, and B6, found in leafy greens, tuna, bananas, poultry, and liver.

Fatigued?
Constant tiredness can come with poor memory, difficulty concentrating, muscle aches, and loss of appetite, to name but a few symptoms. Try adding more iron to your diet, which combats anemia. You can find it in animal proteins, like red meats, oysters, clams, and poultry, as well as quinoa, dried figs, prunes, chard, spinach, thyme, and turmeric. Also recommended: lean proteins, found in lentils, nuts, red meats, fish, and beans, & Vitamin C, which is necessary for iron absorption, and may increase energy as well. Swig a glass of OJ, and take a bite (or several) of broccoli, bell peppers, kale, strawberries and raspberries, citrus fruits, mustard and turnip greens, fennel, or parsley. And there’s more: choline, an amino acid which increases acetylcholine in the body—which in turn strengthens brain cells—can be found in egg yolks, soybeans, peanuts, potatoes, cauliflower, flax seeds, lentils, and oats. Lecithin, found in liver, kidneys, egg yolks, and soy, is known to promote energy and enhance immunity, and malic acid, found in pineapples, apples, cherries, lemons, and raspberries, can aid energy production in cells, including muscle cells. It’s also key for sugar metabolism. Last but not least, Vitamin B12 (found in red meats, sardines, snapper, and almonds) is a natural energy booster: pair it with B6, which helps its absorption.

Depressed?
While eating the right foods alone won’t cure clinical depression, they can help to lift one’s mood. Essential fatty acids—including the Omega-3s found in fatty fish, flaxseeds, and nuts, and the alpha- linolenic acid found in dark green leafy vegetables, walnuts, soybean oil, canola oil, and flaxseeds—affect the transmission of nerve impulses needed for normal brain function. Tryptophan is an amino acid which helps synthesize serotonin, a “feel- good” neurochemical shown to reduce anxiety and depression. You’ll find it in turkey, red meat, dairy products, nuts, seeds, bananas, soy products, tuna, and shellfish. Proteins found in beans, fish, beef, poultry, dairy and soy products contain tyrosine, another amino acid, which stimulates dopamine and norepinephrine. Both may boost energy and mental clarity. Folate
and folic acid aid in red blood cell development and circulation, as well as normal neurological function, and may help to prevent depression and irritability. Score it via egg yolks, legumes, lentils, dark green veggies, asparagus, parsley, cauliflower, and beets. Finally, take yourself out for
a stroll: the Vitamin D in sunlight helps in the absorption of calcium and stimulates the production
of cortisol, which can increase energy levels. And there are those B Vitamins again. (Things to avoid: gluten, which has been linked to depressive disorders in those who don’t tolerate the protein, aspartame, which may block the formation of serotonin, refined sugars, alcohol, and caffeine.)

Irritable?
Chances are you could use more calcium and magnesium, which helps with calcium absorption. Magnesium can be found in leafy greens (especially swiss chard, spinach, mustard, kale, dandelion, arugula, & collards), summer squash, broccoli, black-eyed peas, kidney & lima beans, avocado, bananas, peanuts, and almonds. Potassium is a good one, as it’s essential for proper functioning of adrenal glands and muscles: find it in fennel, kale, mustard greens, brussels sprouts, broccoli, winter squash, eggplant, cantaloupe, and tomatoes. And as with depression, tryptophan and folate/folic acid, aren’t a bad idea.

How are you feeding yourself?

RITUAL: WHEN GRIEF GETS PHYSICAL: Eat for the Mood You Want (Jill's Story)

RECIPE: Magic Mineral Broth & Carrot Ginger Soup 

 

Posted on April 1, 2015 and filed under Recipes, Recipes + Rituals, Rituals.

RECIPE: French Toast

My most memorable recipe is my dad’s French Toast. Simply eggs, milk, and a little cinnamon all mixed up and then whatever bread is around. The ratios are variable, and the most important thing is maple syrup at the end.

- Peter, New York 

Ingredients: 

  • Eggs
  • Milk 
  • Cinnamon 
  • Bread 
  • Maple syrup

Instructions: 

  1. Whisk together the eggs, milk, and cinnamon. 
  2. Dip each slice of bread into the mixture, and give it a few seconds to really soak it in. 
  3. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium high heat, and fry until nice and brown. Flip it, and do the same on the other side. 
  4. Serve hot with (ample) maple syrup.

RITUAL: PLANTING NEW SEEDS -- Before We Can Bloom Again

Posted on April 1, 2015 and filed under Recipes, Recipes + Rituals, Rituals.

The Dinner Party Top 7

Ah, the end of the year: A time of celebration and champagne toasts, reflection and resolution-making, and Top 10 digests.

This was the year we opened our doors, and turned what had been a spark among a small collection of friends and friends-of-friends into a full-on blaze. So we figured our year wouldn’t be complete without a list of our own.

Here are a few things we've learned along the way: 

1. Everyone’s an expert & no one’s an expert. When we sat down at our first dinner, we weren’t looking to be fixed or even helped: We craved connection and community and good food and good company. We’ve learned since that hosting doesn’t require a clinical degree, or a professional coaching certificate. We learned that the single most important factor in hosting a Dinner Party is the ability to hold space: To listen, to ask open and honest questions, to model #realtalk, and to steer clear of advice-giving. 

2. It’s all about the art of imperfection. We’ve learned that you’re actually right on time if you’re running a little late - guests feel more included if they help put the finishing touches on the meal or table setting. (And we’re not just saying that to assuage guilt, we swear.) We’ve learned that no meal is complete without something sweet, and people equally enjoy a baked masterpiece or a few pints of Ben & Jerry’s served with a pile of spoons. And we’ve been shown that family recipes are great conversation starters - even if the old recipe card is long gone and you’re using the closest thing to it from the Internet.

But owning your imperfection goes deeper than that: The best hosts don’t pretend to have answers, or to have achieved some mythic state of zenned out wisdom. Successful hosting requires a willingness to go first: To lead with your own vulnerability, to speak honestly, to name the mess rather than run away from it.  

3. Moving forward is not the same as moving on. Early on, we began to notice something interesting: Those around our tables who’d never publicly acknowledged their experiences, or found a way to remember or celebrate the person they’d lost, began to take inspiration from those who had. We grew inspired by Dinner Partiers who were running marathons, or interviewing their parent’s friends, or completing service projects in their loved one’s memory. 

The more we try to bury something, or shove it under the rug, or move on, the more space it takes up in our lives. It turns out there’s science behind personal rituals, and their relationship to grief: They’re part of how we embrace a new normal, without letting go the people and experiences that have shaped who we are. 

4. In a culture that’s largely void of rituals, food remains the great exception. Whoever we are and wherever we come from, we are each bound by our relationship to food: whether it’s over sit-down dinner parties, or backyard barbecues, food offers a way to celebrate with friends and family, new and old. It gives us a chance to share where we’ve come from and to reflect on where we’re going. It provides a way to give and receive care. 

5. The journey is yours alone, but you are not alone in journeying. We’ve come to appreciate that everyone has a story, whether they’ve lived through loss firsthand, or watched someone who has. We’ve had people start dinner tables around divorce, miscarriage, and an array of topics and shared experiences we typically keep under lock and key. The stories that we scrupulously avoid are precisely the ones that bind us together, and are precisely the ones we should be talking about. 

6. Contrary to popular belief, people actually really want to talk about death and dying and life after. We’re seeing once-tabooed topics open up on an unprecedented scale, and 2014 was a total doozy in that department. This year saw conversations open up about street harassment and sexual assault, about race and racism, about gender and gender identity, and yes, death and dying and grief. Amidst the Kardashians, cat videos, and empty news reports, we’re finding that people are really hungry to talk about deeper questions about why we’re here, and to share the parts of themselves they otherwise keep hidden. 

7. Family is something we can choose to make. It’s often easy to dwell on what we don’t have, or what we never had to begin with—particularly around the holidays. But as OnBeing contributor Courtney Martin writes, “It is our families that shape us from the very beginning, but it is our friends that truly define us down the road. They are the ones we get to invite into our lives.” Ours is a transitory age: A time in which it’s totally normal to live hundreds of miles from the worlds in which we grew up. Now more than ever, we  need people we can call when we need to flash the bat signal: People who get it, who can see us through our worst days, and celebrate our best. 

 

Posted on December 31, 2014 and filed under Rituals.

RECIPE: Cá kho tộ (Vietnamese Braised Catfish)

There were no cookbooks in our house growing up, and my mom never consulted a recipe to make her meals of Chinese, Vietnamese, and American-inspired dishes. My mom passed before I became interested in cooking, so I never got to apprentice alongside her in the kitchen. 

What she did pass along was the ritual of home-cooked family dinners every single weeknight.
Watercress soup, braised pork belly with egg, kai-lan with oyster sauce...all served family-style with a big pot full of steamed rice. There was nothing better than the slurry of cooked egg yolk and salty-sweet caramel sauce from the braised pork belly.

When I’m homesick, I make this catfish version to satiate the craving. It’s traditionally made in a claypot but works just as well without.

- Christina, San Francisco

Ingredients: 

Coat and marinate 6–8 one-inch catfish steaks in the following for a half hour or more:

  • 1 tbsp chopped green onion (white part only) 
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp chopped ginger
  • 3–4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 1⁄2 tbsp of sugar
  • 1 tsp chili peppers, chopped (optional) 
  • Salt and pepper

Instructions: 

  1. Make a caramel sauce by reducing about 2 tbsp of sugar or brown sugar in 1⁄4 cup of water at a rolling simmer, stirring until dark brown. Set aside.
  2. Heat a few glugs of cooking oil on high heat in a large thick-bottomed pan. Add the fish in one layer and brown on both sides (the centers will still be uncooked). 
  3. Add in the rest of the marinade liquid and the caramel sauce. Once that boils, reduce heat to low, cover with a lid, and simmer for 30–40 minutes. The dish is done when the sauce is thickened, and the fish steaks are a rich brown color.
  4. Toss in some more chopped green onions and whole red chili peppers toward the end of cooking for garnish. 
  5. Serve family-style with steamed jasmine rice, a seasonal vegetable stir-fried with garlic, and a brothy soup of your choice.

RITUAL: READING ALONG -- When Their Story Is Your Story

This piece appears in Finding What Feeds Us: Rituals & Recipes for Living Well After Loss

RITUAL: READING ALONG -- When Their Story Is Your Story

"We tell ourselves stories in order to live." — Joan Didion

The Greeks were definitely on to something. The idea of catharsis — of releasing feelings by watching someone else going through the motions of our emotions — is a powerful force, and can be your best friend in the periods following a major loss. Our culture is one where grief is “dealt with” in private (if at all), and saying we’re “hanging in there” is more accepted than really letting ourselves go. By experiencing the stories of others, whether watching a film in a sold out movie theater or curling up with an old paperback in bed, we have the chance to try out different ways of moving through loss. We have a chance to feel similar and seen, not alone in the deep worry, relief, fear, hope and pain that can come with loss. We can be a character’s companion to the depths of despair, and together find our way through the darkness. We witness what seemed to work for our heroes and heroines, and what didn’t—and can take those lessons back to our own life path.

Thankfully, “grief memoirs” are being penned by today’s most celebrated authors, and films with powerful stories of loss and triumph are waiting to be streamed online. And remember, only one half of the iconic drama mask is crying. Straight-up laughter is powerful medicine, too. So maybe the greatest catharsis will come not from reliving the difficult moments of loss, but from a snack-stocked marathon of your favorite comedies. Happy reading, watching and moving forward.

Here’s our recommended reading list—crowdsourced from Dinner Partiers across the country:

  1. Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed
  2. The Long Goodbye, Meghan O’Rourke
  3. The Rules of Inheritance, Claire Bidwell Smith 
  4. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
  5. A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis
  6. Grieving Mindfully, Sumeet Kumar
  7. Broken Open, Elizabeth Lesser
  8. Motherless Daughters, Hope Edelman
  9. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers 
  10. I Wasn't Ready To Say Goodbye, Pamela Blair
  11. We Bed Down Into Water, John Rybicki
  12. Your Illustrated Guide to Being One With the Universe, Yumi Sakugawa
  13. Collected works of Flannery O'Connor
  14. Let This Darkness Be a Belltower, R.M. Rilke
  15. Lucia Series, E.F. Benson
  16. Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling
  17. The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri
  18. Daring Greatly, Brené Brown
  19. When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chödrön
  20. Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach

Which stories are finding you?

Christina's Story

Books have been my drug of choice since the summer after second grade when I got my first library card and my first pair of glasses. Reading is entertainment and escape, adventure and anesthesia, research and reflection.

Cheryl Strayed, Rebecca Solnit, Alison Bechdel, Elizabeth McCracken—these were my guides through grief precisely because they weren’t trying to be guides. These weren’t self-help or how-to books; instead they were personal explorations of loss. Here I found memoirs that captured the gamut of emotions from cold shock to numbing sadness to unwieldy rage to unbounded joy. In these books, tears lived alongside laughter... and in each story I found something that mirrored my own experience.

These women’s honesty gave me the courage to pick up my own pen again. For me, the only way to get past the surreal nature of losing both my parents was to transform it into a story...my story. Writing is my way of reclaiming control of the messy process that is grief. Through crafting stories out of words and pictures, I’m able to process my emotions and understand them just little bit better. I’m able to remember and honor the memory of my parents. And I’m able to fuel my own healing process by shining a light onto all of it.

RECIPE: Cá Kho Tộ (Vietnamese Braised Catfish)

Posted on December 18, 2014 and filed under Rituals, Recipes + Rituals, Recipes.

When Grief Gets Physical: Eat for the mood you want

  Jill and her brother, Doug, on h er wedding day.

Jill and her brother, Doug, on her wedding day.

My twin brother Doug died by suicide in February 2010, just before a massive snowstorm shut down travel and closed most business and government offices on the east coast. For a few days it was as it should be – the world stopped. After the memorial and death-related paperwork, I moved into my childhood bedroom, still wallpapered lovingly in blue. I visited hospitals, called doctors, and had conversations that made my body shake to get help for other family members in serious distress.  My chest was tight and cavernous. At unpredictable times, shooting pain would volt through my heart.  This was heartbreak.
 
The most mysterious change at first was what happened to my mind. On autopilot, I re-experienced conversations Doug and I had, first from the day before he died, then weeks and months before, all the way back to before kindergarten. Each memory ran through my head over and over, constantly changing in a painful search for a better ending than what came about. Trying to fix. Creating more time.
 
I was so far "in it" that although I sometimes noticed when the sun rose, it didn’t influence when I slept. One day, I watched from my bedroom window as teenagers filed down the block on what was clearly the first day of school. Summer ended? When did it start? I was out of sync, drawn inward. Three realizations got me living again.
 
First, I had to admit that I was destroying myself. Clearly my grief became sandbag-like depression. It's just feelings, right? But why was my hair falling out? Did cuts on my skin take that long to heal before? Why would a thirty-something develop eczema? How does one pick up a staph infection? My mind was slow, confused and unreliable. I drew maps to run routine errands, started to-do lists with the bullet “find both shoes,” and set an alarm to remind myself about soup re-heating on the stove.  I could no longer calculate percentages to determine a sale price, remember new names or faces, or read articles longer than a few paragraphs. I moved so slowly that once a cabdriver pulled over to pick me up because he didn’t realize I was in motion. My thoughts were destroying my body. I recalled watching this happen to Doug. I set out to find out how this happens.
 
Second, I accepted that Doug would always be dead. I could keep thinking about it forever—my mind was capable of that. But others I love were alive and suffering. I decided to divert my attention to actually doing for others what I wished I had done for him. This turned out to be more challenging, surprising, and eventually more rewarding than daydreaming.
 
Third was the day I hit my wall. I tried running a few nearby errands, and collapsed when I got back. It took minutes to crawl up the stairs to my apartment, and I prayed that all eight doors facing the stairwell would stay closed. I had nothing left to give.
 
My husband was away on a work trip, which meant meals were pasta that week. I knew I needed food. This time even boiling water was too much. There was a box of pre-washed spinach in our mini fridge. I sat on the floor with my head leaning against a cabinet, and ate small mouthfuls with water.  I fell asleep and when I awoke, took a shower, got dressed in an actual outfit and did three loads of laundry.  It felt like I had drunk Miracle Grow. Next day’s meals reverted to cereal and pasta, and I did nothing. Then I tried spinach again, with chicken that time, and found with that I could do things.
 
I took a deep dive into understanding how food changes our body and mind. I learned I needed to eat protein at nearly every meal to stabilize my blood sugar, that a candida infection caused my sugar and pasta cravings and the resulting “brain fog.”  I was deficient in magnesium and the amino acids and antioxidants that allow for healthy liver function, and had developed food allergies and an H. Pylori infection. My immune system was so over-reactive that I became allergic to dust and my joints were inflamed with arthritis. After twelve years as a vegetarian, I began eating local meat. I sought out a functional medicine practitioner to discover exactly what foods and supplements my deficient body needed. When I wanted to have a day with purpose, I ate with purpose.  
 
It turns out thoughts are intended to change the way our bodies work: everything from how much glucose we use, to what hormones we signal, and when we release enzymes. Put simply, our emotional experiences use our physical resources. If we experience certain emotions over and over, eventually those physical resources get depleted. In reverse, a body can become depleted due to unique nutritional needs, gene expression, exposure to chemicals, overwork or physical stress, and the mind can experience this as mental illness. Fortunately, nature created ways to replenish, and one of the most powerful of those ways is food. We can eat for the mood we want to have.
 
I eventually founded JustHealth to promote the understanding that mental and physical health are interdependent. With a braver, clearer mind, I now offer suicide prevention, integrative mental health awareness, and mindfulness training workshops. Families and individuals dealing with grief, difficult moods and emotions, and mental illness in all form and degrees, come to learn about the science of emotions and how to use food as medicine. Friends, co-workers and clinicians come to learn how to help.
 
Health is not all about food and thoughts, but a large part of it is. If you think you’ve tried it all, but don’t know exactly which foods support or deplete your body, there is more out there for you backed by science and clinical experience. It’s just health, and a lot of healing is available in your kitchen. 

 

Jill Sheppard Davenport is a Dinner Party host and Integrative Mental Health Educator. She founded JustHeath (www.itsjusthealth.com) to promote the understanding that mental and physical health are interdependent. Jill is pursuing a Master’s in Nutrition and Integrative Health.

Posted on November 3, 2014 and filed under Rituals.

Dia de los Muertos, celebrating those we carry, & remembering to always eat the bread

“Can we, um, eat it?” Sean cautiously slips the spatula under a slice of the pan de muerto, which, only minutes before, sat, round loaf intact, on our makeshift altar in the newly emptied shed behind us.

I realize I don’t quite know how this is supposed to work: I’d read the dead are believed to consume the scents and “essence” of their favorite foods, meaning those around the table could consume the real thing. Michelle had brought Mexican Cokes, a favorite of her dad’s. I contributed a sweet potato casserole and a blinged out salad meant to satisfy the gods, or, more to the point, my mom, whose loyalty to the salad menu was unwavering. But I’d also read that bread of the dead—this one covered in a thin layer of pink sugar crystals and shaped to look like cross-bones—was intended as a sweet treat as the spirits begin their journey. Was it also up for grabs, or did removing it from the altar somehow violate its sanctity? And then I remembered: Dia de los Muertos (without the “los,” if you’d prefer to be precise) is all about fun, celebration, color, vibrancy, and above all, life. Of course we eat the bread.  

I’d never heard of Dia de los Muertos before I arrived in California. Sure, I’d heard mention of “Day of the Dead,” and I’d seen pictures of faces painted in black and white, artfully made to resemble skulls. But until then, “altars” were things I’d spied in living room corners in the homes of hippie friends and Buddhist friends alike. The only occasion I’d had to semi-publicly honor a loved one was a funeral. The day after Halloween was the day after Halloween. 

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the holiday at first. This was the very opposite of somber or morose: Altars bedecked in marigolds, skeletons playing guitar and skeletons in tuxes and wedding gowns, hot pinks and bright yellows mixing in with dark purples and black death (I didn't need a tutorial to understand the symbolism there.) Even today, the idea that remembering those who've died can be a culturally sanctioned affair—let alone one that is child-friendly, exuberant, and celebratory—strikes me, quite literally, as other-worldly. 

But it turns out, we’re the weird ones. In Japan, there’s the 500-year-old Bon Festival, which includes a lantern-lighting ceremony known as Tōrō Nagashi, and the Bon Odori, a dance which, in some regions, can last all night. In China, there’s the Hungry Ghost Festival, in which the gates of heaven and hell are believed to open up, allowing ghosts to wander freely for one month. The month-long celebration includes joss paper-burning and elaborate meals meant to appease the ghosts (note: there, too, you’re allowed to eat the food, but only after a 30-minute wait so that the ghosts can have their fill.) Madagascar’s Malagasy participate in famadihana (“Turning the Bones”,) a festival that takes place every seven years, in which living family members open the tombs of the deceased and rewrap the body in scarves, celebrating with music and dance as they do so. Hindus have Pitr Paksha, a 16-day celebration meaning “fortnight of the ancestors,” best known for its food offerings placed on banana leaves.  

A few weeks ago, The Book of Life hit movie theaters. Voiced by actors Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, and Channing Tatum, the animated children's movie tells the story of Manolo, a young suitor who must explore The Land of the Remembered and brave The Land of the Forgotten, all in a quest to win the love of his life.  In an interview on NPR, director Jorge Gutiérrez shared the inspiration for the story, which began when he lost his best friend at the age of nine. "My parents set me down, and said, 'Your friend, Mauricio, he is with you as long as you talk about him and you tell his jokes and you remember him and you keep his memory alive by talking about him."

For much of the world, remembering the dead and celebrating the lives and legacies of those we've lost is the stuff of street festivals and dance parties. Now it's the stuff of children's movies. We think that's as good a signal as any that one day, we'll know to eat the bread. 

Posted on November 3, 2014 and filed under Rituals.

Finding What Feeds Us: Crowd-sourced ritual-sharing & banished elephants

When we started, we assumed the deer-in-headlights looks we received when we talked about the people we'd lost were because nobody wanted to talk about it. We thought the only way to own our stories--even to casually mention the people we'd lost, whether a mom or dad, a brother or a sister, a partner or a friend--without feeling like we'd suddenly donned a scarlet letter was to close the door: to surround ourselves with people who'd been there in private dining rooms and backyards. 

What we've found since is that that's not actually true. We've yet to meet a single person who doesn't want the chance to be a better friend, or partner, who doesn’t feel terrible when they casually ask, "What does your dad do?" or "How many siblings do you have?" only to find themselves with nothing to say to the response. It's simply that we lack the space and the tools to talk about it. 

Between February and May, we tried something new: through an event series we called "Finding What Feeds Us," we invited people who'd experienced loss to come together with people who hadn't, for one three-hour window in which we banished the elephant in the room. 

We explored some of the personal rituals and practices that have come up around our tables: crowd-sourced answers to that most basic of questions, "What works?"

Some of those rituals were of the centuries-old variety (like decorating sugar-skulls and burning joss paper), while others had a distinctly modern flavor (like plate-breaking and donut-eating and kissing in photo booths). We shared stories about the helpful (and not so helpful) things people said and did in the aftermath of loss, and shared the simple acts we did to feed mind, body, and soul. We danced and listened to sweet tunes and planted new seeds and discovered there's such a thing as healthy brownies. We reflected on stories we rarely get to tell and asked each other questions about the people we carried with us.

We're well aware we only scratched the surface. In the coming months, we're inviting you to share and discover stories, tips, and practices for living well, all by and for those who've experienced significant loss.

Share what you do to feed mind, body, & soul: Tweet us at @DinnerPartiers, share on our Facebook page, or email us at info@thedinnerparty.org

Check out a few of the highlights below. For more rituals, check out our Pinterest page.  For photos from LASFDC, & NYC, check out our Facebook page
 

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Posted on June 3, 2014 and filed under Rituals.

RITUAL: Dia de los Muertos

 Photos taken on the Isla de Janitzio, the main island off of Lake Pátzcuaro.

Photos taken on the Isla de Janitzio, the main island off of Lake Pátzcuaro.

"I took a trip to Mexico for the real-deal, all-night Day of the Dead celebration, among the Tarascans, an indigenous people in the modern state of  Michoacán. Super cool and literally freezing as I hadn't planned on temps dipping into the 30s in Mexico. Ever. So there I was huddled on the steps of the old church in the cemetery yard with my own tiny makeshift altar for my dad built in the corner...( a candle I hoped would keep my hands warm!). Eventually, I found a couple of Tijuana travelers to huddle with and we shared some Mexican "anti-freeze" aka - a flask of Mezcal - to keep us warm all night! It was a great experience and felt really good to honor my dad up close and personal in this ancient sacred ceremony." - Lisa, Los Angeles 

 Isla de Janitzio, surrounded by Lake Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, Mexico

Isla de Janitzio, surrounded by Lake Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, Mexico

 Arriving in Janitzio with a friend from Mexico City. 

Arriving in Janitzio with a friend from Mexico City. 

 Note to those who wish to stay up all night in cemeteries: Bring jackets. And Mezcal. 

Note to those who wish to stay up all night in cemeteries: Bring jackets. And Mezcal. 

 Keeping watch in the Patzcuaro Cemetery.

Keeping watch in the Patzcuaro Cemetery.

 The author's makeshift altar to her dad. 

The author's makeshift altar to her dad. 

Posted on May 28, 2014 and filed under Rituals.

RITUAL: When Great Trees Fall

When Great Trees Fall 

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly.  Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed.  They existed.
We can be.  Be and be
better.  For they existed.

-- Maya Angelou 

Posted on May 28, 2014 and filed under Rituals, Recipes + Rituals.

Why Rituals Matter: What the new science of loss tells us about resilience

  Photo credit: Flickr user Rick Chung

Photo credit: Flickr user Rick Chung

Growing up, daffodils and budding dogwoods signaled something of far greater significance in our family than the arrival of Spring: Full Frame was upon us. For four days in the beginning of April, my mom and her best friend, Linda, would vanish into the crowds of the famed documentary festival, whose staging in Durham gave a whiff of the pending cultural renaissance the region would soon enjoy. Schedules, highlighters, and black tote bags in hand, they would see four or five films in a day, and more than a dozen by Sunday afternoon. 

Cancer was hardly a deterrent. One year, she famously timed her chemo appointments so that she wouldn't miss a film. For those four days, Duke Hospital's proximity to Carolina Theatre was, to her, chief among its selling points. 

My mom kept a printed list of all of the Academy Award nominees for Best Picture in the top drawer of a bureau in our living room. At the time, it struck no one as strange that this list was pulled from the Internet, and thus a mouse-click away. It was the age before laptops, after all, and she couldn't be bothered to turn on the computer when she needed to quickly confirm that In the Heat of the Night won Best Picture in 1967.

She was the only person I knew who went to see movies alone, and indeed, who relished the chance. It took awhile for me to feel the same; I tried it once or twice in college, and remember looking over my shoulder, afraid I'd bump into someone I knew, or else I’d pretend I was waiting for someone, for fear of being judged by the woman behind the ticket counter.

After she died, those solitary treks to the movies took on a new significance: my version of the kind of ritualistic scarring that men in certain parts of the world wear to mark their coming-of-age. It started benignly enough: a tepid venture out when no one else was free. But over time, the experience changed. The movie theatre became something of a temple, the empty seats on either side of me a pew. While I was conscious to pick only the ones that she'd endorse (film being the one domain about which my mom could be said to be a snob), the movie itself hardly mattered. 

We’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about rituals in all their forms—those with centuries of history, like Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos and Japan’s lantern-lighting festival, and those of our own making—as part of an event series we’re doing on “Finding What Feeds Us”. 

Last week, The Atlantic ran an article by writer Emily Esfahani Smith, reporting on a 2013 study examining the impact of rituals on grief, conducted by two Harvard Business School researchers. The researchers began by trying to understand how people coped with loss, whether in the form of a break-up or a death. Defined in the study as a "symbolic behavior performed to induce some desired effect," the rituals tended to be personal—bearing some relation to the experience or to the person they’d lost. They were mostly performed privately, and except in rare instances, they had nothing to do with religion. 

The researchers found that these kinds of rituals lessened feelings of grief and produced a heightened sense of control: participants were less likely to endorse statements like “I feel that life is empty without this person,” or “Memories of this person upset me,” and felt less helpless than did their non-ritual-performing counterparts. Moreover, they found that the act of performing a ritual—even one without any apparent meaning—could produce the same results. 

The study tells of a woman who washes her husband's car each week, as he once did. And another person who goes to the hairdresser on the first Saturday of the month, continuing a tradition begun with a woman who'd died 15 years before (whether a partner, a friend, a parent, it doesn't say).

What's striking is that these rituals exist outside the bounds of anniversaries and birthdays, of Mother's Days and Father's Days and holidays—those yearly occasions when we sanction rituals, and give people a pass for public acts of remembrance. And they’re evidence that rituals, rather than signaling that someone has yet to move on, or is otherwise stuck in a narrative of loss, are actually a means through which we move forward. 

Today, I feel more connected to my mom than I have in years, even as—seven years later—the once visceral pain of her absence has faded. It’s a change I attribute not to time, or to finally reaching “acceptance”—that last purported phase among our traditional demarcations of grief. It’s because she would have loved 20 Feet From Stardom. And because this year’s crop of Oscar flicks was the best in years. And it’s because I spent many hours watching each one alone in a movie theatre. 

Posted on March 18, 2014 and filed under Rituals.

RITUAL: Writing -- who needs a postal address?

In Iceland, obituaries often take the form of letters to the deceased, written by friends and family members. Morgunblaðið, a prominent national newspaper, regularly features multiple obituaries addressed to a single person. Archaeologists have found letters to the dead written on bowls used by ancient Egyptians in funerary rites, dating back to the 3rd century AD. They remain some of the most personal writings found from that period, and typically include direct supplications to the dead to intervene in present affairs.

“The act of writing is an act of attempted comprehension, and, in a childlike way, control; we are so baffled and exhausted by what has happened, we want to imagine that giving words to the unspeakable will make it somehow our own.” So explained author Joyce Carol Oates, in a series of email exchanges with former Slate Editor Meghan O’Rourke, author of The Long Goodbye. Published in the New York Times in February 2011, the conversation ran under the headline, “Why We Write About Grief.” 

In it, the two authors talk about sleepless nights and writing at 2am, and about the way grief memoirs have become their own literary genre —attaining a level of popularity that defies our typical taboos around loss and life after.
Often, one of the best things we can do for ourselves and each other is to make space to remember those who now live only in memory, by writing a letter, or sitting down with a journal or a tape recorder and capturing stories tucked deep inside the recesses of our memory.

Here are a couple of prompts:

  • Write a letter to your parent, catching them up on where you are today.
  • What lessons are you grateful for? 
  • What are you proudest of in your life? 
  • What are you most hopeful about?

What have you been wanting to get out of your head and onto the paper?

  The author's father, catching a wave.   

The author's father, catching a wave.  

Amanda's Story

My dad loved the ocean. He was born and raised in San Diego and grew up sailing with his father, was an avid and extremely talented surfer, and later in life involved in competitive Hawaiian outrigger canoeing.

So naturally when I see a large body of water I think of my dad. We spread his ashes in various areas of the Pacific, yet since all oceans connect, it’s not a stretch for me to imagine that he’s out there when I’m looking at any ocean. Sometimes I’ll just go sit in front of the Hudson river (not the same, I know) and talk to him or just reflect on his memory.

One ritual I hope to keep annually is sending out a message in a bottle to him on his birthday. Last March 18, I bought a six-pack of his favorite beer Negra Modelo, drank one, wrote my dad a letter, and sealed up the bottle with an old wine cork. I then went down to the Hudson River, emotionally wished my dad a happy 64th birthday and tossed my thoughts into the black turbulent waters. It was freezing, wet, and snowing; I couldn’t help but envision my dad chuckling at my misery in the cold, as he never did understand why I liked New York.

With any luck, the bottle’s made its way out of the tri-state area and moved on down to warmer waters. I like to envision the bottle washed up on a Caribbean shore in the sun, exactly where my dad would want to be enjoying a nice cold Modelo. 

RECIPE: Chocolate Chip Cookies


Posted on February 13, 2014 and filed under Rituals.

RITUAL: Read "The Faraway Nearby" by Rebecca Solnit

Thank you to the dear friend who knowingly slipped me this new release with a "look-no-further" tap and nod.

I highly recommend spending some time with Rebecca Solnit through her memoir, as she unfolds the experience of loosing her mother through bitterness in life, Alzheimer’s  and eventually death.

Here's a review that nailed it, in case you need any more convincing. 

 

Stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice.
Posted on September 29, 2013 and filed under Rituals.

Ritual: Putting Our Desire to Help to Use Through Service

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I signed up for my first fundraising walk five months after my mom, Joanie, died. I had never participated in an event like that before. I felt nervous, but confident it was something I needed to do. When my mom died, I felt like a shadow of my old self, walking around in a life that was no longer familiar to me. My mom had struggled for years with alcoholism and mental illness and ended up taking her own life on July 19, 2011. I was shocked by her death and by my new knowledge of the statistics surrounding suicide. Signing up to participate in the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk was my way of honoring my mom and making sense of her suicide. What I didn’t know was signing up in my first charity walk would ignite my most sacred ritual connected with my mom. That ritual is service. 

The first year I participated in the Out of the Darkness Walk, I created a group called Mom Squad dedicated to inspiring those who had lost mothers to suicide to unite together and be a positive force in the world. The most surprising thing I learned from Mom Squad was that my role as founder was actually quite simple. All I had to  do was introduce some people who had similar stories and watch the magic happen. Originally I saw this group of motherless adults as victims, but I quickly learned they are actually full of strength, humanity and empathy. They wanted to help others by telling their stories.  Almost every email or phone call I received from a new “Mom Squader” began with “how can I help?”

This revelation is what inspired me to take my ritual of service and expand it to help many others, through what we're calling Hope After. We create community service experiences on or around the birthday or anniversary of someone who has died, helping families feel connected to their deceased loved one while doing something productive in their own lives. This gives them hope for the life they must continue to live in without the person they love.

Community service is the only way my mom’s death makes sense to me. My mother’s life was complicated and our relationship was often very confusing for me, but one thing I know for sure is that she taught me the importance of helping others whenever you have the chance. My mother took in our neighbors when their house burned down. She was a pediatric nurse practitioner who adored children and was known for taking calls from concerned parents at all hours of the day. This year, on the second anniversary of her death, I went and painted an elementary school with a group of volunteers. The experience took me out of my own grief and made me think of others. I knew with certainty that I would not be standing at that elementary school painting if my mom hadn’t died. And although that doesn’t ease the pain of her suicide completely it helps my world make a little more sense. I believe that grief is a very powerful energy that, after some time has gone by and the heart is getting stronger, can be harnessed to create something really beautiful in the world. I’ll continue my ritual of community service in memory of my mom, to honor her legacy of giving to others and to create a legacy of my own.

 

 

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Jennifer White is the founder of Hope After Project, a program that creates community service experiences in memory of extraordinary people who have died. She lives in Los Angeles, California with her husband, two cats and dog.

 

Interested in setting up your own community service project or learning more? Email Jennifer at HopeAfterProject@gmail.com. 

Ritual: Skydiving

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We jerked up and then leveled, the plane slowing to a hover. Before any of us had properly registered that it was time, one of the instructors threw himself sideways out of the open door. For an instant, we watched his body tumble in the air; I was reminded distinctly of the way farmers hurl barrels of hay onto a truckbed. The pairs quickly followed suit: first David, celebrating his 55th birthday, eyes closed tight, head glued to his instructor; a few more, including the woman in her 40s whose look of steely misery had not changed in the last two hours. 

There were only six of us left: a blond college-student, whom I’d seen kissing his girlfriend goodbye and his tandem instructor, Lindsey, me, and Eddie and Zak, the two men in whom we were about to entrust our lives. The plane climbed higher. 

I’d been talking about wanting to skydive for years, mostly in that let’s-make-plans-without-really-making-plans way. I’d emailed a dozen friends on a whim earlier in the week, a few days before my birthday. I was due to take an overnight to Boston the following night, and to spend the first day of my twenty-eighth year facilitating an all-day meeting with a group of Harvard researchers. Skydiving, at the time, seemed like the most logical way to pre-empt the certain self-pity fest that would ensue if I let the day pass by in total obscurity. 

Skydiving appealed to a daredevilish streak in me that’s grown more pronounced over the years—born in part, I suppose, out of a hunger to test limits. Like so many of us who’ve been to funerals, I pay real heed to “carpe diem” and its associated clichés.

But there was something more worrying than that behind it, too: a kind of macabre fantasy common among sixteen-year-olds who believe great artists are only remembered as such in death; an irrational thought experiment, designed to test who’d show up were it all to end. 

I stopped wearing a seatbelt a few years ago. I don’t recall the first time I elected not to bother. It must’ve been shortly after I’d moved to LA, after my brother and I had driven my grandmother’s silver Hyundai—then six-years-old, with 14,000 miles on it—from Raleigh to LA. Friends would occasionally visit and scold me, and each time, I’d feign that I’d simply forgotten, buckling it quickly before moving the conversation on. I never attempted to explain it—afraid that by somehow putting words to it, even silently, I’d give something away, reveal a chink in the armor I’d worked so carefully to build.  

For days before the trip, I kept going back to a passage in The Rules of Inheritance, in which Claire makes her way to a remote island in Indonesia to go scuba-diving with sharks. She makes it as far as jumping in the water at dawn in her wetsuit, only to call off the dive at the last second, realizing that she was looking for someone and something that couldn’t be found—that her mom wasn’t going to intervene.

Was I doing the same?

The first 13,000 feet had taken an eternity, but it felt like mere seconds before we reached 18,000. Blonde-guy-with-girlfriend went first. Lindsey and Eddie were next. 

Eddie was the state-wide certifier; he’d personally approved every tandem instructor at the facility. We’d bantered nervously in the hangar for 20 minutes before take-off. He had that effortless way of making a joke that comes of knowing exactly how to put a person at ease. 

Zak wore a bright yellow full-body suit, and called himself the bumblebee. He’d been jumping for 17 years, and would jump 8-10 times before the day was over. He was goofy without betraying a lack of competence; confident and gentle when I developed a temporary stutter a minute into the flight. I was instantly in love. 

I curled my toes over the edge of the plane, and peered down at the golden, brown, and green squares marking the farmland below. As instructed, I threw my head against Zak’s chest and looked up. I yelled and gave a tiny tug.  

Weirdly, all fear vanished the moment we left the plane. I hadn’t slept the night before, had been terrified of this moment right up until the instant it was happening, and then: gone. We hurtled down at 120mph, my arms spread out in a perfect T, the wind shrieking so loudly that Zak’s voice and my own screams and repeated shrieks of “Oh my God” sounded like they were coming from somewhere far in the distance. 

There was no time for profound thoughts, for bursts of insight of any kind, no to-do lists, no distractions, no hint of self-consciousness. For more than 90 seconds, we simply fell. I assume that practiced meditators know the feeling of emptiness I had for those 90 seconds, but having always sucked at meditation, I can’t be sure. 

At just over 5,000 ft., Zak pulled the parachute cord. We went from 120mph to 10 in just two seconds, and spent the next four minutes gently gliding down. Zak pointed out the country’s longest airstrip, built for a space shuttle landing that never happened, and the ocean away in the distance. He pulled a cord and we made a loop, legs outstretched and feeling the same way you do while riding the swings at the fair, only with nothing there to tether us. 

We floated down toward a field, watching the parachuters ahead of us come in for a landing. I stretched out my legs and we stumbled to the ground, landing on two feet. 

Somewhere between the two hours we spent waiting in the hangar and this moment – feet on the ground, adrenaline still coursing through my body, smiling uncontrollably – I rediscovered what it feels like to be wholly in love with being alive. 

I started wearing a seatbelt again. 

xo

L

 
Posted on August 12, 2013 and filed under Rituals.

Ritual: Tōrō Nagashi Ceremony

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Looking for a way to remember the dead that doesn’t involve skulls?* This ancient Buddhist ceremony, dating back to the 7th century, is one of the more beautiful rituals we’ve come across. According to that most infallible of sources, Wikipedia, “traditional Japanese beliefs state that humans come from water”. Participants in a Tōrō  nagashi ceremony send lanterns floating down a river to signify bodies returning to the water from which they came.

In March 2012, TDP hit Pismo Beach for a working-adult twist on the Spring Breaks of our youth. After dinner one night, we piled onto the beach, homemade lanterns in hand, to try out the ceremony for ourselves. It being our first try, the theory was a bit more graceful than the practice: The sea was rough that night, so we opted to send them across a mini-estuary leading out to the water instead, only to discover that wind and lit candles don’t mix. We gave it our best shot, and after a few minutes watching the two hardiest lanterns slowly bob near the edge of the water, we danced in the sand instead.  

For tips on making your own DIY floating lanterns, click here

*We’re big fans of Dio de Muertos, btw. But we also believe in remembering the dead on any day you choose.

 

Posted on July 17, 2013 and filed under Rituals.

Ritual: Keeping a Private Tumblr

Creating privacy and a place to reflect, even on the Internet

I spend so much of my time exploring the world online and wanted to be able to aggregate and reflect on the nuggets I found in a way that wasn't public facing.  So many of the tools we spend our time on are designed specifically for sharing - but what happens when I'm in a phase where I want to be private, where I want to gather ideas and feelings, where I want to be reflecting on my experience with #lifeafterloss without getting awkward sympathetic Facebook commentary? 

So I started a private Tumblr, that's all about collecting any of the inspiring, weird, sentimental stuff I find online and when I'm out and about - things that give me new perspectives on loss, and life after.  

My only rules are these:  there is no pressure to add to it, no filters on what to throw up there - it becomes a scrapbook  a diary, a visual collection of bookmarks of the people and videos and quotes that made me feel or learn something new. 

xo,

C

 

 

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Posted on June 16, 2013 and filed under Rituals.

Ritual: Building a Wood Table

When TDP began to fill more chairs than could scoot in around our existing table, it was time to upscale. After a few weeks of unsuccessful Craig's List scouring, it dawned on me that I could be the one to build the table I had in mind.  This would be my first time making something physically bigger than myself - and there was something empowering about setting my mind to doing just that.

When I got to Home Depot, I excitedly unfolded the diagram I had sketched out and shared with the orange vested man in the lumber department what my vision was. "Oh, so you want to build a beer pong table?" I swallowed my pride, agreed with him, and ten minutes later, left with stacks of wood, and tools to make it all cling together. 

My brother and I spent the rest of the afternoon listening to James Blake, and building.  Making something.  Something tangible, real, that would outlive at least my stay in that house.  Something that would become the home base for dinner parties to come, a gathering place, a center piece. Perfect in its wobble and asymmetry and drinking game chic. 

There was something about the ritual of building.  Building something for the first time, that I could nod at afterwards and say, "Hey, I made that." 

Pretty. nice.  Try it out.

 

xo, 

carla

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Posted on June 14, 2013 and filed under Rituals.