Why You MUST Follow Your Heart

Poem

 

Va’ dove ti porta il cuore was an award-winning Italian novel in the nineties , written by Susanna Tamaro.  The title means “Go where your heart takes you.” The book recounts the story of a dying grandmother who writes a diary for her granddaughter about the only truth that spans both generations and time: No matter what the consequences, we must all summon up the courage to break out of the mold and follow our hearts.For that is where love and true freedom can be found.  In the confines of our typical daily structure, we sometimes forget there is a greater truth that calls to us. It is a Truth that reveals itself to us when we dream, create, explore, and let our hearts take us to where we really need to be. That is what a genuine and HOLY life is all about, to me. I believe that the purest voice  in our hearts echos the voice of God within us.
This piece of notebook paper contains one of my daughter’s grade school poems. When I was a doctoral student and our three kids were quite young, my husband would love to gather them up in his old car on Saturday and go for a long surprise adventure. There was no pre-determined route, no “must-see”. destination. He loved to go by instinct—no structure, no rules , but a simple quest to let life amaze them. Discovering new places admittedly took some time, and what kid likes to sit in a car for more than 2 minutes? Well, the weekend was a great opportunity to let me study and for him spend some cool father-time with the kids he cherished more than anything in the world. Our daughter would protest sometimes when Dad called everyone to the car. “Not another wild goose chase!” she would exclaim. But as much as she may have complained, we both knew that had he left without her, she would have been upset and felt excluded. Inevitably, once they’d all get going, she got hooked on the exploration as much as the boys did. I recently found proof of this, as I was going through my important papers. Amongst them, a poem which our daughter wrote years ago, for her grade school class assignment; something that even left her teacher in awe. To this day, the words on this simple piece of notebook paper comprise one of my greatest treasures in life. It is a child’s understanding of the real lesson her father was teaching her by example: the importance of making time to go where your heart leads you. Her poem went like this:

Wild Goose Chase

Driving through the Catskills
In Dad’s old moldy car
We’ve been driving for eternity
But we didn’t go too far

We saw a bunch of roadkill
Crunch before the wheels
Dad’s not looking where he’s going
Drives over whatever he feels

Is it morning or noon? We asked ourselves
As we drove along route 9
We’ve been in this car so darn long
We’d lost our sense of time

We’d stop somewhere every once in a while
At a mountain, brook, or someplace.
So Thomas could go fishing
Almost hooked himself in the face.

Even though I complain a real lot
There’s no place that I’d rather be
‘Cause happiness is going on adventures with Dad
Driving somewhere, going nowhere, being Free.

 

As in the book “Va’ dove ti porta il cuore” , the courage to follow your heart is where true freedom is found. And there is no greater destination than that.

Passion, Creativity, and The Day Job

Radio Board WNHU

We hear it all the time: Follow your passion and you will earn a living beyond your expectations. I am about to clarify that cliché’ by sharing what I have learned from my Italian family; which may help guide YOUR life, too.

Let’s first distinguish passion from creativity. Sometimes they go hand-in-hand, but they don’t always have to.  I am no different from the Italians I come from. I have a passion for life and a need to express my creativity—in my case through my writings and radio broadcasts.  In fact radio is something I have loved since childhood. It began as a passion and eventually I had an opportunity to express my creativity through this same medium.  I get up at 4 AM on Mondays to be able to broadcast a 7AM show. You may think I’m crazy to do this as a volunteer. I know that making a decent living in radio is like finding a needle in a haystack. I broadcast anyway, and make my living in research. Why? Because every time I put my heart and soul into delivering a great show, it charges me up, gives me a sense of accomplishment, and increases my zest for living in general. I work at my research day job with even more fervor as a result of having realized my creative expressions too.

My grandfather Domenico—would probably have been a full time singer. But the reality was, he owned a little shoe shop which blessed him with a way to support his family. So he sang as he repaired shoes (or anywhere else he could, when the spirit moved him). I would barely get past the first note on the piano, when I would notice him crooning by my side.

Antonio, who is a maestro at the concertina (a little accordion-like instrument), works enthusiastically on the family farm in Italy, and plays his music joyfully and passionately after dinner at most all family gatherings.

Giuseppe, a brilliant artist, would be in his Calabrian studio day and night, enveloped by his easel, paints, and the atmosphere of creativity. He still does this, but around his day job, where he teaches art in an Italian middle school. He has developed a passion for helping young people learn some of the techniques and theories in his realm of expertise, but when he returns, his  “off time” is reserved for his god-given creative endeavors in the context of his studio.

Passion and creativity often go hand in hand, but don’t have to. That is a misconception many people have.  People feel frustrated if they are not offered a well-paying job in their area of creativity. That should never mean the end of creative time, however. Creative time is food for the Soul. Depriving yourself of it, will starve your spirit.

The fact is, if you are able to make a living you are already blessed. You are one of the lucky ones not to have to worry about health insurance, paying bills, buying your kid a new coat, etc.  You can still love your day job even if it is outside of the area of your unique creative genius.  Earning a steady living, actually frees up the kind of mental and spiritual energy that ignites even more creativity. It is easy to develop passion for any work you do, as long as you reserve a place for creativity and give it a regular, sacred, and non-negotiable place in your life.

Like nonno,  I feel blessed to have a great day job. I pour my passion into doing the best work I can do at my research projects, and challenge myself to do continually better at whatever tasks I work on. Then I spend my free time writing or broadcasting to help others, by sharing my psychology training and expertise in these more creative ways. My family members and I are definitely of the same cloth, and we would not have it any other way.

We can all develop passion for the practical side of making a living, even if it does not involve your personal creative juices 100% of the time. Domenico felt blessed every day that he was able to work, and loved the people who came to his shoe shop so much, that he often gave shoes away to those who needed but couldn’t afford them. He was passionate about what he accomplished as an immigrant turned small business owner.  And he kept his creative passion for singing and felt not one bit slighted by life.

I hear many people complain that they hate their jobs. We can all develop a passion for accomplishment in the context of our day to day jobs, however. If we don’t find ways to be enthusiastic about how we spend the minutes, hours, and days of our lives, then we disrespect the precious time we were given to live. EVERY day is a gift and should be approached as one, no matter what we put our time and energy into—we should do it all to the best of our ability and with passion. Bless the fact that you have a way to make a living, and strive to get better every day at what you do. Make a point of shining wherever you are and you will feel like the luckiest person in the world. You will feel more fortunate still, if you continue to make creative expression another regular part of your life, and find a way to share your gifts with the world.

What is YOUR creative talent? I’d love to hear about your gifts!

Traditional Italian Cooking: Here’s to Your Health!

gREENS

An article published in the Corriere della Sera this past week reported that The Italian Mediterranean diet was recently put to one of the most rigorous scientific tests ever. Italian researchers from the Istituto nazionale dei tumori IRCCS di Milano, led by Dr. Franco Berrino examined 47 thousand participants with respect to their risk of colon and rectal cancer. This was the largest European study to examine the relationship between eating and cancer. Participants were followed for 11 years, and those following the classic Italian Mediterranean way of eating (vegetables, fruits, legumes, olive oil, fish, greens, etc) were found to reduce their risk of colon cancer by 46% and rectal cancer by 59%.

Unfortunately, Italians, have been slowly gravitating away from their own traditions. Journalist Luciano Benedetti observed that Southern Italy—where the Mediterranean way of eating originated, may be the worst offender in leaving their own healthy alimentation behind. Sicily’s consumption of red meats and fatty foods, for example,  have soared.  Perhaps they could use the return to simple Italian traditions I advocate in my books: a reminder that while progress is important, there is also deep value in the healthier treasures of tradtion.

I love to cook the way my Italian family has always cooked. For me, cooking is more than just a way to come up with some “grub”; it is a holistic experience, as well as an embrace from the people in my past. I love to surround myself with beautiful Italian music and perhaps a great glass of Montepulciano, as I work with the life –giving freshness of gorgeous greens, red and white legumes, juicy red tomatoes, deep auburgine eggplant, fragrant parsley, basil and garlic—and of course a bottle of extra virgin olive oil.  I place a few objects of beauty around me as  I cook (in this photo a hand-woven basket from my zia Cristina of Castelpagano and in it a plant from my dear friend Susan, and sometimes, if I am lucky, I can get a family member or friend to cook along with me. I love the finished product because I know it optimizes good health for me and those whom I feed. The aroma fills my kitchen with the welcoming sensations of  love and good cheer.

It doesn’t take fancy cookbooks (in fact my grandmother Angelina—probably the best cook of all times in my opinion—never had a cookbook in her kitchen!), or studied talent. Instead, cooking the Mediterranean way takes a willingness to become one with the experience of cooking for health, cooking with love, and viewing cooking as a tribute to the solid foundations laid down for us through tradition.

Let this January be the month you get back to healthy eating. Gradually increase the time you spend making good food at home as you decrease the number of times you whip through a drive-thru. Experiment with new Mediterranean recipes and make the entire event enjoyable  from preparation to consumption. Add ambience with some beautiful music (Gianni Morandim, Il Volo, Il Divo—there are so many great songs to choose from) and some of your favorite family heirlooms surrounding you. Invite a friend or two over to cook with you if you choose.  Notice how much better you begin to feel physically, and the sense of satisfaction  you gain for having taken the time and energy to make  your health a priority.

You can start with this delicious simple greens recipe from my father, Marino (note : those on blood thinners or with certain medical conditions should always check with their physicians about eating greens). It is simple, basic, quick, and nutritious. Buon appetito!

Marino D’Agostino’s  Simple Greens and Beans:

(makes 4 side dish servings or 2 main meal servings.)

This makes a wonderful side dish to a small slice of poached fish or lean meat, or you can eat it as a healthy main dish with a slice of crusty whole grain Italian bread and a glass of wine (doctor permitting!). Enjoy.

Ingredients:

1.       Bunch kale (or other organic greens).

2.      2 tblspoons extra virgin olive oil

3.      Dash crushed red pepper flakes

4.       Cloves garlic, minced

5.      1 can red kidney beans or white canellini beans (rinsed and drained)

6.      Salt and pepper to taste.

 

Procedure:

  1. Trip and thoroughly wash greens. I like to tear greens into bite sized pieces and place in a big bowl of cold water with a drop of vinegar. Pick up the greens with your hand so that any sand stays on the bottom of the bowl. Place in a colander and re-rinse each leaf, to make sure there is no remaining sand on the greens.
  2. Place greens for one minute into a pot of salted boil water, then remove, and lay out to dry.
  3. Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes. When garlic just starts to turn golden add the dampened greens.
  4. Stir greens until just wilted.
  5. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Greens2