I was listening to an On Being interview the other day with Ellen Langer, a social psychologist who studies mindfulness in its simplest form. She was talking about the mindful practice of language and how changing just one word in your inner dialogue can have a massive effect on your subconscious and overall being. For example, we react completely differently to situations whether the activity we are doing is labeled “work” or “play,” even if it is the same activity. As Langer said, “you change a word or two, here or there, and you get vastly different effects.”
In the conversation, she went deeper into the meaning of the phrase of “being in the present moment” and said something very interesting on the subject:
“I don’t think you can make a decision that “I’m going to be present.” What does that mean? …The people who tell you to meditate, there’s an assumption that over time, that will put you in the present. But if you’re actively noticing things — so you’re going to go home tonight and, if you live with somebody, notice five new things about that person. …what will happen is the person will start to come alive for you again, and that facilitates the relationship…
Mindfulness, for me, is the very simple process of actively noticing new things. When you actively notice new things, that puts you in the present, makes you sensitive to context.”
This got me thinking about all of these catchphrases being thrown around these days: “live in the present,” “be mindful,” “the art of slow living.” While they can be beautiful abstract phrases, putting them into concrete action in our daily lives in order to be useful is not always easy. I was thinking about this specifically in relation to seasonality, since now is a moment when many people are slowing down, getting caught up in winter blues and cold, grey skies. I know how easily that feeling can creep in, making every day feel grim and slightly claustrophobic. Frozen indoors, we can fall into a sedated mentality and (if you’re anything like myself) proceed to to have massive amounts of guilt about your lack of productivity. We are advised to “slow down” and “be mindful.” Lovely in theory, but what do these phrases really mean?
This image of winter “slow-living” is problematic in that it sometimes can be paired with the underlying feeling that nothing is getting done, nothing is happening, life is wasting away into sloth-like winter non-productivity. As Langer pointed out, maybe we just need different words, we need to notice and define more details in what we are doing. Instead of saying winter is slow, winter is cold, winter is a period of darkness or hibernation, what if I renamed it a time of “creative incubation?” A time to sit with my creative self in the quiet, listening closely and letting things naturally meld and ignite into new ideas. I believe this quiet incubation period is always necessary for the creative process and here is a natural season of doing just that- turning inwards, getting cozy with yourself and rubbing some heat onto ideas that may have been sitting at the back of your brain for too long.
I have decided to make these next couple months a period of putting my head down, writing more by hand, testing new recipes and flavors and enjoying languid evenings of reading something inspiring on the couch for at least an hour every day. I’m going to shuffle around those ideas that I’ve had in my head for ages, new projects and choreography, and start to softly form them into something a little more concrete. It is a time to do some inner research. Get those thoughts out onto small and scrappy pieces of paper. Incubate my creative self and notice new things in the process.
Langer’s concept of renaming and noticing as an act of mindfulness is something that I believe can be applied differently to each person. For me, renaming “slowing down” as “creatively incubating” is helpful to my work and how I feel about my work, but what about you? How can you rename the generalizations about this season to be more mindful about your actions? I would love to hear more suggestions.
This same concept can be applied to food and how we enjoy it, can’t it? Instead of telling yourself you are eating a salad, which can often have slightly boring and overly healthy connotations, you can tell yourself that you are about to eat a warmed plate of crisp roasted eggplant, smooth white beans and pops of herby, bright flavor drizzled on top. Notice those yummy details.
This white bean and roasted eggplant salad has it all- as cozy as any salad can get. Little bits of sun-dried tomato and the subtle aroma of roasted garlic twisting its way through the dressing make every bite delicious and intriguing. This could be the perfect starter or appetizer on your thanksgiving table or can be an easy meal-prep lunch throughout the week. If eggplants are impossible to find for you this month (we are lucky in Morocco that they never go out of season), you could absolutely replace it with another roasted vegetable- zucchini, maybe even squash or sweet potato for something a little different. Either way, the dressing is sure to tie it all together and make you coming back for more.
Warm White Bean + Eggplant Salad with Roasted Garlic + Oregano Vinaigrette
Makes about 3-4 servings as a main dish, 6 as a side, vegan + gluten-free
Preheat your oven to 400ºF and toss your cubed eggplant in 3 tbsp of olive oil and a generous sprinkling of salt. Spread this out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and roast for about 40-50 minutes, stirring them around occasionally, until crisp and browned on the outside and soft in the middle. Make the vinaigrette while you wait (recipe below)
In a medium pan, heat the remaining tbsp of olive oil and then sauté the diced shallot until it starts to brown a bit on the edges. Add the white beans and stir just to heat through. In a large bowl, toss together the eggplant, white beans and diced sun dried tomatoes. Add some extra salt and pepper and pour over a couple tablespoons of dressing. Mix together, taste and add more vinaigrette if needed. Serve warmed (or cold if you're in a hurry)
White Bean + Eggplant Salad
- 3 medium eggplants, cubed (about 650g or 1 1/2 lbs)
- 4 tbsp olive oil, divided
- 2 cups cooked white beans
- 1 shallot, diced
- 4 sun dried tomatoes, diced
- salt + pepper to taste
Roast a couple cloves of garlic on the same pan as your eggplant and take them out after about 15-20 minutes. Combine all of the above ingredients (start with one garlic clove) in a blender and mix until smooth. Test the flavor and adjust salt or add more garlic to your taste. If you have leftover dressing, keep in a sealed jar in the fridge.
Roasted Garlic + Oregano Vinaigrette
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp water
- 1 1/2 tsp grainy djon mustard
- 1/4 tsp cumin
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 1-2 cloves of peeled roasted garlic (depends on size/how much garlic flavor you want)
- 1/2 tsp salt