You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
- Mary Oliver
I teach a weekly mindfulness class at my practicum site to patients suffering from chronic pain. I'm also finally taking an 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class myself right now so mindfulness has been on mind a lot recently.
I teach my class every week and wonder how I will attempt to articulate to my patients that instead of ignoring, fighting, or trying to fix their pain they should actually sit with and attune to their pain. Creating some space and acceptance for their pain and their experience of it. I tell patients this and I get a lot of looks from people who think I must be out of my mind because why on earth would they want to be with pain? This becomes even more uncomfortable coming from someone who doesn't truly get what it's like to live with chronic pain. How easy it is for me to teach when I don't truly understand.
Then, this week I was personally struggling with anxiety so consuming it felt debilitating. And for the first time came to understand Mary Oliver's famous Wild Geese poem that I must have heard a thousand times but never really understood. The poem says that despite our suffering, the world lends itself to us, moment by moment. All we have to do is open our senses and plug into it.
My work this week has been to stay will my anxiety, to watch it wash over me like a wave with a rip current so strong it threatens to pull me under. To sit with it, and notice how intense and consuming it feels in my body. To be with it's intricacies. Pema Chodron talks about how quick we are to pull away from our heavy experiences. She uses the metaphor of staying with the experience, taking off our shoes and coat and walking around in our experience for a while, getting to know it more intimately.
To watch as this anxiety rushes through me, and stay with the experience of it until it dissipates or evolves into something else. And it will. It will change and evolve, it will become manageable. And then it will probably come back again. And the closer I can stay to the experience of it all, the sooner it will pass. And although my anxiety is undoubtedly much different than living with chronic pain, I feel that it has helped me connect more deeply to the patients I work with. It has reminded me on my bike rides to work that the world offers itself to me through the changing leaves on the trees in lincoln park and the reflection of the cars on lakeshore drive on the glassy water. It reminds me through my dog's adorable way of nuzzling her head against my chest when she knows I really need it. It reminds me through the crisp air that makes contact with my skin as I feel the seasons change. It reminds me through my intimate connection to the saving grace that is my breath, that is there for me to use it at any second of any day. The world around us is there to support and carry us, should we be brave enough to look outside of ourselves and connect to it.
I feel so strongly about this work. I feel so strongly that by attuning to and being with our experience we can find healing within ourselves. And I'm not sure how all of this relates to these apple bars but I felt the need to share.
This recipe is my mom's. I ate it most Falls growing up. My mom is the type of person who always has at least 5 different types of breads, cookies, and desserts in the freezer or fridge defrosting at any given point. And even though I might have replaced the all purpose flour for oat flour, it still tastes like the original. It's sweet and moist and loaded with apples which is great if you're like me and came home with way too many after a day of apple picking.
3 large (flax or regular) eggs*
1 cup cane sugar
1/4 cup real maple syrup
3/4 cups olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups oat flour (I blended 2 cups old fashioned oats in a blender)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
4 apples (~1.5 pounds), peeled cored and very thinly sliced
Notes: I've made this recipe with both flax and regular eggs. If using flax eggs, combine 3 tablespoons of flax seed meal with 1/2 cup minus 1.5 teaspoons water in a small prep bowl. Stir to combine and let sit while you prepare the other ingredients. Use this mixture in place of the 3 eggs.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and lightly grease a 9x13 inch (or something close) pan.
Combine oat flour, salt, baking soda, and spices in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, sugar, maple syrup, olive oil, and vanilla. Gentle pour the dry ingredients into the wet and stir to combine. Gently fold in the apples. Pour the mixture into the pan and use a spatula to flatten out the top, ensuring that apples are evenly distributed.
Bake for 1 hour - 1 hour and 10 minutes until the top is lightly crisped and browned and a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool, then cut into squares and serve.
These are particularly fantastic server warm with vanilla bean ice cream.