Hunger is the worst of diseases ~ the Buddha

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Pliny the Elderwood Cutting Board: The Raw Materials of Age + Utility

We revere and even hold dear an older, battled-scarred cutting board.
Its grooves and crosshatches are badges of honor of all we have tasted, and all that has carved us.

Even its wayward little oops-slivers of bareness here and there remind us of all the work we have done, all the practice we have logged, all the cutting time we have put into this test kitchen.
Even that ineffable perfume of thyme-time itself, embedded in the fibers of the wood, smells love-ly to us. It’s an olfactory comfort in this case, time. Smells like Home.

When I look at this little ‘70s bread board (which I actually use as an all-purpose platform, not just for big staff-of-life matters), I see so easily, and deeply appreciate, its faithful, hinter-hook hanging, always-right-there utility. 
I see kindness on a cup hook, an extension of myself (that is not really an extension of my small self but is who I really am, of course), always within reach.
I admire it for exactly what it is—especially its age.
We do not extend this sort of fluid definition to our bodies, our hearts, or our minds. 
These we generally find and judge to be: old, worn out, patchy, about-to-crack-any second, dried up, no longer level even by farmhouse counter standards.

We believe we're not end-grain enough to be sought after any longer.
We tell ourselves that old chestnut, that we're one centimeter short of a the coveted butcher-block stature.
We think and feel that, because we’re not made of the "material du jour,” we're less than—Olive wood
is so yesterday! Today it's bamboo! Tomorrow it could be teak!
Of course, the material we’re really made of is not the skin we’re in. But we forget this (if we’ve ever been fortunate to remember it) when things get choppy.
Let me butcher’s wax grand for a second and say that this, that the old body-image meat of the matter is quite true for most women, in the West, at this time.

In truth an against-the-feminine grain runs all the way through pretty much every modern society.

When I say feminine, I’m not talking about assigned "female parts”; I’m talking about feminine energy, which is not just old, it's ancient. 
(In fact we all have the feminine within us and can tap into its fierce-nurturing, creative energy as a mise en place for ourselves, if not the world at large.)

But we in the West don’t equate age with wisdom or utility.
We just call it old and hang it up to dry.

But this, belief about age, turns out to be like the one pesky grain of rice that's overshot the countertop of awareness onto the floor—it’s only a thought, and only a feeling.

And both of these—thoughts and feelings--are, well, unending consumables in this life. 
And then, after the rice-spill realization, there is the resounding thud, like a block of burl wood hitting the inside of a stainless sink, that we are not and can never be, physically, made of sustainable materials.

But this is a good thud for me. Because what can resonate then is that this is exactly what I’ve got, not something else.

This is the board I’ve got to play, in the body I’ve got, in the life I’ve got, lock, stock, Crate & Barrel.
So why is it that we let how it was, or what it might have been, consume us?
Me. I mean me, obviously.
Because, not to be bag-of-marrow-bones/contents of mind crass, but the body like the board is really just a longer-term kitchen consumable, and it needs care if it’s going to last (while it can).

As a proud “owner” of a 40
yo+ cutting board, I can tell you that I’ve not always taken that kind of care.  
Though the body is, if we’re lucky, not a roll of paper towels-on-speed dial, or a jar of fast-gone chipotles, we’re bound by the laws of nature to go through it. 

All of this is much easier to swallow, by the way, if you imagine Alan Watts in your kitchen as I often do, whisking up some matcha green tea and deviling your eggs with these truthiest of truths.

That’s because masters can be that spoonful of stevia that makes the medicine go down. That is also a truth.

But equally true is your own (universal) truth, pared away and pared away, and finally tasted for yourself as “new."
And, besides I remind myself, you don’t need to be new, Stacia. 
You just need to be Now.

Back to the drawing and cutting board—over and over and over (and over) again.

Which is why a little beeswax, with its quiet, softening, and protective sheen like that mythical in-your-skin ease, can serve you well when applied now and again and again with self-compassion.

We could all benefit from a little beeswax ease, gently applied. 

Pliny the Elder is an ancient author of all kinds of things you probably hear, say, and really do know deep down, all the time. Things you can borrow like a cup of sugar and make your own, such as: "Hope is the pillar [of salt] that holds up the world.

Judith Orloff is, well, Judith Orloff and no one else--soft-speaker, writer, intuitive doctor, empath, and bee-balm of love applier to all souls in her sphere. In her latest book, The Ecstasy of Surrender, of the surrender of aging she says, "What matters is that you must trust your gut," a reminder for which I am deeply grateful, and that how I find myself writing this at 11 am on a Tuesday. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Elixir of Plain Tap Water: Happy World Water Day!

Our waters are our fluid anchor to this world—to this very body. The meta (and metta) boat of love & growth only sails by the graciousness of its cleansing expanse.

So, in honor of World Water Day, and after a very long time dry here, I thought I'd simply share a daily practice of mine.
Adapt the recipe as you like; it's not original, just another form of the water offerings found across the world.

Every day, I fill this little cup (don't think I don't love the wordplay of "Anchor") from the well and place it on my kitchen-ledge to remind me all day: "just this much clarity about my part in things," "just this much."
If I can look the water in the eye at night as I do the dishes, then this is a good day.

The cup sits and catches the sun all day. It catches the soundwaves of my clinking-spoons and coffee cups busy-ness, my keyboard clatter, and my incessant knife-sharpening.
I'm sure eternal ants crawl across the lip, taste and keep to their tasks, and a mote or two of farmhouse dust wafts by.

The cup sits all night: clarity's sentinel.

In the morning when I get up, before anything else, I drink the contents in the cup--a day in the life, distilled-- very, very slowly and deliberately, reflecting on and drinking in the whole world in the cup. The hardest piece is ALLOWING myself to drink it. Why is it so hard to quench myself honestly?
Allowing the water to purify me is sometimes difficult--but doable. Allowing myself to know I deserve this, that there is no separation between me and the water. Being clear on the fact that I can be fully present today. That it's a choice, no matter how turbulent everything outside that cup seems, to remain in the still pool inside.

And so we start all over again every day with this choice: empty cup, empty dinner plate, empty calories that are entirely our choice about how to fill.

This can be a very powerful, though seemingly very small, practice.
Delicious poet (and master cook) William Blake said sweet delight comes when:

[We] see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

I am finding that just 150 ml of this intention works pretty well, too.
And, whatever you water, grows.

So often in the past I have watered the seeds of my own fear, anxiety, dis-ease!
But the tide is turning, gentles. Slowly and irrevocably (in an impermanent way).

So this practice helps when I'm feeling overwhelmed by negativity--when it all starts feeling like open waters (not the good kind). I remind myself that even those tsunami events and people who appear to oppose us, who are what Joseph Campbell beautifully (and euphemistically) termed "threshold guardians," are made up of 70% water--and so,100% light.

When you hang out cooking in the contemplative kitchen with the greenhouse window long enough, you start to wonder how it is you never really thought all that deeply on where the light was coming from. The good news is, every morning, if you're lucky, you get another chance to notice--to look around and look up.

What if I told you that I'm pretty sure, after all of my experiments in the kitchen-mind--my soaring souffles and my dead-weight pancake-flops--that this holy grail, this phantom elixir that we are all after on this journey, is actually nothing more than what comes from our own wells?

It's a heck of a wellspring-board into choice, then.

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.

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,
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