Metta-for

Hunger is the worst of diseases ~ The Buddha

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Buddhafest: A Festival for Heart + Mind ~ Eating Out-In from The Pantry of Interdependence

Wellbeing is a warrior’s recipe, and it’s not one you can come up with all by yourself from scratch in your own kitchen-mind—no matter how many books you’ve read at the table, podcasts you’ve listened to while stirring away attachments, or hours you’ve logged on the kitchen floor in meditation.
Trust me, I’ve tried. 

Out of all the contemplative cooking methods I know (and there is always some ego involved in our methods), the one that is the most powerful isn’t a method at all; it’s a state of being: Interdependence. 
And for that you have to go out.
Like any recipe, this is a delicate balance--a balance between going out with your heart and staying in with your mind. 

My mind is an unreliable narrator, at best: “I can’t go to BuddhaFest this year, There is so much to DO. I have an herb garden to plant, people; recipes to craft; these dishes are a stupa high and no one is helping me; I’m already helplessly behind for the summer; my butt’s too big for this caftan; just once, could someone NOT leave a light saber or a stuffed animal on my meditation seat?” 

This is just a big etceterut, which you may recognize. The one where your head says, the more I do, by myself,  the more progress I will make. 

The thing with contemplative cooking is that, in the process of kitchen-floor sitting and then using everything that comes your way, you’re always seeing these places in yourself that aren’t cooked yet. 
My mind thinks it can make it go faster by turning up the heat on my practices, on my urgency, but as Ram Dass reminds me, "You can only go at the rate you can go.” 

I am just now coming to understand that he meant at the heart rate you can go.

You see, Interdependence, the experience of being with others—or of simply allowing ourselves to be here, just as we are--throws a heart-shaped potato into our oversalty dish of suffering (an interdependence effect we will talk about in part 2 of this post, Sweet Potato Sharon Salzberg & the Galactic Galette). 
And most of our suffering is just heaping cups of salt and trouble we borrowed from all-too-willing “neighbors” anyway, the stories in our mind, conspiring with us to continue to suffer. 


Interdependence is not really an ingredient you can add, though actually it’s always on hand somewhere in the dusty recesses of the mind-pantry. It’s more like a trace element in everything, always. It gets activated for our—and for others’--wellbeing and for the balance of all our practices (all the many flavors of those) when we allow ourselves to be present with others in a place like BuddhaFest: A Festival for Heart + Mind, which is really the first place I experienced this phenomena.
And the experience of interdependence is a phenomenal addition, any way you dish your personal practice, be it Buddhist or not. 

It’s where I, person least likely to chant, first chanted with Krishna Das—and was only able to place the profoundly uncomfortable new feeling as joy, with other people, much later. It’s where Sharon Salzberg got under my tomato-thin skin and split the ruby red of my heart open--AGAIN. It’s where Tara Brach helped me gently pull the second arrow from my own breast, retracting it with the silk threads of my own pierced Mogul’s vest. It’s where I experienced a lasting moment of stillness and complete acceptance and love in the eyes of Ram Dass (via Skype), that I have tried to get back to every day of my life since that time.

Eric Forbis and Gabriel Riera, BuddhaFest's Co-Directors, are a sweet, understated (and underrated) presence like a spare streusel topping with three rasps of nutmeg, but here is a crumb, with their characteristically humble mouth feel:
"We created BuddhaFest to serve the dharma.” 
And they do.
Imagine serving from this place...that can never run out.


It’s not about Buddhism, per se. It’s about interconnecting to your buddhanature, which is the one in-gredient we never run out of.  that allows us to nourish and be nourished.
It’s about learning to eat at home in your spiritual heart, your buddhanature, no matter where your unruly physical kitchen-mind resides.  No matter how messy and unprepared it feels. 

There are film fests, and honey fests, and bacon fests, and even Don Knotts fests (it’s true; I’ve been there), but what we are celebrating Here is not some mere consumable experience. It’s not a person or a thing. 
Because the Buddha within us is the world’s great, endlessly sustainable resource. 

But you have to balance Heart + Mind to see it. 

Everyone from Meher Baba to David Foster Wallace has observed that the mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master—but that’s a dualistic kitchen staff structure at best, and it throws the brain and the gut into spasms of sixes and sevens. There really is something in between. 
Neither simmering servant, nor scalding master, the heart is this interconnected pantry of possibility.

Frankly, it’s taken me years to realize that a lot of the contents of my mind alone are just baloney, and I think that in recent years we’ve all realized just how toxic and unfilling baloney is. For me, a girl who’s been afraid of nitrates since the 3rd grade, there is a second mind-dart akin to what Tara Brach kindly calls “the second arrow”—the one we point back at ourselves after the first’s more impersonal wound. 
I have been scared of my mind my whole life (probably long before the 3rd grade discovery of nitrates),  and I’ve been on some level angry at myself for being afraid; so I’ve been darting in and out of its darkness, afraid to go all the way in. 

Which is why when, in meditation, I stumble on a fear of letting go because things might blow up, I might get up and pour, say, simmering sauce ingredients into my blender, which will surely expand and explode everywhere out the top hole of the Oster, every single time, proving my point. It’s just how it works. 

I wouldn’t call these recipes for disaster, but I might call them recipes for resistance to the way things are.  

Interdependence—whether it’s sitting quietly during a film or talk together, meditating, or just getting out of the kitchen-mind and into the flow of real life, is the middle grounding, and it keeps us out of the Lonely Crowd mentality  of separation. 

BuddhaFest, trust me, is no Lonely Crowd. Though I’m a fake extrovert, I have struggled with anxiety for most of my life, and it’s not always easy to feel ease in a crowd, much less in my own skin. Crowds are prime place I often feel a sense of keen separation from others, trapped inside my own skin (and my anxious mind). Past BuddhaFest presenter extraordinaire Rick Hanson, who knows a lot about brains and how they work and don’t work so well sometimes, once gave me some very useful advice when I was afraid to attend a conference (just to attend, not even to present), regarding “crowd control” of the mind: If you see yourself as a fish—busy in your own midstream of experience, as everyone else is, nothing really touches you. You can swim freely, anywhere. 

Among, with, free. 
You can also just glide when you realize you’re all sitting in the same metta boat. (Metta, a Pali word, translates loosely to love. But it’s a loose kind of love that is the essence of pure kindness.) 

Because, no matter the flavors of our practices, we're all in the same boat headed for the far shore, and there is plenty of leg room for everyone. Lucky for me, there is also a virtual galley kitchen.

Plus, you really can pull weeds and plant seeds—here, cilantro—anywhere. You can do it in a crowd. At BuddhaFest. You can do it, especially, in the places our minds believe are the smallest of impossible spaces, like those between appearances, between atoms, which are really where all the space of being really lives.

The metta boat is headed to, and also from, points of light like BuddhaFest. A swelling all over the world now, like a great gullywasher of consciousness. 

And then your sweet husband-- just happy to be with you, at BuddhaFest or anywhere else--walks in as you start overthinking this post, and says, “You’re not a monk in a cave, Stacia. 
Get in the boat and let’s go be." 

On my plate (and yours soon): Tara Brach and the Summer Solstice Evening tonight; Mindful Leadership; Sharon Salzberg on The Power of Generosity and Ram Dass via Skype tomorrow night. 

With huge gratitude to the interdependent team at BuddhaFest!--and to myself, for getting out of my kitchen-mind and into my heart to go.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Strawberry-Rhubarb Being, From Scratch-That


I have started to see that all cooking resources actually lie within...and you can’t source from a mind pantry that’s depleted. Language feeds and depletes me, by turns of the mixer blade, I've learned. 

There are technical differences between buckles, bettys, crisps, cobblers, and slumps—but the truth is, they’re all made of the same core star stuff, as are we. Carl Sagan said, "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” 
But that’s just a technicality. 
Of course he was never talking about something as simple as pi, and I'm sure he meant to include all of the above. But being a wise and kind teacher, he didn’t want to scare us--and in the Western world, appealing to a mom and apple pie sensibility increases the likelihood that your message might be widely received, if not swallowed.

Look, I can’t even figure high-altitude cooking temps, so I am not even going to attempt outer space conversions. You already know, if you've spent as much time cut off from yourself in the vacuum of alienation, that if you want to get free and become a more dimensional being, inner space is the only place to do your cooking. 

I have labored under a belief for a very long time that I have to make everything from scratch. My Depression Era ethic: "make it cheap, make it all by yourself, and do everything from what you already have; buy nothing new—and something horrible will happen if it’s not perfect, if it’s not dazzling” rears its head when I am most stressed and most egoic—usually, these coincide in singular situations of simple striving, a flavor of craving.
Mostly, it’s striving to make demons of unworthiness go away. 
The problem is that if you feed them, say, a phenomenal strawberry-rhubarb buckles/betty/crisp/cobbler/slumps--they always want more. 
Unless you grow all of your own food, sew the cloth napkins, and smelt every napkin ring, you are hemstitching yourself not only into a corner, but into time. 

And you can starve in your own kitchen that way. It seems impossible that anybody could starve on my watch, especially on things made of brown sugar and butter star stuff, but it’s true.
I love the page in Ram Dass’s Be Here Now that says, “You and I can always starve together if we’re backstage in the Here & Now. No matter how much food we put in our bellies, it’s never going to be enough,” though it’s hard to swallow that the starving person is…me.

Because when you are worriedly stirring up the future, or sifting all your presence into your past, you can never just be. 

One thing I have learned about this method, contemplative cooking, is that if you want to make anything from scratch, including your own peace of mind, you must, as Sagan advised, first invent a universe where that is possible for yourself. Where there is enough room to breathe into a more peaceful, easy, loving, and potentially wise version of yourself. 

Learning to just be—in one moment, one breath, or one bite--is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Because, unlike other learned things my sort of academic, thinky personality is wired for, you don’t do just being (actually, you have to undo a lot), and, surprise, surprise, in a realization like a perpetual streusel burn on the roof of your mouth, “it" never does get done. 

For me to really learn to cook with what I have in my heart, I have got to get out of my head. And that means tweaking the language, so it is one that I can really digest (this is the perk of my wordsmithy mind). 

So, when I say scratch, I am starting to reframe it as “scratch-that” in my head. As in, scratch those old story lines. Scratch a past that tells you you have to do everything yourself, the one where something terrible will happen if it’s not absolutely perfect. 

Scratch whatever it is that no longer serves you. Be willing to step outside the grains of sugar, salt, and time.

I am scratch that is. Try that on for a mantra, if you’re feeling rhubarb-pert and plucky. If you’re feeling brave.
If you’re here, you must be because well-being is a warrior’s path, of which this method of contemplative cooking is a flavor, but whatever yours happens to be is perfect.
And maybe it changes, because everything does. Depending on what kind of recipe trip I’m on right then, I could need to see where I am and what I’m making of it as a buckle, a slump, a cobbler, or a betty of a crisp trip.

When I realize this, that it’s all okay, wherever I am, I’m a buckle—but not one cinching together a false understanding of anything, one that is loosening it. 

Of course, you can just skip the whole problem of what to call it and experience it. 
As Grandpa Fred famously remarked of Long Duck Dong’s perplexity, marveling over his first quiche in Sixteen Candles: “You don’t spell it son, you eat it.” 

And maybe that's how you get out of the spell of unworthiness, too. 
Just call it a be-ing. A being with whatever ingredients arise out of your own kitchen-mind.

This weekend was Father’s Day, and I had to loosen my expectations, as those holidays often go. You can’t be in all places at once, especially you’re still working on being Here for one breath. My still newish father-in-law runs 100-mile races and taught me about chia seeds before they were cool. He’s sequoia quiet (as is the darling, be-ing husband)—but I know that my cooking speaks to him and that he is hugely grateful. 

This was a good, stellar-but-not-showy recipe on a quiet day, just the three of us eating up being.


Strawberry-Rhubarb Be-ing (adapted from Ina Garten)

4 cups fresh rhubarb, 1-inch diced (4-5 stalks)
4 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
1 1/4 cups turbinado sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest (I used more)
1/2 tablespoon xanthan gum (because you are out of cornstarch and madly Googling a replacement)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (which you squeeze with your bare blistered hands, realizing you need to just buy a juicer)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 teaspoon pink himalayan salt
1 cup quick-cooking (not instant) steel cut oats (I used Bob's)
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold butter, diced
1 T ground vanilla bean (or use extract)
Vanilla ice cream and fresh whipped cream, for serving


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, 340, if using a dark pan.

Fruit part: In a big bowl, t.oss the rhubarb, strawberries, 3/4 cup of the granulated sugar & the orange zest together. Dissolve the xanthan gum in the orange juice; fold into the fruit. Pour the mixture into an 9x9-inch baking dish (or use 8x11) and place it on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Topping: in the bowl of a stand mixer (use paddle attachment, combine the flour, the remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar, the brown sugar, salt and oatmeal. Add the ground vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add the butter and mix until the dry ingredients are moist and the mixture is in crumbles. Sprinkle the topping over the fruit, covering it completely, and bake for 1 hour, until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is golden brown. 

Eat--and Be a good digester. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Right Speech: See No Self-Harm, Hear No Self-Harm, Speak No Self-Harm (The Tootsie Roll Pop & 40 Licks)

See No Self-Harm, Hear No Self-Harm, Speak No Self-Harm. You may be able to see and hear, pretty clearly, that this is just another version of Right Speech, wisely turned inward.

As a child of the 70s, I want to point out that, in addition to Right Speech, this ceramic image is merely another version of the Tootsie Pop Owl. And it too carries a message for me; those Tootsie Roll Pops are, notoriously, an inside job. 



They never seem to go away, those stylized owls--they never will. Why? Because as sound carriers of a particular good message, they work. And choosing the Charm pop over the Harm pop is a wise factor in cultivating happiness for yourself and for others. 

You can think of Right Speech as a sweet nobility, at your fingertips and lips. It’s choosing, moment by moment, to use a sweet tongue over an acrid one because it’s just less harmful for us all. Our Speech, even in less-obvious ways, like the Prattle and Hum of idle chatter or gossip (a good litmus test I use with myself is, “Um, is this a conversation you would have with Bono, Stacia?”), can turn and stick us.

Like the Owl, "How many licks?” was the question for me then, as a 70s kid, and it’s the question for me now, as an adult in the new Milleni-yum.
How many licks will I take?--not just from the sticks and stones of the external world (almost none of which isn't in my control), but what about the sodden, cardboard-tasting and red-stained stick I turn back on myself with an impaling gesture?
The Buddha called this the second dart; Tara Brach (unintentional confectionary surname noted) calls it the second arrow, and here, it’s going to be called the second stick. 

The second stick is the one you wield yourself, at yourself, on top of the other damage: zzzzzzwing!
It comes in all kinds of insidious flavors: 
maybe I punish myself for both needing and possibly somewhat (gasp!) enjoying a sugar rush; she, who’s trying to eat clean. Maybe I beat myself up for ordering take-out four nights in a row for my family during those weeks when I have 64 papers to grade. Maybe I notice that my best flare jeans are tight and then I eat a despair cake, finished off with a Diet Dr. Pepper (I never drink soda anymore), followed by a self-stick and stoning. Get the idea?

Look, the Tootsie Pop Owl couldn’t make it past three licks before trying to get to the center—and neither can I. I don’t want to lick all around the artificially-flavored mulberry bush to get there, never have. I want to get to that sweet, chewy, flavor-condensed center its with implied inner peace. I also want to get over my self-harm (insert: self-starvation, self-poison, self-sabotage—whatever your stickiness), and I want it in three licks or less. 
Pretty much as fast as possible. Pretty much NOW.
1...2...3…Crrrrrunch!!!

Now.
Like grated carrot in a green salads, these things crop up into adult life and remind me of my unwise youth in a way that I can now use wisely. As fuel. 
Sugar is a darn fine fuel—don’t forget.  

My grandparents Viola and Boris had traveled the world, and I remember being frightened and transfixed by many of their artifacts, including a Japanese statue depicted the Three Wise Monkeys and this principle: See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil. 

As grateful as I am for the artifacts I grew up with, it wasn’t until I swapped out the word “Evil” for “self-harm” that I became integrate-ful:
It is said that the well-spoken word can only be the one that would not torment oneself nor harm others. 

As a methods maven, I can tell you that I can’t digest judgment words like “Evil” anymore. Something happens around 40 Licks. Yet there is is no judgment in a) what works and b) what is true. 

It’s true that I know a lot of self-harming recipes that all have the same ingredient—Speech. 

And it's also true that even an old cog-in-the-wheel can learn new licks. And I am. 

And, I am (savor the power of the "And").
Perhaps you’re near 40 Licks yourself (either literally or metaphorically). We expect we must take our licks as we age—but we rarely think that we can be in control of the gentleness and the intention of the licking. 
That intention, conscious or not, is to reveal our true, sweet selves.
I know this is true from my very center.

The minute you stop breaking your teeth trying to get to your own goodness, the world will do nothing less than conspire to show you its sweet, true nature, which is to lick for you and with you (trust me, much more gently than you’d do it alone).

Because consciousness isn’t a BIG crrrrunch! It’s more of a slow reveal. 

The good news is that you get to do a lot of taste-testing of your own goodness, as you go.
And you will use this taste of your own sweetness, which is like coming home, to realize that suddenly, one day, you can identify the same sweetness in everybody else.

And that really is the mother of all sweet spots.

And then you can toss (but recycle) the stick for other purposes. 

I’m giving the owl totem to my sister, Kara, as a belated housewarming gift. She’s starting a new, self-nourishing life and about to turn 40. She’s in the beautification industry (and um, there’s definitely a reason they call it “40 lashes”). 
Surely there is more than a 3-lick statute of limitations on such a thing, the wisdom of beautification from the inside, out. Of investigating what's under our wrappers. 


This is how we are meant to live, by the way, like the owls: nested on each other’s shoulders, tandem-shoring up each other’s forgetting so that we can reach ever up as we reach in for the natural sweet spot. 
Like a rainbow assortment of sweet and resilient gems, stacked skyward.


For you, my beautiful sister (imagine Billy Crystal gently holding a Tootsie Roll Pop for you, Meg Ryan): "And I'm going to be 40!" 
Someday. In ten years. And Now.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Shun-yata: The Knife Edge (& Growth Edge) of Emptiness--& Butternut Squash.

With great respect, I'm going to say that if you want to fully understand the Buddhist concept of Shunyata, or emptiness, you can just keep sitting there*. Because, even though words like void and thusness go down fine for me, I don't completely get it either. I get it just enough to be dangerous, which is exactly how it is with all cooking--and with all practices.

Because the truth is, all you need in the contemplative kitchen is a working knowledge of any cooking concept--and the sincerity to Be with it.
Add a pure love for "it" and the ever-expanding sense of spaciousness that comes from working with what you know in your heart will ultimately feed yourself and others, and you can almost stop obsessively Googling Buddhist-culinary-neuroscientific-Sanskrit terms that might overlap and come in handy someday in your practice.

Because we all have to come to terms with the terms: knowledge is not the same as wisdom, and recipes are just worn & spattered cue cards.

Wisdom, I am learning, is that which comes from all of your ahas and insights--from the paying attention and the Being Here that the cards could only cue you for. And it seems to come most from the times you almost cut off your finger along with the parsnips, precisely because you weren't paying attention.

Wisdom is the cut-to-the-chase (and possibly the ER) scene: a realization like, say, that more than just skin-deep-down, you actually reaaaaally believed it was going to be possible to micro minutiae multi-task the moments of your life using pure intellect (no matter what your hero Daniel Goleman has warned you for 20 years, most recently in his masterwork Focus).

You can't cut through a butternut squash with a butter knife, no matter what the terms "seem" to have in common.

Knowledge is the tool that slices through your illusion that, when it comes to love and to learning to eat at home in your heart, there is ever going to be anything substantive than the language of pure utility,
AND
Wisdom is understanding that you are everything on either side of the cut--including the blade.
You'll need a utility knife to help you get there, I know. We all need help cutting to the "AND."

To cut this in smaller bites for myself, I think on Shun-yata as the knife-edge of emptiness implied by the knife itself. One-pointedness, then, is this incredibly precise tool that can help wake us up so we can skillfully (not to mention, safely) understand whatever form we're slicing through: what it is AND what it's not. But above all, it's a tool whereby we see just what's actually there on the cutting board, no more, no less.

If "one-pointedness" doesn't work for you, throw whatever you have into the stock-pot definition: mindfulness, focus, attention, awareness. Being focused on the body and on psychological and emotional digestion--and having been numb & found being in my skin impossible for many years--I'm using the word "sensibility" a lot these days to describe my fledgling ability to bring full sensory attention to the actual beingness of being a human being.

It's commonly understood among cooks that a dull blade is much more dangerous to you than a sharp one. The reason is that a honed blade doesn't meet with resistance--and as we know, it's the reactivity of resistance to any form that will stick you, every time.

That being said, if you were here in this tiny farmhouse kitchen, where cats who believe themselves to be jaguars, spirited children in search of the next experiment, and adoring, well-meaning but long-limbed husbands are often under foot, cutting board, & meditation cushion, while I'm working to cut through the thick rind of one type of this or that gourd (so I can get out of the real one, my thinky head), you might be bracing against the image of me with a brand new Shun knife, the slicing sound of which is famous in cooking circles for its fabled Samurai-stealth sibilance: sshhhhhun! You might wonder how it is that Stacia, who regularly (yeah, fairly regularly) drops cast iron on herself, scalds tea kettles beyond recognition, and slips on literal & figurative banana peels as she navigates the art of becoming, could ever think about using such a famously dangerous blade.

The answer is this: I'm not busy (over)thinking about using it when I'm using it. Or worrying that it's too big a tool for my britches. I'm just using it.
Happily, that is the maven to my madness.

P.S.: You can also scoop seeds & pierce the flesh of squash with a
lowly, low-tech & less aggressive grapefruit spoon. Grapefruit spoons
were a great tool of my grandmother Viola's.
You see, although I have less "figured out" than I had last year at this time, I have finally honed in on something. In his 1709 poem "An Essay on Criticism," Alexander Pope observed that "A little learning is a dangerous thing"--and so it is with honing. And with honing learning.
The Growth Edge (I love this term, use it often) is this magical place that is well past cook-in-your-sleep comfort food territory, and just before the immobilizing no-clue terror of apocalypse without can openers and/or molecular gastronomy.
The Growth Edge is plainly discomfortable--a healthy discomfort that is highly underserrated.

I can tell you from teaching and learning to feed everyone from infants to Kindergarteners to college students to myself at 40, that this liminal space--between rigidity and abyss, form and formless, know and no-know--is the prime cut. Because it's the only edge on which we both learn to dance and dance at the same time.

When the Growth Edge is sharp, everything on either side falls away cleanly--there's nothing there any more.
In fact, the only danger is that this Shunyata might cut so deeply you might not even feel it. Like cutting through the air, through the ether, through illusion--and like cutting through nothing at all.

Hone Sweet Hone, gentle readers.

*However, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche gave a typical rustically delicious and divinely digestible treatment of this in Glimpses of Shunyata

Friday, October 4, 2013

Astral Weeks & Lemon Pound Cake: The Tractor Beam of Love's Resonance


Love is a tendril of a cartoon smell that wafts out and lifts you (or yanks you) up, like a golden-white tendril of the scent of the lemon pound cake, currently baking in real time here in the peacefoodlove kitchen, in Connor's honor. Just because the boy loves lemon pound cakes. You've never seen the look of gratitude a single crumb of golden lovingkindness can elicit, until you've seen a face like that, one that says, "You made that for me?" (and he's 15, so wonder is no mean feat). 
Maybe you cook for people, and you know.

My ampersand-children (step isn't the right word) are coming, and I have a tendency to bake and clean myself into perfectionistic corners in anticipation of these infrequent visits.
In fact, it's been Astral Weeks since they've been here. 

I could write you 108 posts about this Van Morrison album. It's that beloved and it stretches across every experience I have had, in some way or another, since I was 20 years old, when I first heard and wore out the CD. 
Periodically, still, I pull it back to me--or me to it--when I need it. 

Love is a tractor beam of mutual resonance like that.
I must have needed it, because I was running around fiendishly vacuuming after putting in a lemon pound cake, getting pretty caught up in getting things "perfectly hospitable"--my biggest trap when I'm anxious about how things will go. 
Unfortunately, the very same methods you use to get you closer can be used to try to squirm away. Even your best methods can stick you!--I don't care how deeply you butter and flour the form. . .er, pan.


All of a sudden--maybe I was caught by the light or the cord or the way the smell of a cake unfolds and walks gently across the floorboards to you in a farmhouse--I happened to turn around and look behind me,  and see the cord, which had somehow twisted (or untwisted) itself into a perfect heart.
The cord, I tell you!
And don't even get me started on good-emptiness (which isn't a vacuum) and making space.

Some day, these mettāphors will stop surprising me--maybe. I don't think they'll stop spring up--or back, like a cake that's done.

And what came into my head were these lines from Astral Weeks, which apparently I have been mis-singing along with, quite ardently, for over 20 years, but only just now understand:
With your love behind you / and your eyes before you / there you go / takin' good care of your boy
I pretty much dissolved, just the way the tiniest dram of lemon juice will completely liquify powdered sugar and make icing. 
I'm pretty sure that all appliances and songs leave love notes for us to decode, but we're usually charging on ahead.
And this one said: taking care of your love isn't a zoom ahead with a Dyson and a perfect pound cake-type activity. It's a stop right here and now and here it is, the Now, iced in sweetly like being between two pieces of warm pound cake.

So I was pulled in here to the kitchen to try to recount it for you (okay quickly, with T-50 till arrival).

Could you find me?

Love will find you. It doesn't matter what you do or how hard you do it. You can't clean your way out of it, and I can tell you that you can try to eat the evidence of your own hunger for it, only to find another tender crumb you missed, on the floor of your heart.
You can do all your methods to get closer, or you can do them all to try to get away, and end up, right back around the plate. 

In silence easy / To be born again. 

Okay, not so much with the silence around here, but if you weren't born again, you couldn't hear the screaming coming from mudroom, Otto with gritty eyes from the sandbox, begging for the kind of help only you can give. Ava, crying over accidentally cutting a caterpillar in half while pruning the tomatoes.You couldn't see--or serve--the mettāphor.


“Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived”  Helen Keller

Friday, August 16, 2013

Breakfast Dishes Now with Boba Fett & Ram Dass: "Breackage" or Bounty?



We keep the natural guidance of characters close, and this morning, Boba Fett landed in the blackberries. 
These are probably the last of the "backberries"--those from the tree line at the edge of the back field, which mysteriously keep bearing in August.

Today after our breakfast and (I feel cleverly deemed) "A.M. That Is" meeting, everyone skipped out the door and left me with the breakfast wreckage--the "breackage."
They left to swing, chase after butterflies, and check on progress at the newly fashioned "Rabbing" station. 

To enjoy the last bit of summer, like egg quickly drying on a plate.

Explained to me during the materials request as "crabbing but with rabbits," (there's no intention to trap them), this experiment is kitchen string dangling mini carrots at various heights from tree limbs at the edge of the back field. 


The Rabbers are tied to the tree limbs with slip knots (don't ask me where they learned to tie slip knots, also called buntlines or slipped rolling hitches).

Depending on the tightness of the resulting knot (since these tighten under load), we may get information about the weight of the animal that received the meal.

I think this line of thinking is genius, by the way. 
Also, it's pretty much all we have to gauge life's phenomenon, which we usually try to do after it's passed, since we mostly miss the now of what's happening:

How tight are the knots now that it's over? How bad is the tension?
Just how big were the bites taken out?

However, these are only clues to the beast of burden that was.
The beast of burden that is is Now isn't actually a burden.

I love that there's no real intention to their Rabbing method, but to cast it out there and see what happens. 
They're not getting anything out of it--except to watch time mysteriously change a thing they set in motion, but is actually no longer in their hands. 
And, hopefully, to know the joy of feeding some being that wasn't asking to be fed, but surely needs and may appreciate the nourishment a from a shaded tree line we simply cannot see.


This is a lot like parenting. 
A lot like loving anyone, child, pet, self--human or…burdensome beast. 

The day-to-dayness of loving people and feeding them sometimes feels more feat than fête (or even Fett).
Even on the most perfect of sun-dappled, dangling days, I get myself trapped in the farmhouse kitchen--where I most love to be, but where there is so little space. As my office, yoga studio, and the whole family's HQ, it all needs to be cleaned up and set in order before moving on to the next thing.  
An endless cycle of scraping, scrubbing, washing, drying.
These are the things we do to remove the egg-yolk scrim, to unburden our plates so we can be closer to love, to become less "content-laden," as Ram Dass, who never fails to astonish me, says in his newest wonderful book, Polishing the Mirror.
We do it over and over, so we can both hold and offer more.
Drying the dishes, polishing the mirror--these are the same. 
The heart is a shining plate.

So, the research question is, do I stay inside and watch through the dulling screen of the door, feel "left" all alone to sit in the "breakage," convinced of all I have to do today?
Or do I step out into the All is well Now, into the flourishing cosmos, which has become a happy harbinger of bees?

 The milkweed is full of monarchs. 
And it's perfect swinging-toward-the-good weather (thanks, Rick Hanson, for this double-take on your eternal advice to swing for the fences).

I think Boba-fett gets kind of a bad rap, by the way. Like Darth Vader, it's just too obvious to completely disdain him (and you know I fear being obvious).
We are all after the bounty, whatever we perceive that to be. 
Maybe we're hired on for that job by the Dark Side of ourselves, but the innate goodness of ourselves and our shining, empty plate, that is the bounty.

Dishes will hunt you. Mess will hunt you. Clutter will hunt you. The end of summer and the cold winter ahead (okay, anything under 70 degrees) will hunt you. 
This means, though, you are the real bounty.

T.S. Eliot recommended that we do dare to eat the peach, and I think we should eat up all bounty as it comes. 
It simply helps us berr the weightless weight of imagined fears of the future. 

Highly recommended readings:
"The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot
Polishing the Mirror by Ram Dass with Rameshwar Das 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Mnemosynemon Rolls OR: Percy Jackson & The Sea of Monstrous Self-Doubt

Two weeks from today, school starts back up for all of us, and we've only done a fraction of the hopeful, absurdly noble things planned for mythical summers. Here is only one thing on that list, writ in august, disappearing ink:

"Explore Greek Mythology as a family this summer. AFTER reading Rick Riordan's second Percy Jackson novel, Sea of Monsters, and BEFORE the movie comes out in August, enlist the kids to make a Papier Mâché Medusa head light fixture cover or chandelier, with intrinsically glowing eyes and wafting, organically animatronic snakes. See sketches."

FAIL.
Okay. 
Only a partial fail, though.

Because Papier Mâché is French for "chewed paper," and I can see the way that even with more self-compassion, I still get spit-wadded up with everything I thought up, but somehow cannot execute because of time.

And, you know, mortality.

I get Cyclops-vision, you see, with creative plans: I train one big eye on the parts I didn't do (no matter how small), and completely miss the rest--all the good stuff in the periphery.
And one thing I'm learning is that there's a pretty big field of vision outside the negative--Titanic, in fact.

I didn't finish Sea of Monsters in time, but Ava chewed right through it, since she carries 4 books (one from each current series) around everywhere--but it didn't keep her from beaming, squealing in delight, and leaning over to whisper I love you through the whole movie, when all of us went to see it over the weekend. 

Sometimes, it's only important to have a beautiful, mythic vision of the structure for your days--which can feel long, and yet somehow nothing close to Olympic--whether or not they actually turn out that way.

To put things in perspective, I recommend National Geographic's Treasure of Greek Mythology. Its luminous illustrations and radiant storytelling make it a perfect breakfast or lunchtime (or while in the Charybdis-jaws of that whirlpool: "getting-breakfast-cleaned-up-just-as-lunch-is-on-the-table") read. 
You too can speak in a sibilant hiss, acting out Medusa over a plate of spaghetti, and spear imaginary foes with a three-tined fork--I mean, trident. 
You need a book like this. We all do.

Because just feeding people and loving them, meal after meal and day after day--especially on endless, steam-rainy days when you just want to Ju-ly down and cry because you're not getting anything "real" done, like painting the walls or attending to your own writing, and it's all Percy Jackson & The Sea of Monstrous Self-Doubt anyway--
IS heroic.

Yesterday at breakfast, we played "Celebrity Greek God You Most Resemble."

Ava: Mom, if you were a god or goddess, I believe you'd be "A-pro-fight." You know, the goddess of beauty and love? 

Me: Aphrodite?

Ava: Sorry, I don't know how to pronounce it, but it's true.

Awwwww, I think (for almost 3 seconds): She sees me that way! As a goddess of beauty! And she's almost 10! [Insert sickening fear and resistance to change] How long can this last?...Now wait a minute, why doesn't she see me as Athena? I want to be wisdom, not beauty. Isn't that what we're after around here? Doesn't she think I'm smart?

But Athena is not the goddess of needing to be told she's smarter than everyone else, because she's not so sure. 
She's the goddess of wisdom--which is the really the knowledge of truth, or true nature of things, applied. 
Wisdom is knowledge put to good use. 

Me: Who do you want to be?

Ava: Athena. Naturally.

THUD.

It turns out this is an invaluable exercise. Keeping Greek myths handy, so you can stop and consider with whom you most identify. Who you might turn out to be, while you eat. 

Because Aphrodite is the goddess of Love.

Which is, said another way, the knowledge of beauty (and ugliness), put to good use.
Nowhere do you see it all more clearly, than reflected in your own plate.

The great dancer Isadora Duncan once said: "Before I was born my mother was in great agony of spirit and in a tragic situation. She could take no food except iced oysters and champagne. If people ask me when I began to dance, I reply, 'in my mother's womb, probably as a result of the oysters and champagne - the food of Aphrodite.'"

Well, I was far too afraid of all I'd read-henned, in popular mothering magazines, doctor's offices, and the Internet to go anywhere near shellfish or champagne (though I struggled with my drinking before and after both pregnancies), but you get the idea here:
Whatever the food of beauty and love is, it makes us leap and spin. It gives us the the wings--and horns, and Achilles' heels--we're each born with. 
And that sensibility passes through, umbilically. 
Our bodies and minds are corded to our parents' issues and identities--for better and for worse--you can blood bank on it.

Science currently suggests that not only can we pass on our neuroses and mutated genes, we can pass along our neuroplastic-fantastic ability to embrace concepts like goodness, wellness, and heroism, as well.

We are all hyperlinked by the motherlode of our sensibilities, and quite frankly, we're all on a collective quest here, using our senses to help classify ourselves. To see and more importantly, feel, ourselves fitting into the structure.

Down in our bones we know this, and yet it feels disturbing and "discomfortable" (as Otto says) to view ourselves as heroic--at least to use the term out loud--or as something like an epic container for a concept like love.
I deal with this daily, like a multivitamin.

Actually, with my tendencies to clinging to my wordplay and to my past, the goddess I would have identified myself with (without Ava's reframe) is Mnemosyne, guardian of memory. 

It's funny no one remembers her--except maybe by her other name, "Hey, Nine Muses' Mom."

A Mnemonic device is any learning strategy that manipulates information to help you remember--which is all mindfulness is (they're often auditory--a classic example from my childhood is Potsie's "Pumps Your Blood" song, from Happy Days), and I've always thought it funny, as a teacher, that a chief obstacle to students's using mnemonic devices is that they just read about them in books about how to learn, often without guidance.
Then, because they are naturally disinclined to understand words they can't pronounce (much less attempt to use them or their more ineffable concepts), they suffer. 
You can only use skillfully what you first understand.

I find it fascinating that Ava, at 9, will keep at it--even when she risks being wrong, or misunderstood (two things I never like to be). 
Once, she told a platinum waitress that the pie, not made in-house, was okay, but just "blonde."

She'd read, understood, and never said the word bland out loud before. 
She was just making her best guess bringing it into the world.
Which is all parenting is. Which is all creativity is. 
Which is all any of us is doing, at any given moment, trying to understand and be understood.

For some reason when you're 7 or 42, it's fun (though incorrect) to pronounce "cinnamon" as cinn-ee-mon (it makes you feel like a genie bursting out of a spice bottle, which is another set of stories). It's okay to be deliberately incorrect if it helps you remember something else correctly, I think: 

Mnemosyne: If I say it this way, out loud: "Nem-o-cinneemon Rolls," and then hand you one, all covered with sweet, homemade icing, I can guarantee that you will get it--and never pronounce it incorrectly again. And you will no longer be afraid of that particular possibility for failure--if failure is not knowing how.
But you may end up asking for cinneemon rolls:

"Please make the cinnamon rolls," they say on the weekends. 

"I'll make the icing," Ava says.

"Do you know how?" I say.

"How hard had could it be if you just show me? I already know what's in it: it's just confectioner's sugar and a little water with some vanilla extract--I looked it up. But I'm going to add cinnamon."

Probably Mnemosynneemon.

If you want to make sense of things you don't understand, you need to allow for the fact that you don't know how, and that you might be wrong. Also (the crux of the learning curve), that you might never know.
You need to be able to let down to be okay with that. You need someone you trust, holding the possibility of all the miscommunication & mishap warm and fragrant for you on a plate, nourishing you into trying.

Now why is it that I can invite some other confused, hungry soul to sit at my table, and patiently offer (and re-offer, if necessary) the plate of my own mnemosynnamon-scented goodness, yet I cannot always eat my own words?

Because, although both sides of the plate may be the same, they don't always look the same (and they definitely don't feel the same).


Maybe I am neither my beauty nor my clinging, nor the words themselves, but a pantheon of possibilities, on any given day.

Maybe "She"--that mythical Other or Self in the Third Person--is simply my mnemesis. 

I've always loved a line from Pema Chodron: "Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better, it’s about befriending who we are."

Worldly life, then, is making friends with the myth (the many myths). 
Heroic friendship with oneself.

[licks fingers]