Poached Eggplant Stir-fry with Vegan Pesto Hummus

Eggplant can be quite difficult to prepare without soaking it in oil or some kind of sauce, which I don’t always want. I’ve developed this technique of cooking it quickly, without all the oil, but all the flavor of a stir-fry.

This is a quick and easy vegan meal that I like to cook myself when my boyfriend feels like a ham and cheese sandwich! He hates eggplant, so I always cook it when he fancies some dead animal for lunch.

Ingredients For Stir-fry:
  • 1 lb of eggplant (aubergine)
  • A handful of bean sprouts
  • A handful of snow peas (mange tu)
  • Italian spice mix
  • Garlic
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Half a small onion finely chopped
  • Dried chilli peppers (optional for a spicier flavor)
  • Ghee or avocado oil
Ingredients For Vegan Pesto Hummus:
  • 1 lb of garbanzo beans, preferably sprouted
  • 1/2 cup of pine nuts
  • Large bunch of fresh basil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Instructions:
  • To prepare the hummus in advance, you can either use raw sprouted garbanzo beans, cooked un-sprouted soaked beans, or sprouted cooked beans. To cook them, simply boil for 10-15 mins.
  • Put all the hummus ingredients in a blender and mix until it looks like hummus!
  • If you are not a vegan, add a couple of good spoonfuls of Parmesan cheese to make it a full on Pesto sauce.
  • To prepare the eggplant, chop into even slices.
  • Put a little avocado oil, onion and spices into a frying pan and brown the eggplant stirring frequently to avoid burning. Do this for about 5 mins.
  • When the oil has dried up, fill the pan with about 1cm of water, almost covering the eggplant. Allow to simmer uncovered until the water has evaporated, poaching the eggplant.
  • When all the water has dried up, add a little more avocado oil, along with the bean sprouts and snow peas. Stir-fry for about 3 mins, gently tossing the ingredients.
  • Serve with a fresh dollop of hummus on top!

How to Sprout Peas

Sprouting peas, beans or grains can improve the nutritional content of your food. Here are a few benefits in short:

  • Sprouting increases bio-available nutrients.
  • Sprouting decreases carbohydrate content from starches, therefore reduces calorie content.
  • Sprouting makes the legume/grain easier to digest and less likely in most cases to cause gas.
  • Sprouting grains can deactivate potent carcinogens.
  • Sprouting can reduce the amount of fat.

There are lots of articles highlighting how the biological processes that happen during sprouting lead to these facts. Rather than repeat the information, check out these articles from The Nourishing Gourmet and Kitchen Stewardship, where you can read about how phytase released in soaking and sprouting leads to the changes we can benefit from.

It is important to research which grains and legumes aren’t good for sprouting, and which should always be cooked thoroughly after sprouting to avoid stomach aches and gas. It’s also good to be aware of safety guidelines for sprouting, as it is very easy to create toxic mould in the damp, dark conditions of sprouting. Here’s more info. on Sprout Safety. Suffice to say, rinse often. Do not consume if your sprouts are slimy or smell weird, or have anything other than shoots growing out of them. Wash thoroughly and follow FDA safety guidelines.

Soaking PeasI prefer to sprout my peas quickly, as the benefits begin as soon as the shoots appear. A lot of articles recommend sprouting for a few days to maximise the benefits, but for me, the longer I wait, the more chance there is that I’ll ruin the batch with some kind of mould. So my sprouting process is about 1.5 days.

Here’s How I Sprout My Peas:
  • Rinse then soak a cup of dried peas in water for about 8 hrs.
  • Rinse the soaked peas and place in a clean linen/muslin bag. Hang the bag in a dry, dark cupboard for about 24 hrs.
  • During the 24 hrs, regularly check on the peas, rinsing the bag to avoid mould formation every few hours.
  • When shoots begin to form, you can remove the peas and wash thoroughly.
  • You can use the sprouts right away, allow them to sprout for longer, or put them in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Here’s a link to my Sprouted Pea Soup recipe. I hope you found this information concise and helpful. Enjoy!

Linen Sprouting Bag

Asian Sprouted Pea Soup

This recipe has a double dose of pea goodness, with sprouted peas and pea sprouts. Yes, they’re different things. I really enjoy this fresh and healthy twist on pea soup, mixed with an Asian porridge. It’s very filling, full of vitamins, antioxidants, protein and minerals.

If you’re not sure how to sprout your own peas, here’s a post I wrote about How To Sprout Peas. You can look up online how to do it from many online sources. But in short: Sprouted peas are dried peas that have been soaked and sprouted in darkness so that they have small roots sticking out of them. The process changes the nutritional value of the peas and makes them easier on your digestive system. Basically, if beans make you toot, you should be sprouting them.

Pea Sprouts are the larger shoots that start to produce leaves, opposed to the pea itself, like alfalfa sprouts or mustard cress.

Ingredients:
  • Half a cup of broken jasmine rice
  • A cup of dried organic peas (sprouted in advance)
  • Fresh pea sprouts (If you can’t get these, you can use mustard cress, water cress or even alfalfa sprouts.)
  • Half a chopped onion or dried onion flakes
  • Small piece of finally chopped ginger
  • Avocado Oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 cloves of finally chopped garlic or garlic powder
  • Sesame Oil
  • Soy Sauce
Instructions:
  • In a large saucepan, gently saute the garlic, onions and ginger in avocado oil, adding salt and pepper to taste. When browned, fill the saucepan with water.
  • Add the rice to the pan and bring to a boil. Then simmer for an hour, topping up the water as needed to keep the porridge from drying out. You can cover the saucepan if you leave about an inch or so open to vent the pan, to prevent it from boiling over.
  • After the rice has turned into porridge, add the sprouted peas and continue to simmer. I like to keep the sprouted peas crunchy, so about 5-10 mins cook time for the peas works for me. If you’d prefer softer peas, add them earlier and cook them through for about 30-45 mins. It will also make your soup greener.
  • Continue to add water as needed to keep the mixture at a soup consistency.
  • Once you’ve cooked the peas to your preference, you’re ready to serve.
  • But before taking the soup off heat, add a few large handfuls of pea sprouts and mix in. I like to serve immediately like this, so that the pea sprouts heat up but haven’t lost their raw, fresh crunchiness too much.
  • Garnish with more raw pea sprouts and drizzle sesame oil and soy sauce to taste.
  • A non-vegan addition for vegetarians is to add a couple of organic eggs a couple of minutes before you take the soup off the heat. Stir the eggs into the soup for a creamy, thick consistency.

 

Chocolate Oat Bites

I like to make my own naughty treats because at least I know that all the ingredients are real and I can adapt them to suit my needs. This recipe is diary and wheat free. You can eliminate the nuts and substitute almond milk for coconut milk to make it nut free. (see my Vegan Seed Bites recipe). This recipe makes about 24 pieces, at around 2×2″. Keep in the fridge.

Ingredients:
  • 4 cups of oats
  • 1 cup of sultanas or raisins
  • 1/2 cup of slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup of hazelnut pieces
  • 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup flax seeds
  • 4 tbsp golden syrup
  • 3 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup of almond milk
  • 2 bananas
  • 2 large bars of dark dairy free cooking chocolate (or regular dark cooking chocolate / or carob chocolate)
Instructions:
  • Preheat oven to about 200c/400F.
  • Mash 2 bananas in a mixing bowl.
  • Add oats, all nuts, seeds and fruit to bowl.
  • Melt coconut oil and golden syrup in a pan slowly until both are runny.
  • Poor mixture in bowl along with almond milk and mix thoroughly.
  • Place mixture in a large tin, lined with grease proof paper, or parchment paper.
  • Bake for 25 mins. Oat Bites without the chocolate
  • Let stand to cool for 30 mins.bain-marie
  • Prepare a bain marie. A bain marie is best for melting chocolate as it is easy to accidentally burn chocolate. To do this, boil some water in a saucepan. Put a heat safe bowl, like Pyrex over the top of the boiling water and place the pieces of chocolate into the bowl. It should take just a few minutes for the chocolate to melt completely.
  • Poor the melted chocolate over the cooled oat bites. Allow to chill in fridge for 30 mins, then cut into chunks and serve!Chocolate Oat Bites
  • These bites are really rich. The dark chocolate is very powerful. If you prefer, substitute the dark chocolate with milk chocolate, if you’re okay with dairy. I’ve used Green & Black’s Organic 70% Dark Chocolate to make this treat before, which turned out rather well too.

Vegan, Nut Free Seed Bites

A healthy, filling treat packed with Omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber and yumminess!

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups of Oats
  • 2 tbsp Golden Syrup
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 tbsp coconut milk
  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup of sultanas
  • 1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup of flax seeds
  • 1/2 cup of hemp hearts
  • 1/2 cup of sunflower seeds
Instructions:
  • Mash one banana in a bowl. Add oats, all the seeds and sultanas.
  • Heat golden syrup and coconut oil on low until runny.
  • Poor coconut milk, coconut oil and syrup over oats and seeds.
  • Mix thoroughly.
  • If the mixture seems runny, add more oats.
  • Pack mixture tightly into a baking tin lined with grease proof paper, or parchment paper.
  • Bake at 180c for 30 mins. Let sit for 30 mins before cutting and serving.

Yellow Bean & Watercress Noodle Soup

This is a great, light meal that I often have for breakfast or lunch, sometimes dinner when I’m being lazy. It takes about 5 mins to make and is also pretty cheap to put together. You can easily make it vegan by removing the eggs from the recipe.

Ingredients:

  • Organic Watercress
  • Yellow bean paste (available at most Asian markets)
  • Soy Sauce (for taste only)
  • Sesame Oil
  • Ground Pepper
  • 1-2 free range organic eggs
  • Rice noodles
  • Water

Instructions:

  • Boil at least 1 inch of water in a saucepan. Amount can vary based on how much soup you want, but you need at least enough to cover the noodles.
  • Add between a teaspoon and tablespoon of yellow bean paste, to taste. I like a lot of liquid, so I put about 2 inches of water in the saucepan and a heaping tablespoon of paste.
  • Let the paste dissolve, then add rice noodles. The noodles double in thickness, so don’t over estimate how many you need.
  • Simmer for 1 minute. Then turn down heat until the water is hardly bubbling. Crack eggs straight into the mix and let them poach for 1-2 minutes. If you like your eggs soft, only cook for 1 min and remove from heat before the eggs are fully cooked, as the heat from the soup will continue to cook them for a few minutes, while the soup is too hot to consume.
  • Break up the watercress loosely and place in the bottom of your serving bowl.
  • Carefully pour your noodle and soup mix over the watercress. The heat from the soup will cook the watercress perfectly in the bowl.
  • Add pepper, soy sauce and sesame oil to taste.

Leek & Potato Soup

This is a vegan recipe that you can adapt for vegetarians by adding dairy, and for meat eaters, by adding bacon off cuts. I’ll include notes in the description for these options, but the basic recipe is diary and meat free. This batch will serve about 6-8 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium onions
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 3 large leaks
  • 4 large potatoes
  • 2 tbsps Coconut Oil
  • Salt
  • Finely ground white pepper
  • Water
  • (A splash of milk or cream, and 1/4 lbs butter for added vegetarian option.)
  • (1/2 lb of bacon off cuts for meat eaters.)
  • Bread for croutons

Instructions:

Sweating Leeks and Onions
Sweating Leeks and Onions
  • Heat coconut oil in large pot. Chop garlic and onions finely and sweat in oil for a couple of minutes.
  • If you are adding meat, chop it finely and add it to the mix now. Brown gently before moving to the next step.
  • Chop leeks finely and add to onions and garlic. Sweat leeks until they start to go soft.
  • Add boiling water to the mixture, covering all the ingredients in the pot.
  • Add salt and pepper.
  • Bring to the boil, then add finely chopped potatoes to the mix.
  • Bring to a boil again, then reduce heat and partially cover with a lid. Allow to simmer for about an hour. Stir occasionally. Make sure to add more water if it seems like the liquid is evaporating. I may add up to 4 pints of water while I’m cooking. Add less for a thicker soup.
  • You can cook this for more time if want. I like to leave it on low and cook it for a couple of hours usually. I go away and do other things while it is cooking. You can cook it in a slow cooker if you like too.
  • Your soup is now ready. For non vegans, you can now add a dash of dairy to the soup to make it creamier. Just pop in the extra dairy to taste and stir on low heat.
  • I prefer a chunky soup, but if you prefer a smooth soup, simply blend the soup now before serving.
  • Chop bread in to tiny cubes and gently shallow fry in oil to make croutons.

To Soy or Not to Soy?

That is the question!

And the answer continues to remain controversial. There is a wealth of conflicting information online regarding this subject.

As a cancer survivor, British asian, fitness professional and someone who does not consume animal meat or poultry, the subject of soy in food continues to come up. So let me break it down into as short a piece as I can to give you a general sense of it all in plain English from my perspective.

The Good:

Some studies promote its health benefits with statements like:  Soy’s anti-estrogen properties prevent breast cancer, its fiber content can lower colorectal cancer, and in various stages of prostate cancer soy lowered PSA levels. Here’s one such study: MDAndersonorg

Other pluses for soy include its low fat content and high protein content, making it an efficient nutrient, especially in a vegetarian diet.

Many western articles point to asians having lower occurrences of certain types of cancer, reasoning that asians eat a high amount of soy. They use statistics to prove that the two facts are related. Here’s a WebMD article detailing an example of this theory.

Books like the China Study link an asian diet heavy in soy with health benefits.

The Bad:

Some studies show that soy consumption switches on cancer-forming genes, increasing the rate of cancer cell growth; like this one on breastcancer.org

Others provide studies linking soy to miscarriages, hormonal disruptions, infertility, loss of libido and erectile dysfunction; like this one from Dr. Mercola.

Some studies claim too much soy causes dementia and other brain issues, as well as hair loss.

The Middle Ground:

What’s clear is that the jury is out. This information sounds all too familiar: Wine is good for you, then it’s bad. Fat causes heart attacks, so we must eat nothing but carbs. Oh wait, oops, carbs are bad, now fat is back in fashion! Heard this before?

There are easy guidelines to follow here that can also be mirrored when deciding on your fat, sugar, carbs or alcohol consumption too. The rules are quite simple. In fact, there’s really only one:

DON’T EAT TOO MUCH OF IT!

I knew a middle aged woman in Oklahoma some years ago who was overweight and tried every fad diet possible to lose a few pounds. The only thing she didn’t try was sensible portions and moderation. She ended up doing crazy things like downing an entire bottle of olive oil because she read it was “good for your heart”. True story. Not long after this, she had a heart attack.

As with everything, too much of something is bad. But with soy, this statement rings even more profoundly. In an attempt to give us westerners a miracle low fat, non-meat protein substitute that’s easy to produce, the soy industry has given us a soy mutant monster. Soy protein isolate is a component of soy, literally isolated and multiplied to hulk like levels.

Enthusiastic believers in the asian diet ignore the fact that asians also eat a lot of meats, vegetables, fungi, legumes, fruits……. The point really is to look at the amounts and the ratios. They aren’t knocking back pints of soy milk like it’s going out of fashion.

Additionally, if that soy isn’t organic it may be genetically modified for hardiness to be sprayed with Round Up. This means it has probably also been sprayed with said toxic chemicals you’d never want to set foot near, much less consume.

Even if it’s organic, if it isn’t fermented, it contains high levels of phytic acid, an anti-nutrient that leaches vital nutrients from your body, and blocks the uptake of others. Dr. Mercola’s article details this well, but you can find this information in many forms if you google it. Here’s an article from foodforbreastcancer.com that suggests eliminating soy protein isolate from your diet if you are fighting breast cancer.

SoybeansWith all the back and forth, what is one supposed to believe? Conclusive findings don’t appear to be anywhere near in sight. So for myself, I choose to logic my way around the situation. Here is my deductive reasoning:

  • Soy clearly doesn’t actually cure cancer. If it did, we’d all be miraculously cured by now. So there’s no need to start consuming it heavily for its proclaimed health benefits, when I can get my protein from many sources, even if I’m a vegan.
  • Asians traditionally don’t eat unfermented soy products without also consuming some form of seafood or seaweed, which neutralized the phytic acid in the soy, making it safe to eat. So probably eating soy protein isolates and other unfermented soy products doesn’t mimic the Asian miracle diet anyway.
  • If numerous studies tell you something causes cancer, perhaps it is worth listening to that information and investigating it before jumping under the bus and regretting it later.

I choose to eat organic soy and fermented soy products in moderation.  I avoid any foods containing soy protein isolates like the plague; like soy milk and soy burgers. I don’t go near soy beans aka Edamame either. This crop was originally used in between usable crop seasons on fallow land to re-nourish the soil and wasn’t consumed in its bean form. Asians knew it to be poisonous to consume as is. Hence, they developed a way to ferment the bean and make it edible. Here’s an article that I quickly googled referencing this at authorityNutrition.com. Edemame is not fermented! It doesn’t make the cut!

Here is a list of soy based products I personally deem safe:

  • Organic Tofu – but I try to make sure I consume some form of seaweed or seafood along with it. It doesn’t have to be much. And I don’t eat it very often, perhaps once a month as my source of protein. I happen to LOVE tofu, so it’s hard not to eat too much of it to be honest!
  • Organic Miso – fermented soy paste soup, sometimes with seaweed and tofu.
  • Organic Tempeh – Health food stores have a lot of Tempeh burgers/patties to choose from, in various flavors.
  • Organic Soy Sauce – a fermented sauce.
  • Natto is also a fermented soy product that makes the cut, but I don’t personally like it.

Moderation, moderation, moderation!

Be sensible, read articles, make your own decisions based on more than one source.

Vipassana – 3 Day Course

Photo of Dhamma Sukhakari entrance
The front of Dhamma Sukhakari, Saxmundham, UK

Last month my partner and I took the 3 Day Vipassana residential meditation course for Old Students at Dhamma Sukhakari, in Saxmundham, Suffolk, UK. The course is a refresher or sorts for students that have already taken the 10 Day residential course.

Dhamma Sukhakari means ”Giving the happiness of Dhamma”, and the atmosphere of the center and it’s helpers definitely reflected that spirit. Everyone was really friendly, helpful and respectful during induction and course end. Of course, as with all Vipassana courses, we practiced in complete silence for the entirety of the course once the bell was sounded.

The course felt very different to the 10 day course. For starters, everyone there had experience with Vipassana, knew the rules and already had some modicum of discipline in meditating in stillness. Talking to fellow meditators before the course begun, it was very interesting to hear how Vipassana had changed their lives or helped them in ways they couldn’t have imagined. People of all ages and walks of life, each with their own stories and backgrounds, many from other countries, all gathered to practice this simple but powerful meditation technique. It was a wonderful experience to meet them and be inspired by their stories.

For me, my intention was to top up my basic practice and confirm its direction, to make sure I was staying on track. Being forced to spend 3 days doing nothing but meditating to revisit the experiences I had while on the 10 day course were part of my goal in signing up. I actually wanted to do another 10 day course, but with precious little time to spare, another 10 day course in less than a year seemed overzealous at best. So we opted for the 3 day.

If you aren’t familiar with Vipassana and the 10 Day course, I wrote three posts detailing everything about the experience. Here are links to check them out:

Vipassana Meditation – Part One: How the course benefited me.

Vipassana Meditation – Part Two: Rules for Faith & Practice.

Vipassana Meditation – Part Three: The course at SCVC & my experience there.

The structure of the 3 day course, including the schedule, the rules and the food were all maintained from the 10 day course. It seems the organizers of this group that practice around the teachings of S. N. Goenka are very coordinated and go to great pains to make sure the experience is consistent from center to center. Even the kneeling mats were the same.

Men's Bunks at Dhamma Sukhakari
Bunks in the men’s quarters.

The major differences for me at this center were in the size of the premises. In Twentynine Palms USA, there was space for long nature walks and our own bedrooms with private bathrooms. This made working in silence much more easy to do. There was much more sense of isolation, with minimal chance of contact during group meditation and dining hours. In Saxmundham, UK however, the quarters were tight, with 4 bunks per room, only 2 toilets, and 2 showers for 18 girls on the female side.

Bathroom at Dhamma Sukhakari
Ladies bathroom

Trying to remain isolated without eye contact, physical touch or speech really was quite hard, especially with the British inclination to apologize to everyone, each time you so much as cross someone’s path. I heard numerous accidental “Sorry”s muttered under the breath during these crowded times.

Even separating males and females was impossible to do in this center, as is the practice at Vipassana centers. Our quarters were separated by a single door inside, which was sufficient, but by a thin hedge on one side of the garden, and an awkwardly positioned trailer on the other. On the first day, a male wandered on to the wrong side of the garden and saw me in my bedroom, thankfully clothed. Needless to say, this was distracting, though not intentional. It took a day or so for everyone to get used to where the undefined boundaries really were, to avoid each other.

Male helpers would walk through the girls’ quarters frequently through necessity. The layout of this center doesn’t allow for multiple separate entrances to the kitchen. I didn’t find this distracting however. It was noticeable, especially with the male meditators on the 10 day course, that by day 10 many of them were gawking at the girls. But on this very short course of experienced meditators, the atmosphere was much more focused.

Backyard at Dhamma Sukhakari
Back yard walking area.

Walking in the garden was especially awkward, as it wasn’t really big enough for more than a couple of people to move around in without getting in each other’s way. It was cold in January, so this wasn’t much of a problem, with most girls staying indoors wrapped up in blankets.

I feel like as an Old Student (as one is automatically called once completing the 10 day course), the challenges of the center were chances to use the skills I had learned. I do feel like this center would have been too challenging for me as a New Student, and this is perhaps why this center is more focused on 3 Day courses. I felt a sense of claustrophobia and no sense of privacy. I spent much of my down time from meditation observing these feelings as sankaras.

The constant distraction made it feel difficult for me to get back to the level of focus I had attained on the 10 day course, and by day 2, this was bothering me. I was also having a hard time with the heat. The heaters in the center were all cranked up full blast, and sleeping in the top bunk, with up facing heat fans blowing on you, isn’t a pleasant experience, even when it is cold outside. I’m usually someone who runs cold, and had expected to be chilly on this course, bringing only warm clothes to sleep and meditate in, given the weather and British tendency to only use the least amount of energy possible to take the edge off. By the middle of the first night, I was burning up, sweating and having trouble sleeping.

I tend to get insomnia anyway and am a very light sleeper. My bunk mates were heavy sleepers who snored, but would wake up numerous times throughout the night to pee, then fall right back asleep. This led to me being woken up constantly through the night, taking a long time to fall asleep again, only to be woken at 4am with the morning bell. I was very grumpy.

By Saturday lunch time I was sleep deprived and overheated. Every time I closed my eyes, I would fall asleep. Every time I tried to sleep, I would be woken up. Every time I opened the window to get some relief from the hot air trapped in my top bunk, a girl from the bottom bunk would close it. I was frustrated and exhausted. Unable to express in any form of communication how hot it was on the top bunk, made it impossible to make her understand that my situation was unlivable. I had however noticed that the girl on the other top bunk was similarly hot, as she too would open the window every time it was closed. Knowing that I wasn’t the only one suffering did help, but didn’t fix the situation.

During morning meditation on Saturday, I had to leave the meditation hall to remove clothes, as I felt like I was going to pass out. By this time, I was very disappointed and frustrated that my experience wasn’t going as planned. Vipassana rules include not being allowed to wear revealing clothes, including sleeveless tops, vests, shorts, leggings etc. I felt trapped in the heat, and this created its own additional heat in the form of anger and frustration. By lunch time, I seriously considered packing up and leaving. I sat alone outside in the freezing cold for over an hour contemplating my situation and cooling off my body temperature.

While sitting there, I realized that this experience was part of a sankhara I needed to address. I had started to become angry and had started deflecting that anger on to the girl on the bottom bunk, blaming her for my situation. It wasn’t her fault. She didn’t know what it was like on the top bunk, and we couldn’t talk to each other. It also wasn’t anyone else’s fault that I have a problem sleeping and wake up at the smallest whisper or movement. So I sat there in my anger trying to understand it and let it pass. S. N. Goenka often talks about anicca – pronounced “Aniture”, the concept of everything changing constantly. Each moment, each feeling, each experience passes and is replaced by another. We crave the good sensations and try to avoid the bad ones. When things don’t go our way, we get sad, angry, remorseful, fearful. I focused on this philosophy and sat there feeling my body cool down in the freezing air.

It was then that I realized that I was experiencing the same exact sankhara I had visited during my 10 day course. I had been uncomfortable and frustrated, and deflected that anger on to the girl sitting in front of me. On that occasion, it took me 4 days to realize everything I was experiencing was of my own design. It was a real revelation for me, and practicing Vipassana has allowed me to understand and break this habit without internalizing my anger in an unhealthy way. However, it is a lifelong habit and a hard sankara to dissolve. So once again, here I was, surfacing the sankhara again. To my credit, I didn’t get anywhere near as mad as I did on the 10 Day course, and I recognized my frustrations and anger for what they were within hours. That’s a massive improvement by my math!

S. N. Goenka
S. N. Goenka

Of course, as we sat down on Saturday night for S. N. Goenka’s evening discourse, things became very clear. He talked about expectations during Vispassana. He explained that chasing the feelings you achieve during deep meditation take away from the goal and impact of the meditation, and that to do that means that you aren’t practicing Vipassana. To have expectations is to misunderstand Vipassana and leads to incorrect practice and frustration.

The technique of Vipassana is to observe one’s sensation with equanimity. To acknowledge the sensation, understand that it isn’t permanent, and observe it going away. Not to crave the sensation. Not to avoid it. Just observe it.

By observing and understanding every sensation and treating each with equanimity, you can break the cycle of blindly reacting to the sensation. A situation that causes both yourself and others to suffer by your actions.

Goenka explained that if you spent the entire course observing your inability to focus, found nothing but blockages and couldn’t manage to even observe any anapana* meditation, yet alone a sequence of Vipassana meditation, as long as you observed these facts with equanimity, you had successfully practiced Vipassana. If you observed these failures and reacted negativity to them, but then noticed this and observed the sensations, you had practiced Vipassana and perhaps even uncovered a sankhara. However, if you considered your experience a failure because you hadn’t achieved the clarity of mind you once had in a previous course, you had missed the entire point of Vipassana.

(* S. N. Goenka guiding a mini anapana meditation)

The point of Vipassana is to notice sensations, understand that they are not permanent, observe them, understand anicca and thus remain equanimous towards the sensations. In doing this, you can break the cycle of misery caused from craving or averting sensations, and become happier and more present.

Some days you will have amazing clarity, alertness and feel a sense of progress with your meditation. Other days you will feel sluggish, blocked and will be unable to focus. Other days you will roller-coaster between clarity and fogginess. None of it matters. Each time you observe the sensations you are feeling, you are practicing Vipassana, and you have been successful.

We are the sum of our parts and to ignore or avoid part of yourself, whilst focusing and craving on other parts of yourself is to create imbalance and unhealthy dependence on something; akin to a junkie trying to get a fix. Vipassana in my mind teaches me to recognize this pattern of craving and aversion and catch myself reacting to it in order to retrain my bad habits. When I say bad habits, I’m talking about negative thoughts, knee jerk reactions, anger, fears and sadness, but also attachments to love, happiness, exhilaration and other enjoyable sensations. Coveting the good sensations only leads to disappointment and upset. Equanimity enables you to walk day to day experiencing the present moment for what it is, whether it is happy, sad, good or bad.

Being present is the purpose of many types of meditation. However with Vipassana, I have found that presence is more attainable and more of a practical goal, less of a philosophy or mystical state of being.

For me Vipassana makes perfect sense. It allows me to develop as a human being and takes the mystery out of being present, having successful meditation sessions and what that really means. I highly recommend giving Vipassana a shot if you’ve never tried it. It is a big commitment to take 10 days of your life to dedicate to this. But I assure you that for everyone I’ve met who practices it, the benefits far outweigh that of any vacation, spa membership, yoga retreat, therapy or drug. If you can manage it, it will change your life for the better.

As for the Dhamma Sukharkari center in Saxmundham, I would take this course again, this time with no expectations. The center has everything you need. It is clean, well stocked and despite being in the center of a residential neighborhood, is surprisingly quiet. The center is a challenge for sure, but overcoming those challenges makes for a great experience in learning about oneself. I definitely got what I needed out of the course, and I expect if I do it again, new and different experiences await me.

Aside:

If you have an experience with Vipassana, I’d love to read your comments here. If you want to learn more, I’d be happy to try and answer your basic questions or refer you to the proper resources to guide you further. (Since I am not trained to school the practice and am still in the early stages of my own journey, I can’t answer questions that don’t relate to my personal experience, and wouldn’t want to misguide anyone by attempting to teach this practice.) 

For more information, check out the Vipassana website where there is constantly updated information on courses, educational materials and ways to contribute to the centers. Vipassana centers are 100% funded on donations. Even the staff donate their time. Vipassana courses are free, including board and food. You are encouraged to donate time in service to help others, but it isn’t mandatory. You can also give by signing up for amazonSmile, where amazon donates to a charity of your choice based on purchases you make. You can also donate services if you are in a profession needed to maintain, promote or manage the centers. Donations are not accepted from anyone who has not taken the course.

 

Vegan Asian Noodle Soup

This is a fusion recipe inspired by my love of Singapore Rice Noodles, Pho, Miso and stir fried veggies. Add egg if you aren’t Vegan, and meat if you aren’t Vegetarian at all. Substitute the rice noodles for Ramen if you like too. Play with the soup stock based on your tastes. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • Singapore Rice Noodles (fresh or dried)
  • 1 onion
  • Sprouting broccoli
  • Fried tofu
  • Miso stock or vegetarian soup stock
  • Soy Sauce
  • Ground Pepper
  • Water
  • Sesame Oil
  • Chili Sauce (optional)

Instructions:

Boil noodles for 1-2 minutes. They really don’t need long. So don’t walk away from them. Add Miso/vegetable stock to the water to taste.

Stir fry the chopped onion in oil, adding in broccoli and tofu. Splash with soy sauce and a little water to avoid burning without adding too much oil.

Serve noodles and stirfry in a large bowl. Add more soy sauce, pepper and chili sauce to taste.

Tips:

Buy fried tofu in an Asian fresh market. If you can’t get hold of it, you can use regular tofu from the grocery store. It has a different flavor and texture, but still makes a wonderful soup.

If you aren’t likely to use a lot of Miso stock for all your cooking needs, a way to cheaply and quickly make a batch of this soup without wasting money, is to use a cup-of-soup single serving packet instead. Here’s an Organic Miso Soup in a cup from Tesco, UK.