Book Inspiration: Enjoy Every Sandwich

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Enjoy Every Sandwich
Lee Lipsenthal, M.D.
MJF Books, New York

I’ll admit, I skipped ahead to find out whether author Lee Lipsenthal, M.D., was still alive. (He isn’t.) It put a different, more urgent, glaze on his words, reading his account of his battle with esophageal cancer. Throughout the book, Lipsenthal bravely faces his diagnosis, detailing for the reader the ways he is able reconcile in his mind the idea of dying.

A student of ‘appreciating the simple things’ myself, I had hoped for a more novel, more direct, more groundbreaking lesson in this book, but it fell slightly short. Instead, Lipsenthal reaffirms (from the valley of the shadow of death itself) the importance of ‘living fully,’ without explicitly noting how to do so.

He first mentions practicing gratitude as a means of “savouring this sandwich of life” (pg. 30). Indeed, it is easier to let go of something when you feel you have appreciated and experienced it fully.

“If I looked for fun, joy, and playfulness, I would find fun, joy, and playfulness,” he writes. “If I looked for trouble, stress, and heartache, that was what I would find…” (pg. 48). This reminds me of metta practice: to consciously put aside negative thoughts and feelings, and focus on the positive, on the love. It’s a technique I value, and can attest to its effectiveness.

Lipsenthal also notes that he chose find “acceptance of the stressors of life as part of life,” and in that acceptance, he writes, “I found peace” (pg. 48). Acceptance: a cornerstone of mindfulness.

The author’s belief in past lives, and the possibility of rebirth, is for him a further aspect of making peace with his death: “Knowing this may not be our last sandwich helps us not to regret that with each bite the sandwich slowly disappears” (pg. 76).

Throughout, Lipsenthal drives home importance of finding meaning in all aspects of life, even the mundane, or as he writes, in “enjoying every sandwich”.

The book includes some lovely quotes from great thinkers:

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” – Mark Twain

“Even death is not to be feared by one who has lived wisely.” – Buddha

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein
(Clearly Al was never a homemaker. I can appreciate the sentiment, but I’m going to be honest: the only miracle going on in my household some days is the fact that I manage to keep everyone alive. That’s all.)

My favourite take-away from this book is a poignant teaching that Lipsenthal borrows, a Native American expression sometimes used in battle, that (more effectively) echoes the author’s message: “Today is a good day to die.” Readiness for death to me signals a life fully appreciated, and brings to mind for me the Buddhist meditation on the awareness of death. We must live fully, and mindfully, so that when it comes to die we will not feel that we have not lived.

I’ve never felt comfortable about the idea of a “bucket list”… but perhaps a “sandwich list” is in order.

Future Planning in the Present

It’s been a lot of vacation prep in our household lately. Is there any possible way to stay present while flying through the purgatory that is packing, to-do listing, and shopping?

Daydreams of the impending vacation are so beguiling, it’s easy to let my mind wander and not even notice the hours – and days – pass by. Truly, last week it occurred to me that several days of our vacation time had already vanished while I barely noticed, swept away by errands and trip planning.

How sad! For months I’ve been looking forward to the time my husband has off of work, our few short weeks of family time together. Yet we had floated through several days, just focusing on the fun times (what I was looking at as our ‘real family time’) to come.

So I’ve been thinking about this paradox: How do you stay present while preparing for the future? There are times when future planning is necessary, and it’s no crime to look ahead, right?

The key, of course, must be staying mindful in whatever it is you are doing right now (even if that’s booking a trip for later), taking each task as it comes, and staying grounded in your physical body and surroundings.

For me, list-making is critical: emptying my brain of the multitude of notes and ideas floating around so I can stop trying to remember everything at once and focus more directly on what’s in front of me.

After that, it’s all about reminding myself that this is the destination, and savouring the small pleasures.

On vacation, every day is like a weekend, and there is no better feeling in the world to me than waking up with my husband and our (cosleeping) baby boy, with our daughter soon to follow. Such luxury!

So, even on our busiest days, I have started reminding myself to savour this time. The slow-out-of-bed mornings. The relaxed bed times. The meal times together (even if it’s just a quick breakfast as we all set out to do bigger things). I’ve started pausing to really savour the feeling of being together, watching my kids as they laugh, and enjoying the moments when I can sit back and let my husband clean up the mess.😉

So Many Fresh Starts

I’ve got two beautiful children, this I know. But yesterday the universe replaced them with a snarky, back-talking 5-year old, and a cranky 15-month old hypnophobic with very long finger nails.

I typically have a lot of patience, but once I’ve been clawed in the face repeatedly and reached peak frustration, I find that I can’t bring myself back down to calm very quickly or easily. Like a pot of water that has reached boiling point, and then takes a long time to cool back down to room temperature. Instead, the water remains quite hot, and therefore takes a lot less time to reach boiling again if put back on the burner. And yesterday my kids turned up my burner again and again and again.

In the afternoon, we had finally organized ourselves enough to get out to the store, and were driving happily in our car, singing songs, and generally getting along, and I was thinking ‘this is a good moment!’ Until it wasn’t. One of the kids hurt/annoyed the other, and they both started up at each other. It took only a millisecond for me to shout at them: “You guys are driving me absolutely crazy! Today is impossible! I’ve had enough!”

I was struck by the extreme contrast. Things had been fine – I had actually taken note of the particularly good moment – and then things were impossible. Of course, since my temperature was already raised, it took so little for me to lose it. I was harbouring so much anger from all the earlier frustrations, a situation I would normally handle rather calmly instead turned into a storm.

I recognized that I was shouting at them for something that wouldn’t normally warrant more than a word. It wasn’t fair. They deserved not to be held guilty for all the cumulative actions of the day, but just the actions in that moment. A fresh start.

When I really thought about it, I recognized how many times I do this in life, in all my relationships. When people wrong me, or disappoint me, I’m not sure whether I wipe the slate entirely clean. But why would I hold those previous actions against someone? I’m certainly more than the sum total of all of my mistakes in life.

There are so many opportunities for fresh starts.

Every day. Every moment.

Book Inspiration: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

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I am inspired!

A friend recently gave me a copy of Marie Kondo’s “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” and I can already see how it’s changed the way I think about my home, and my possessions. How have I been so mindless about my clutter all this time?

Kondo encourages us to clean and organize by first discarding a large proportion of our belongings, and then choosing a place for each item.

To determine which things to keep, Kondo asserts that we should take each item in our hands, one at a time, and ask ourselves whether that particular item sparks joy for us, discarding anything that does not.

In this way, Kondo says, we surround ourselves with only the items we love the very most.

“When your room is clean and uncluttered, you have no choice but to examine your inner state. You can see any issues you have been avoiding and are forced to deal with them. From the moment you start tidying, you will be compelled to reset your life. As a result, your life will start to change. That’s why the task of putting your house in order should be done quickly. It allows you to confront the issues that are really important. Tidying is just a tool, not the final destination. The true goal should be to establish the lifestyle you want most once your house has been put in order.” (pg. 21)

Kondo’s is a fairly ruthless system, suggesting that we should let go of many things. But I am attracted to her philosophy. It has forced me to consider how many items I hold onto mindlessly, even though so much has become redundant or useless, or gone out of style. How many things do I hold onto simply because it’s always been there? Or because it was a gift (guilt/obligation)? Or because the thing I really wanted wasn’t available?

Then, there are the many other items I hold onto because I am sentimental, or believe I will use it someday… but mainly, they just gather dust in my cupboard. Kondo hits the nail on the head:  “But when we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.” (pg. 181)

This morning as I was putting away the laundry, it occurred to me how many items of clothing I own that I don’t really love. Immediately, I emptied my sock drawer, selected my favourite pairs, and discarded the rest (into a donation bin).

It felt so good.

But the best part is knowing that the next time I open my drawer to choose socks, the decision will be easy. I won’t be wading through my collection to find one I like. They’re all favourites, and after thinning my collection of stocks, I can see each and every pair easily.

I’ve already moved on to other clothes too.

I’m feeling so motivated about my new summer vacation project! This book is a great, mindful read.

Still Mindful

I haven’t been posting as much in recent weeks because my work has been focused on another exciting project. I certainly notice when I haven’t made the time to breathe. I’m less patient, more scattered. But the beautiful part is that my ‘training’ doesn’t leave me: without effort, even in the midst of chaotic days and weeks, I tune in easily, and appreciate the small things as they are happening.

A quiet meal with my kids.

A simple walk to school.

Tea by the beach with a friend.

A napping baby on my chest.

There is nothing more important than where I am right now.

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Stop to Smell the Dandelions

We were driving home from a birthday party this hot Sunday afternoon, sweaty and sticky, with a frustrated toddler in the backseat, when I spied a little secret garden of dandelions along the roadside in their glorious “wishing” prime.

It had been a weekend of projects, social gatherings, long conversations, big decisions, errands and commitments. I felt the self-imposed pressure of getting home for dinner, baths, and bedtime routine. We were all tired. There was a good chance Arlo would lose his mind at being removed and then replaced into the car seat…
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But there were just so many wishes to be wished.

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And it was a pure magic.

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Always choose the wishes.