Swinging Pendulums, Finding Center and the Last of Summer Vegetables

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Pendulums. A contraption discovered in 1602 by Galileo Galilei for keeping time. A pendulum consists of a weight suspended from a ring in mid-air so the weight can swing freely in either direction without being interrupted in the center.  Inevitably, if the weight swings to one side, it has to swing to the other, over and over again until gravity forces it to stop in the middle, restoring the weight to a position of equilibrium. However simple it seems, the logic behind this set of actions is complicated, combining force and gravity to create an effect on the weight. I am going to stop here with this explanation, because physics was actually the only class in high school I flat-out failed (followed very closely by calculus, which also plays into the pendulum technology) but know this – the pendulum was the most accurate tool for telling time, over three hundred years of dominance in it’s field, until the 1920’s when the quartz clock was invented, although time pieces with pendulum mechanics were used throughout World War II.

For the past several weeks, I have been a pendulum. Like a weight suspended in mid-air and slightly tipped off-balance, I set myself in motion swinging back and forth freely, through countries and time zones and houses and emotions, desperately searching for a grounding force. Unlike the pendulum, I did not have confidence in gravity. I was not certain there were forces working invisibly to keep me grounded in the center. My conscious self was quite happy swinging from Hilda’s house to the beach to New York, eating and drinking and staying up late with old friends and new ones alike. My conscious self was content with four hours of sleep a night, no yoga, no running, no balance because hey, we have our whole lives for balance. What are a few weeks of fun?

But the thing about pendulums is, eventually, they have to come to a balance in the middle. Whether we (the pendulums and I) want to or not, we have to stop in the center eventually. We have no choice in the matter. For a pendulum the force is gravity. For me, the force is less clear and the only name I can give it is my unconscious willing me to stop, because my conscious self certainly didn’t want to. Why would it? My trip to New York was a riot, full of old friends and new ones, visiting favorite watering holes and restaurants, creating new memories and seeking out new opportunities. In short, it was a blast. Back in Guatemala, who wouldn’t want to tool around with two 19-year-old German kids, drinking and smoking and causing ruckus until all hours of the night, night after night, only to get up early the next day for full days including kickboxing and hiking and Spanish school and new friends and Hilda’s cooking? I will not mention here continual oscillations of the last six months, as the pendulum comparisons stretch from my patio in San Juan all the way to the Empire State Building.

And speaking of San Juan, the house there is where I retreat to to encounter balance. No, not San Juan, Puerto Rico, although I am more than willing to try to find balance there as well if someone is offering a ticket. But this San Juan is a little more geographically desirable at the moment, while my current city of residence is Antigua. The house is in San Juan del Obispo, 15 minutes outside of Antigua by camioneta (chicken bus), with a lush garden, sprawling patios and a large kitchen – the house is my gravitational force, my physical pull to the middle, to a resting state. After I got over the culture shock of returning from New York and came to the harsh realization I am not 19 anymore (a fact I equally welcome and want to tear my hair out over), the only place I wanted to go to recover and reset was San Juan. It was terribly hard to leave Hilda whom I have developed a close friendship with while we giggled bent over the stove and I will miss the fun and action the German kids provided, but the solitude is a small price to pay for reaching the center. I have two weeks here before I am destined to be off again to Antigua, and I plan to make the most of them here. This includes catching up on sleep, cooking, doing yoga, running hills again, cooking, writing, more cooking, and reading.

To the last point, the first thing I do when I arrive back at the San Juan house is pick up this book by Pema Chödrön, Start Where You Are (this is convenient because I am in Guatemala and I need to start to find balance now). The book focuses on guiding the reader to live a mindful and compassionate life. I have tried to read this book for four years now. Every time I pick it up I read a chapter and put it back down again. It is definitely not the kind of read one can casually pick up as one is waiting for their German wards to hurry up so they can all go slam pints at the bar. But Chödrön says the most interesting things in this book, things about life and chaos I had really never fathomed, such as, “The path [of our lives] includes all experience, both serene and chaotic…all is an opportunity for practice”. She goes on to say the first teaching of the Buddha was actually that there will always be suffering, and we need to learn to take in the suffering and use it, learn from it, and move forward with a greater understanding of it. Now partying in New York or dancing my ass off night after night in Antigua is hardly what I would consider suffering (I don’t think hangovers count), but I do consider it chaos and while my initial reaction is to come to San Juan and bury my head in the sand, Chödrön’s point is that reality is a little unrealistic. Because life is full of experiences we can’t control and those that we can and chose the less serene but certainly more fun option, say staying out until six o’clock in the morning the night before your dear friend’s wedding…but we can use those experiences to build greater balance in our lives.

(Cooking for myself again feels darn good…)

So this is my goal now. While I am here I will focus on being serene and focused, but that doesn’t mean when I have to return to the “world” I have to live a life of chaos and poor health. I am using the experiences of “chaos” to inform my quest for balance in San Juan and I will hopefully be able to take the balance I find in San Juan with me out in the world. Here’s hoping anyway.

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Corn, Green Bean and Tomato Salad

Although there really aren’t seasons in Guatemala, I am imagining people living a little further from the equator are seeing a change in the markets and running to use the last of the summer produce. It may be too late to find some of these things at green markets in the east, but if you’re in the mood, make a mad dash for Union Square (or the equivalent farmers market in your town) and give it a go. It’s an easy lunch and would be perfect for a fall picnic in Prospect Park – enjoy!

1  pound green beans, tops removed and rinsed

¾ cup corn kernels cut off the cob

¾ cup diced cucumber

3 roma or medium tomatoes, diced

¼ cup thinly sliced onions

3 tablespoons diced herbs, I used mint, cilantro and basil, but tarragon or dill would also be lovely.

2 tablespoons sherry or champagne vinegar

1 tablespoon good olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine. Let set for 20 minutes before serving.

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