A snowy hike below Bear Peak [Boulder, CO]

The trails got deep into my soul today, and wove this little poem through my head as I hiked.

Into the snowy wood

A path of white beneath my feet

Fairy dust falling from the branches of the pines that salute Bear Peak

A flood of bright sunlight glazes the forest

A last uphill push

Before the path wanders back down

The silence broken only by the caw of a bird

And the crunch, crunch as my feet sink into the ski-worn path below my boots

A snowy hike below Bear Peak [Boulder, CO]

Meditating at the summit of Pike's PeakMe, meditating at the summit of Pike’s Peak

I’m a bit of a sucker for Oprah, and especially love when she gets on a spirituality kick. I just think it’s fabulous that she uses her global platform to spread awareness of things of a spiritual nature that others might shy away from. If you haven’t seen the marketing juggernaut already, her new project is in partnership with Deepak Chopra — a free 21 day meditation workshop: Oprah’s Lifeclass® and The Chopra Center 21-Day Meditation Challenge®—Perfect Health.

While I sit with a Zen meditation group once a week, my daily meditation practice is spotty at best. So I signed up for the Oprah and Chopra thing out of curiosity, albeit with low expectations. Reminders (presumably to get me hyped up prior to the official start of the program) were promptly deleted from my inbox, and the Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3 emails sat unread.

Then yesterday, sitting on the couch, having caught up with my Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and RSS feeds  [oh Google Reader how I will miss you *sniff*], and having a little time to kill before yoga, I figured I’d clean out my inbox. After catching up on several adorable videos of my baby niece, I opened the Day 1 Meditation Challenge message, and headphones in, clicked to access the first meditation.

“Welcome everyone, I am so happy you’re joining us for our 21-Day Meditation Challenge — Perfect Health.” Oprah’s voice cuts through the atmospheric music. She follows with one minute introduction of the program, then passes it on to Deepak to provide an abbreviated lesson around an affirmation.

“There exists in every person a place that is free from disease. That never feels pain. That is ageless, and never dies. When we journey to this place, limitations we commonly accept, simply cease to exist. They’re not even a possibility. This is the place called perfect health.” Deepak’s deep voice intones.

He continues, “Stepping into this realm, no matter how brief these visits may be, can bring profound transformation and healing. In this state of true mind-body-spirit connection, all previous assumptions about ordinary existence disappear. And we experience a higher, truly ideal reality. Sometimes our health is less than perfect, but we need to understand that’s not our permanent state, it’s only a snapshot.”

Comparing our state of being to a picture taken on a beach, he reminds us that everything in our life is in constant motion, in a continuous state of change. Just like you can never take the exact same photograph of the beach because the waves are constantly moving, the sands gently shifting, the clouds floating by in different formations, every moment in our life is transitory, ephemeral.

“We are the controllers of our own physiology, and we can take steps to restore our health and vitality.” Dr. Chopra states, eloquently summarizing the findings of research that meditation can retrain our brains and have positive impacts on our physical heath. He then wraps up with an affirmation he suggests we focus on that ties it all together: “I commit to living perfect health.”

The clincher for me though, and the reason I’ll be making these part of my day for the next 21 days, was that before the 8 minute meditation begins, Deepak introduces a mantra applicable to the theme of the day; in this case Om Bhavam Namah. Translatated from Sanskrit, it means “I am absolute existence. I am a field of all possibilities.” Following in the Japa Yoga tradition, Deepak suggests the mantra be repeated silently over and over again in order to help clear and release the mind from other thoughts. After repeating the mantra a few times, Deepak leaves us to focus on the mantra while soft, ambient music plays in the background.

As an adherent of yogic philosophy  I am a strong believer in the power of mantra. While I have the voice of a sick frog, I adore chanting, and feel nowhere more spiritually uplifted than at a kirtan [that's a call-and-response type of chanting for those of you who don't frequent yoga studios]. Raised Catholic, I was always a bit uncomfortable with prayer —  it seemed somehow like conjuring to me — but when I found Sanskrit chanting, I deeply understood that we are all part of something greater than our individual selves.

Now, the marketing folks at Oprah could easily have scrubbed out the Sanskrit in an effort to make this program more mainstream; say, encouraging the listener to repeat the affirmation rather than the mantra. But I love that they didn’t. In incorporating these ancient words, they truly made something more real. Each of these words carries with it a host of vibrations, and as we are made up of vibrating energy, those sounds can have powerful effects on us.

The entire audio for each meditation is just 16 minutes long, making it easy to squeeze into your day. And while the official start of the program was March 11, everything is pre-recorded and available for 10 days after original post, so you can still participate if you haven’t signed up yet.

I’ll be listening and hope you do too. I’d be curious to hear your perspectives if you do participate, so please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Peace, love and light to all.

Three Picture Perfect Salads | countingtheleaves.comYou can’t really mess up a salad. Pull together a bunch of fresh vegetables, maybe a few fruits, and it’s sure to be delicious. While I wouldn’t ordinarily consider a salad to be blog-worthly, recently I’ve made some salads that have just been so photogenic (and fabulously tasty) that I felt the need to publish their pictures and share their ingredient lists with you.

It all started with a Wednesday trip to one of my new favorite local markets, Sprouts. Wednesday is key because on that day Sprouts honors the sale prices from their ad both for the prior and coming weeks. So there is twice as much stuff available at some great low prices. It was produce heaven at prices I haven’t seen in a long while — navel oranges for 10¢ a pound (that would be eight for just 29¢!); red and green bell peppers, and cucumbers 3 for $1; blackberries and grape tomatoes for just 88¢; pints of organic strawberries for $2.50; radishes for 49¢; buy one get one free mixed lettuces. I ended up with a cart full of colorful fruits and vegetables, and the following salads were born.

Note: Ingredient measurements on all salads are approximate for 2 servings, because really, it’s a salad. You don’t need to measure. And feel free to substitute.

Mangia Mango Salad

Unfortunately this first salad didn’t get a photoshoot. A picture was nearly taken as it was well admired by my official taste tester, but when I suggest he Instagram it, he went on a short tirade about how annoyed he gets with people who post pictures of food to my favorite social network. At the time I wasn’t thinking a salad was going to be worth a blog post, so I didn’t snap one either. Nonetheless, it might have been one of my favorites because of the mango. Mango,much like bacon, makes everything better.

  • Earthbound Farm Organic Zen Blend lettuce (baby spinach, Asian mustard greens, kale, chard, mizuna)
  • Cucumber, sliced
  • About 1/3 of a fresh mango, chopped 
  • 2 radishes, thinly sliced and chopped
  • 8 grape tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • 1/2 of a red bell pepper, chopped
  • Leaves from 6 sprigs of cilantro [or more, cilantro is another thing I can never have too much of]
  • Chicken (fresh or pre-cooked frozen strips)
  • Lousiana Fish Fry Cajun seasoning (to taste)
  • Juice from 1/2  lime
  • Newman’s Own Olive Oil and Vinegar dressing [because I haven't been able to make a versatile homemade dressing that beats this yet]

If you are using fresh chicken, sprinkle with some Cajun seasoning and cook that up in a skillet until juices run clear. If using pre-cooked frozen strips, heat them according to package directions after seasoning with the Cajun spice mix to taste. Combine all vegetables, top with chicken and cilantro, then pour the lime juice and salad dressing over top. Enjoy!

Florida Gator Salad

Florida Gator Salad from Three Picture Perfect Salads | countingtheleaves.com
Left: Mise en place for the Florida Gator Salad; Right: Ready to eat

Named in honor of the favorite college football team of the official taste tester, this salad includes the school colors of the University of Florida with Mandarin oranges and blueberries. [Note: Not officially endorsed by the Florida Gators; in fact no doubt I'm violating some trademark or something just calling it that. But hopefully they will just consider it a delicious tribute if they find me.]

  • Earthbound Farm Organic Zen Blend lettuce (baby spinach, Asian mustard greens, kale, chard, mizuna)
  • 1/2 of a red bell pepper, chopped
  • A handful of blueberries
  • About 8 grape tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • 2 radishes, thinly sliced and chopped
  • Leaves from 4 sprigs of cilantro
  • Cucumber, sliced
  • Slices from 2 Mandarian oranges (the cleverly marketed “Cuties“)
  • Chicken (fresh or pre-cooked frozen strips)
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Fresh cracked black pepper
  • Raspberry vinaigrette dressing

If using fresh chicken, season with pepper then cook in a skillet until juices run clear. Drizzle with some balsamic vinegar to taste, then sear for a minute or two to let the vinegar soak in and caramelize a bit. If using pre-cooked frozen strips, heat according to package directions, season with pepper and add some balsamic vinegar in as described above. Combine all vegetables, top with chicken and cilantro, then pour  salad dressing over top. Yum!

Berry Delicious Salad

Berry salad from Three Picture Perfect Salads | countingtheleaves.com

This one was vegetarian (mainly because I ran out of chicken, but either of the above salads would be fabulous without meat too).

  • Earthbound Farm Organic spring mix
  • Romaine lettuce, torn roughly
  • Cucumber, sliced
  • 2 radishes, thinly sliced and chopped
  • About 8 grape tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • 1/2 of a red bell pepper, chopped
  • Several blackberries
  • Slices from 2 Mandarian oranges (“Cuties“)
  • Leaves from 6 sprigs of cilantro
  • Pecan pieces
  • Raspberry vinaigrette dressing

Combine and eat.

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The other day in coffee shop bathroom of all places (but this is Boulder) I saw a great poster which read simply: You should make something. And I thought yes, I should. For a while I mulled over what it was I should be making and how often. A doodle a day? I tried one of those photo-a-day things on Instagram in December and lasted all of three days, so I wasn’t feeling confident that I’d be able to follow through on anything too prescriptive. But giving myself a daily challenge would provide some discipline to my current life sabbatical and encourage more growth and learning while I figure out who I want to be.

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More from me in fact. If you want to hear more from me, more often, in the left sidebar you’ll now see links to both my Instagram and Pinterest pages in addition to Twitter.

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