The Journey of Enlightenment by Ann Purcell

The Journey of Enlightenment by Ann Purcell

By Ann Purcell, guest blogger

Many artists get asked the question, “What is your creative process?” I think most artists would say that it just happens and that they don’t have a particular process. Why some people are artists, musicians, writers etc. and others are athletes, business people, social workers etc. is a magical mystery.

I never considered myself a creative person, nor did I grow up in an artistic atmosphere. I was raised near the ocean where outdoor sports was the way of life. I played tennis; my parents were golfers and my brothers surfers. In school, I excelled in sports and did not pursue writing, music or art. Artistic pursuits weren’t even a consideration.

In 1972 I learned the Transcendental Meditation technique. One of the first things I noticed as a result of the practice was that I had all this extra energy, which needed to be directed into some channel. I took up cooking. After about two years I started to hear words and phrases in my head. I began a journal to write down what I was hearing. Sometimes I would write prose and on occasion I wrote a poem. In time poems, or the first couple of lines, began to sound inside my mind.

Soon I started to hear melodies as well. I did not consider myself to be musical. I never even thought of trying out for the school singing groups as I did not have a strong voice. However, I had a passion for listening to music and alone in the car, I would sing away to the songs on the radio. I also listened to my records for hours in my room.

 

What Unleashed My Creativity?

What was happening inside me? Why was I starting to hear and write songs and poems? During my meditations, I experienced a deep level of silence. It was like a crystal, still pond that I could also visually see. I realized I was accessing the source of all sounds, words, and music — the field of infinite creativity. Also, the surface noise in my head — anxiety, pressure from work, to do lists, etc. — was dissolving as stress was released due to the deep rest I gained during TM.

Accessing this field of pure silence twenty minutes twice daily in my TM practice unleashed this flood of creativity. Being clearer headed was allowing me to perceive the stream of creativity that was rising from this very still level within.

 

The Source of All Creativity

In his book, Catching the Big Fish, the great filmmaker David Lynch describes this creative process:

“Here’s how it works: Inside every human being is an ocean of pure, vibrant consciousness. When you “transcend” in Transcendental Meditation you dive down into that ocean of pure consciousness. You splash into it. And it’s bliss. You can vibrate with this bliss. Experiencing pure consciousness enlivens it, expands it. It starts to unfold and grow . . . . You can catch ideas at a deeper level. And creativity really flows. It makes life more like a fantastic game.”

Many artists and musicians describe this effortless experience of creativity in which they feel they are not doing anything and the process of creation is happening by itself.

The following poem called “Am I the Poet?” expresses this effortless flow of creativity.

 

Am I The Poet?

 Am I the poet of this poem

of each expression rising from within?

Silence stirred, an impulse heard

beyond all meter, beyond all word . . .

 

Am I the writer of these lines?

Each phrase appearing on my screen

is just a seed sown for silence to flow

in any way the wind blows . . .

 

Am I the composer of this song

of the sounds of silence singing?

Wholeness bent, on self-intent

for me to be silence’s instrument . . .

Some people are naturally born with specific creative abilities and also seem to have a deep connection to the spring of creativity within themselves. However, I know now first-hand that anyone can develop their creativity if they first tap into the field of silence and infinite creativity by practicing TM.

 

All Life is Creative

Creativity is not just limited to the arts. Mothers have to be resourceful every day in raising children. In business, creativity is the name of the game. Every act of life can be a creative endeavor. The flow of creativity is intensely joyful. If you want to unleash the waves of creativity in your life, dive into the depths of your consciousness to the infinite source of all creativity and you will soon enjoy the effortless flow of a more creative, happier, and fulfilling life.

Ann Purcell is the author of the book The Transcendental Meditation technique and the Journey of Enlightenment. She is a regular contributor to Huffington Post. In addition she is a singer-songwriter and has produced many CDs including her recent release, You’re a Hero— Songs for Children.

 

 

 

 

Friends are asking me to post examples of enlightened leadership from the Ramayana, the ancient Indian epic that is freakily relevant for our times.

The first thing I’d like to share is Rama’s response to a refugee crisis. At this point in the epic, he is about to fight Ravana, the demon king, who not only terrorizes the people but has stolen Rama’s devoted wife Sita. Suddenly, Vibhishina, the brother of the demon king, appears in Rama’s camp seeking refuge.

Although his brother Ravana is a demon, Vibhishina is a high-souled being who has tried to stop his brother from his destructive ways, and has been driven from his own kingdom for speaking up. He has nowhere else to go, plus he wants to help Rama and fight on the side of truth. When Rama consults his ministers, all but the wise Hanuman advise Rama to kill Vibhishana before he kills them.

 

Here is Rama’s enlightened and infinitely compassionate response:

 

“To be true to Dharma [natural law],

to be kind,

to be the knower of truth,

you must give shelter

to one who begs for mercy—

even your own enemy.

Protect him with all your power,

even with your life.

If you do not show mercy,

but allow the one to die

who has thrown himself

at your feet,

then with death he takes

all your good deeds,

leaving behind only

a stony heart.

Thus will I welcome Vibhishina,

thus would I welcome even Ravana,

thus do I welcome all

who seek refuge in me.

Excerpted from The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic—Complete and Comprehensive by Linda Egenes and Kumuda Reddy (Tarcher Perigee, a division of Penguin Random House), 2016. 

 

 

 

 

Categories: book excerpt, Ramayana

Ayurveda and Immunity – Feed Your Child Healthy Fats

(Last in a three-part series on Immunity Boosting Foods)
by Kumuda Reddy, M.D., and Linda Egenes

Super Healthy KidsSome parents are confused about fats, thinking that they should limit fats even in very young children in order to keep their cholesterol down. This can be very damaging to the child, and can even cause “wasting disease.” The brain itself is over half fat by weight. At birth a newborn’s brain contains only 30 percent of the billions of brain cells that it will need as an adult. Your child’s brain acquires 95 percent of its brain cells by age eighteen months—a phenomenal rate of growth.

This shows how essential a diet rich in fat is for the growing infant, and why fat-rich breast milk is perfectly programmed by nature to provide exactly the right kind of fat and the right proportion to fulfill this need. It also shows why infants and toddlers need more fat than adults, with infants twelve months and younger needing half their calories in fat, toddlers from one to three years needing 35 percent of their calories in fat, and from three to six years, 30 percent of their calories in fat. In contrast, adults need less than 30 percent of their diet to contain fat. Thus infants and children under three years of age need high-fat diets to grow properly, and this is best provided through mother’s milk, cow’s milk, and ghee.

Besides feeding your child’s growing brain, fat is essential for building the bones and muscles. Fats help membrane development, cell formation, and cell differentiation. Fat protects against mutations in the cells and contains antioxidants.

But it’s essential to choose healthy fats that do not raise LDL cholesterol or create other imbalances in the body.

Ghee: As we mentioned above, Maharishi Ayurveda recommends ghee as the most healthy and sattvic cooking oil and as a spread to replace butter [see a complete description of the benefits of ghee in part 2 in this series]. Here are some other healthy oils to use.

Olive Oil: Besides ghee, extra-virgin, first cold-pressed olive oil is also recommended. Other types of olive oil are heated, which destroys nutrients and increases free radical content. To prevent free radical damage, olive oil should not be heated above 302 ̊ F when cooking. This is why, in many parts of Italy, olive oil is traditionally added to pasta and vegetables after cooking to flavor the food. Olive oil can be used in bread recipes, as baking only raises the temperature inside the bread to 221 ̊ F. This is low enough to avoid destroying its positive properties.

Extra-virgin, first cold-pressed olive oil is the only commercially produced, mass-marketed oil available that has not had its properties destroyed by heat, chemicals, and refining. One of the advantages of olive oil is that it stores well in a cool, dark place, and does not lose its nutritional properties unless overheated or exposed to light.

Extra-virgin olive oil is especially good for Kapha types, because it is lighter and less fattening than other oils and fats such as ghee. It is a monounsaturated fat, does not raise blood cholesterol, and has been shown to lower cardiovascular risks. Olive oil also tastes good in salad dressings.

Coconut Oil: Although it is a saturated fat, coconut oil has a high flame point and is therefore a good oil for cooking as it does not create free radicals when heated. Coconut oil contains medium-chain fatty acids and triglycerides, which are metabolized differently than other saturated fats and can have therapeutic effects on the brain and nervous system. Its high content of lauric acid also kills harmful bacteria, viruses and fungi.

Other healthy oils: Essential fatty acids are fats that the body cannot produce and must obtain from food. These are essential in the sense that without them, the body cannot function properly. Flaxseed oil, hemp-seed oil, safflower, sunflower, and sesame oils all contain vary- ing amounts of essential fatty acids. However, flaxseed and hemp-seed oils are extremely fragile, and their essential fatty acids are destroyed when exposed to heat, light, or air. They must be stored in the refrigerator, cannot be used at all for cooking, and should be used within three weeks of opening. Flaxseed oil is not recommended in Maharishi Ayurveda because of its heating effect on the liver. Instead, grind fresh golden flaxseed in a spice grinder and add a teaspoon to the food.

Safflower, sunflower, and sesame seed oil are polyunsaturated oils, which are low in cholesterol but create excessive free radicals, which is why they are not often recommended in Maharishi Ayurveda.

Unfortunately, most of the safflower, sunflower, and sesame oils you buy commercially (and even in health food stores) have been prepared using heat, light, harmful solvents, and chemicals, and thus are not nutritionally sound. If you do use them, make sure they are pressed mechanically without heat, light, or chemical processing and are organic and pesticide-free. Because oil becomes rancid easily, oils should be stored in opaque containers in a cool, dark place.

You may be able to find unheated, unrefined, organic oils in your health food store. Check to see if the different oils are all the same color; if so, then they have been over-processed and are harmful to the body. When processed mechanically without heat, chemicals, or light, the oils of different seeds take on different colors and hues.

Canola oil is a monounsaturated fat, but unfortunately, much of it is now genetically engineered and therefore not recommended, especially for children, unless it is organically grown (which means the seeds are not genetically modified) and processed mechanically, without heat.

Whole seeds and nuts: Healthy sources of oils and essential fatty acids for children are whole nuts and seeds. Sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds are delicious, as are blanched almonds, walnuts, and organic soy- beans (in the form of tofu, flour, or oil). They are also a good source of protein. (Cashews tend to be fatty and constipating, and should not be eaten in large quantities. Peanuts are not recommended.) Nuts are more digestible when soaked overnight, then ground and added to dishes.

Vegetables: Dark-green vegetables such as spinach, parsley, and broccoli also contain small quantities of essential fatty acids. Actually, all whole, fresh, unprocessed foods contain some amount of essential fatty acids. Avocados, for instance, are a good source of essential fatty acids. Herbs such as rosemary and thyme also contain essential oils.

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda by Kumuda Reddy, M.D. and Linda Egenes, Maharishi University of Management Press, 2010. 

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda (Part 2 in a Series of 3)

by Kumuda Reddy, M.D., and Linda Egenes

Super Healthy KidsImmunity depends on healthy and vibrant digestion during childhood and beyond. This is a central principle of Maharishi Ayurveda.

The digestive juices are likened to a fire, called agni. In fact, the word agni refers to the sun and fire, and to the digestive and metabolic transformations that take place in the body. Charaka Samhita (an ancient text that expounds the principles of Ayurveda) states that strength, health, and longevity all depend on the power of agni.

Agni also refers to the digestive enzymes and secretions in the stomach and small intestines. Called jatharagni, the main agni, these digestive enzymes and secretions are responsible for breaking down food and turning it into chyle, or nutrient fluid. When jatharagni is healthy and strong, the nutrient fluid is formed correctly and easily reaches the cells to create and nourish healthy tissues.

After the process of digestion breaks down the food you eat into nutrient fluid, the various tissues of the body are metabolized through a series of transformations. These tissues include plasma, hemoglobin, muscle, fat, bone, bone marrow, the central nervous system, and the reproductive tissue including semen and ovum.

The creation of tissue, called dhatu, requires a brightly burning digestive fire, or metabolic process. This is because the dhatus are formed in a sequence, starting with the nutrient fluid in the blood and ending with the reproductive tissue. If there is any block or abnormality at any point in the digestive process, then there will be a weakness in that tissue, and in all the tissues that follow in the chain of transformation.

So you can see how very important a strong digestion is to children, who are growing so rapidly and need to develop healthy blood, bones, organs, and brain. The following chart outlines the seven dhatus with their Sanskrit names.

chart:

The Seven Dhatus (Body Tissues)

Rasa—Blood plasma, chyle, nutrients

Rakta—Blood cells, hemoglobin

Mamsa—Muscle

Meda—Fat and adipose tissue

Asthi—Bone

Majja—Bone marrow and the central nervous system

Shukra—Reproductive tissue, including semen and ovum

This process of forming nutrient fluid into new tissues takes place in the cells—thus agni also resides in each cell. In fact, there is a meta- bolic process (agni) associated with each tissue (dhatu) cell, to trans- form that tissue into the next tissue in the sequence.

Thus rasa agni transforms nutrient fluid (rasa) into blood (rakta).

Once that transformation is complete, rakta agni transforms blood into muscle (mamsa). Mamsa agni transforms muscle into fat, and so on. A disturbance in mamsa agni could cause the muscle to be weak, and because the dhatus are formed in a sequence, all the subsequent

transformations—of fat to bone and bone to bone marrow, and so on—would also be weakened.

In order for the nutrient fluid to be completely healthy, and in order for each dhatu agni to complete its transformation in each cell, the jatharagni, or digestion, must be functioning smoothly. You can see how healthy food and healthy digestion are essential for your child’s blood, muscles, fat, and bone tissues to be properly formed.

Agni also exists in every cell as the metabolic or transforming function, and thus maintains the proper functioning of the RNA and DNA. Agni is responsible for keeping the body’s cellular function vibrant. Each of the billion cells in the body has its own function, its own mechanisms. One may be concerned with seeing, one with hearing, one with digesting. Each organ and each cell has its own mechanisms. And in a healthy child, they’re all vibrant.

Strong Immunity Means Strong Digestion
Toxins in the Digestion

When digestion is weak or irregular, a sticky, toxic, waste product of digestion forms, called ama. Ama is the result of undigested food. It collects in the stomach first, but if it is not eliminated, it can spread to other parts of the body through the nutrient fluid and cause disease.

When digestion is weak and the nutrient fluid does not metabolize properly, it gets mixed with ama. Ama blocks the channels that carry nutrients to the cells, resulting in undernourishment, and if left unchecked, weakness and disease in the tissues. Ama also causes blockage in the channels of circulation and elimination, resulting in fatigue, lack of energy,  lethargy, and a heavy, dull feeling. It can cause the flow of Vata to reverse itself, which results in constipation, indigestion, excessive belching, bloating, gas, heartburn, bad breath, or regurgita- tion of food. In general, ama can cause dullness in the eyes and skin and a dull mind.

Ama creates a fertile environment for bacteria, thus contributing to disease. It also provides a breeding ground for free radicals, the reac- tive oxygen molecules that many scientists believe cause 90 percent of disease.

Signs of a Healthy Digestion

You’ve now seen how a weak digestion can affect your child’s health. On the bright side, a healthy digestion can create a state of health that is so invincible that disease rarely, if ever, happens. When digestion is balanced, the body produces greater quantities of the vital material called ojas. Ojas is the end-product of digestion, the essence of the dhatus, created from the proper transformation of each of the agnis. It is always present in the body, as it resides in the gaps between the body tissues and also in the heart.

The healthier a child is, the more ojas, and vice versa. When ojas is lively, it creates contentment, enthusiasm, vitality, bliss, and clear thinking. It is reflected in a sparkle in the eyes and luster in the skin. You could say that ojas is the material form of bliss in the body. It is also the expression of immunity, or bala. Ojas helps prevent disease and maintains the balance of the doshas and dhatus.

Ojas is the finest material form of consciousness, and exists at the junction point between consciousness and matter. It is similar to bal- anced Kapha dosha in quality: heavy, soft, smooth, thick, sweet, stable, clear, and unctuous.

You can see that ama and ojas are exact opposites. When digestion is balanced, then food gets digested without excess waste, ojas is cre- ated at each transformation, and the tissues are properly nourished and infused with vitality. When digestion is weak, toxins (ama) mix with the nutrient fluid, are transported throughout the body, obstruct the channels, diminish ojas, and create weakened or abnormal tissues.

When immunity is fostered with proper health care, then each cell functions to the best of its capacity. Then there is perfection at the basic level of the cell—perfection in digestion, perfection in metabolism, and perfection in the RNA and DNA. Immunity is at its peak in every cell—whether in the brain, the muscles, or the skin. The immunity and strength in the body create vitality, a happy smile, and the vibrant health of youth. And more importantly, immunity and digestive strength wipe out disease.

This is the primary goal of Maharishi Ayurveda: to create total health in mind, body, and emotions throughout life. You could say that conventional medicine is treating at the level of the wave, while Maharishi Ayurveda treats the level of the deep ocean, at the source.

When immunity is based on the strength of the deep ocean, then germs are like little waves on the surface, and do not pose a problem.

They come and go and are not disturbing. If there is enough bala or immunity in the body, the child doesn’t get the flu so easily. After all, the germs will always be there—whether your child succumbs to the infection or not depends on his immunity. If immunity is strong, various physical, emotional, and environmental changes won’t affect the child’s basic stability and strength.

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda by Kumuda Reddy, M.D. and Linda Egenes, Maharishi University of Management Press, 2010. 

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda (Part 1 in a Series of 3)

by Kumuda Reddy, M.D., and Linda Egenes

Super Healthy KidsAccording to Maharishi Ayurveda, nutrition plays an important role in the developing human immune system. This is especially true during gestation. Undernourished, low- birth-weight babies show persistent immunological impairment for several months, even years.

Food is especially vital for the growing child. Every day your child is building bones, muscles, and brain cells at a rapid rate. Food gets converted into the seven dhatus, (tissues) and becomes the flesh, bones, blood, and muscles of the body. The more fresh the food is, the more consciousness it has, the more quickly it is converted into ojas, the most refined and nourishing product of digestion. And remember, ojas is directly related to immunity. The more wholesome the foods your child eats, the greater his immunity will be.

Because the amount of ojas is directly linked to the level of immunity, offering children ojas-producing foods should be the highest priority for parents. Here are five ways to increase the amount of ojas in your child’s diet to boost immunity.

1. Choose fresh foods.

In order to create ojas, food must be fresh to start with, the fresher the better. In Maharishi Ayurveda, there is the concept of prana or “life force.” Some foods contain more prana than others, and these are the foods that nourish both the body and mind.

Frozen, canned, packaged, and processed food has very little prana, and is therefore difficult to digest. If your child eats a steady diet of these foods, the result will be ama.

As a physician, it is easy for me to see which children are eating fresh, home-cooked meals and which children are eating processed, frozen, or canned foods. Signs of digestive toxic buildup (ama) in children include drowsiness, fatigue, a pale color, and lack of enthusiasm. Children who eat fresh foods tend to have rosy cheeks, sparkling eyes, and buoyant energy, not to mention less sickness and disease. Just by converting your child’s diet to fresh foods, you can increase his health and vitality immeasurably.

Foods that are packaged are not only old and lacking in prana, but they likely have many harmful additives and preservatives. A rule of thumb for choosing food: the more natural, whole, unprocessed, and unadulterated the food is, the healthier it will be for your child.

2. Serve regular meals of warm, cooked food.

Raw food is difficult to digest and can cause a Vata imbalance. Although many people believe that there are more vitamins in raw foods than in cooked ones, the problem is that the raw foods are hard to digest and assimilate. A preliminary study presented at the American Chemical Society showed that the antioxidant beta carotene—which exists in carrots, broccoli, and spinach and has been found to combat tissue damage and plaque in arteries—is absorbed 34 percent more easily in cooked and pureed carrots than in raw ones. The researchers concluded that cooking vegetables softens the plant tissue, allowing antioxidants to be released.

It’s better to serve children warm, delicious, attractive, and whole- some meals that have been cooked by someone who loves them. The warmth is essential for proper digestion, and helps avoid the buildup of ama. Children, being in the Kapha time of life, find warm foods espe- cially soothing and helpful to the digestive process.

Avoid serving your child food straight from the refrigerator. It’s better to serve warm drinks or warm water, fresh-cooked foods, and room- temperature fruits. Fresh salads made with grated carrot, ginger, fresh parsley, and cilantro are fine in small quantities to tone the appetite before the meal, if the child has strong digestion. (Grating makes vegetables more absorbable.)

3. Whenever possible, provide home-cooked meals for your child. There is no better medicine than mother’s home-cooked meals. Just as fresh food has more prana, so does food that is lovingly prepared with- out rushing. And the most important element of food is preparing it with love. As a mother, you put so much love into a meal. The mother’s love is pure ojas to the child. A mother’s food is, for that reason, recognized as the most nourishing in every culture in the world. I’m sure many of you are thinking, “but I don’t have time to cook elaborate meals using all natural ingredients!” Many of you are working mothers, and as a working mother myself, I know how difficult it is to prepare a hot supper after a long day on the job.

I would suggest that you start by adding just one more home-cooked meal a week. If you already cook twice a week, try cooking three times. If you don’t cook at all, try just one meal. Instead of picking up food at a restaurant, instead of popping a frozen pizza in the oven, try to cook a simple meal of fresh vegetables, grains, and legumes.

Then see how your family reacts. Do they appreciate your efforts? Are the children more satisfied, more settled after eating? How do you feel when you eat fresher, more lovingly prepared foods? How do your children feel? Are they more relaxed, more focused?

Then gradually add another home-cooked meal, and another. One thing I know about cooking—the more you do it, the easier it gets. If you just have in your mind that you are committed to cooking more, you will find ways to do it. Once you are committed to the idea, then it just becomes a matter of finding the easiest way to carry out your plan. For instance, you can enlist your older children and husband to help. Some families enjoy cooking together, and make the preparation of meals a family project.

The other problem is school lunches. If your child is eating institutionally prepared meals at school, the fact is that he or she is eating food that is not fresh. It may even be harmful. School cafeterias are notorious for using canned, frozen, and packaged foods, which are often laced with preservatives and other chemicals. Children usually com- plain about such food, calling it all sorts of unpleasant names. Most adults would not eat the food that is served in many school cafeterias.

I am not bringing this problem up to make you feel guilty. I am bringing it up because I know that if parents get passionate enough about something, they can do amazing things. You can band together with other parents and get the food in your child’s cafeteria changed. Or you can try to provide your child with a thermos of nourishing soup or other hot food from home. The main point is to first recognize the problem. The solution will make itself known.

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda by Kumuda Reddy, M.D. and Linda Egenes, Maharishi University of Management Press, 2010. 

BY LINDA EGENES

Buy Visits with The Amish on Amazon Market

The Amish love to farm. “I think I wouldn’t want to be living if I weren’t on a farm,” an Amish teenager once told me. “It’s exciting — there’s always something happening.”

Farming is also a way to keep the family together. When the father works at home, he can take an active role in raising the children, training them in the Amish way of life. 

The Amish believe that farmers live closest to God. “On a farm, you can see that God is in all things that are alive and growing,” explains Leah Peachy, an Amish woman I met in North Carolina.

They are also known to be excellent farmers. Centuries ago, while still in Europe, the Amish were often banned from land ownership and were forced to farm land so poor that no one else wanted it. In order to survive, they experimented with new methods, such as crop rotation. The Old Order Amish today still practice a four-year crop rotation system in Iowa and other states, planting corn for two years, oats for one year, and a hay crop the fourth year.

The Amish feel that they are not the owners of their land. Rather, they are caretakers, entrusted with the use of the soil. they carefully nourish their fields — preferring organic fertilizers such as manure — so that when they retire, the land is as healthy as when they began. If any Amish man damages the soil, he is considered to b3 as sinful as a thief. As a result, Amish farms are extremely fertile and productive.

 

Golden sunlight stretches wide over the Iowa hayfields in early September. At the Yoder farm near Bloomfield, a girl waves a hearty hello.

This is Regina, age 15. Besides household chores, she and her older sister Annie milk their family’s cows and drive a team of horses in the fields.

The girls laugh merrily when they talk. “Some people think we are twins, especially when we dress the sa
me,” says Annie with a laugh. Today they wear identical raspberry-colored dresses, white aprons, and royal blue scarves tied under their chins.

Both say they’d rather spend their day in the fields than inside the house. “I think it’s great fun to work out,” says Regina.

“I feel more free outside,” agrees Annie in her mild way. “Farm-work doesn’t have to be done so fine and neat as needlework.”

Their day starts at 6 a.m., when their father wakes up the eight children who still live at home. Before breakfast, the girls feed the cows while their father and 22-year-old brother, Dan, feed the horses. All four help with the milking, then Dan goes off to work as a carpenter.

The 12 black-and-white spotted Holsteins all look identical to me, but the girls befriended Jody, Joline, Vera, Abby, Shirley, Tina, Sheila, Fannie, and Pam when they were calves and call each one by name. Honey Lou and Sunny Sue, two fawn-colored Jerseys munching on hay in the corner, complete their herd.

Do the cows ever kick?

“Some people’s cows do kick, but ours don’t,” says Regina. “If they start to kick, we give them a little slap and they learn they can’t do that.” Hobbles — clamps that gently draw the cow’s hind legs together just above the knee — keep the cows quiet during milking.

Sometimes the girls do get stepped on, which is not too serious. “It hurts for about five minutes, and that’s all there is to it,” says Regina.

Inside the barn I meet two colts, Dawn and Beauty. Regina pats Beauty on the lips, who bares her teeth in a jack-o’-lantern smile. “I like to tease her,” says Regina mischievously. “She bit me the other day, just to be playful. Boy, did that hurt.”

An immense black stallion stands in the stall across from the colts. “He’s gentle,” Regina reassures me as she strokes his forehead between soft black eyes. “He helps us clean the barn in winter by pulling the manure spreader while we pile it up.”

Suddenly three wide-eyed children appear. Robert, David and Grace, aged seven, 10 and 12, just drove home from their one-room school in an open pony cart. They show me how to hitch it up. Like a well-trained team, Robert and David pull the cart out of the shed while Grace slips the bridle on Midnight, their pony, and backs her in between the cart’s shafts. In one minute, thanks to team – work, it’s ready to go.

Annie takes me for a ride. The wind blows in our faces. Annie likes riding in a cart better than a buggy, she says, “because it’s more open, more free.” We pass the grassy pasture where the Yoders’ cows and horses graze peacefully. With just a slight tug, Midnight turns around.

Back on the farm, I notice the family’s three black, covered buggies stored in an open shed. Annie and Regina have driven their family’s covered buggies to town or to visit friends “since we were big enough to read up and put the bridle on the horse,” says Annie.

The family owns two Standard Bred geldings to pull the buggies and nine big-boned Percheron mares to plow the fields. Both girls love to mow the hay fields with a team of two mares. “If you like horses, you like to do things with them,” says Annie.

“Driving a workhorse is even more fun than driving a gelding, because they’re more powerful,” says Regina. “When you drive a team, you just feel content. Except you have to watch to make sure you’re at the row you should be and the mower doesn’t get jammed up.”

The geldings and massive draft horses are easy to handle and calm, the girls tell me. “We do have one pony that is kind of skittish,” says Regina. “So only Dad or Dan (her older brother) rides him.”

Soon it’s 5 p.m. and time for Regina to round up the horses and cows from the pasture. Barefoot, she rides Midnight without a saddle, because “Dad says it’s more fun to ride bareback.”

The sun slips low on the horizon by the time the cows are in their stalls. In a graceful motion, Annie swings the hobble chain under a cow named Sheila and fastens it just above the knees, drawing them together.

“Usually, you milk cows on the right side,” Annie says. But since Sheila is a two-bucket cow, the girls place their stools on opposite sides of Sheila, clutch shiny metal pails between their legs, and pull the cow’s teats with both hands in brisk rhythm. Frothy milk splashes into the buckets.

“Want to try?” Annie asks. I do, but when I squeeze the cow’s udder, there’s barely a trickle. Annie laughs and makes milk squirt like a faucet.

They like to sing while milking. A plaintive hymn floats in the air, voices clear and sweet, perfectly on key. “There are no shadows without the sunshine. There are no showers when all is fair. And roses blooming in thorny places with sweetest fragrance perfume the air.”

Excerpted from “Visits with the Amish: Impressions of the Plain Life,” re-released by the University of Iowa Press in 2009. Available at Amazon.com and other online bookstores.

(This excerpt originally appeared in Radish Magazine, May 2009. Reprinted with permission.)

 

Categories: Amish, book excerpt, Iowa