Hunger is the worst of diseases ~ the Buddha

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Mantra Morsel: Eat at H(om)e

This is a sort of obscure Paul and Linda McCartney 45 called Eat at Home, which hangs in our kitchen. 
I had it framed for my husband as a gift when we made this kitchen Ours instead of IMeMine.  Partly because, let's face it, aesthetically it's pretty darn great on that brick chimney. And perfectly fitting to have in your kitchen when your ethos is homemade over store-bought.

But really? I hung it there as an act of faith. 

Acts of faith are definitely worth hanging high, and revisiting, and looking at yourself in, from time to time.

I have been thinking a lot about the concept of "Home," mostly because of course I meditate here in this kitchen, and I realized with great pain the other day, taking this picture, that even here, in the undeniable heart of this space, I feel like an outsider. 
An interloper to my own feelings, to my own experience of taste--not all the time anymore--but to some degree, and often.

The Buddha tells us that our true home, our true nature and refuge is nowhere else but here, in this body, in this heart.
Yet, I almost never feel at home in my own skin. Never have. 
My anxiety, my resistance, my fear, my various ways of coping and numbing to this simple truth of just being has driven me from my true home in my heart for many, many years.
Ladies and gentlemen, I'm cooking my way back.
I guess I am fundamentally...curious. What would it be like to eat at home, within this space, this body this life, this moment, every moment?
To nourish, to relax the iron sphincter in every part of my body, to take in the good? 
To simply stop...resisting?

You and I both know, like we know when the milk is sweet or turned, that it's time for me (and for all of us), in this body and this kitchen, in this heart, right now.
But it's actually the beginning, "now," and it's messy and unformed, the way dough sticks to your hands and your bowl-self's sides and you think: oh my gosh, this is just never going to come together.

And still, it does.

As a couple, Eating at Home, over and over, is the daily (sometimes within the micro-fraction of each second) act of faith that if we create a Home, that if we just keep being ourselves, and using our real hands and minds and hearts to mix and cook these real things with love in--very important!--realtime, to be right here and not out there with things which don't feel right for us--things that come isolated in plastic cells in McBoxes--it will be okay.

That if we just keep opening up (sometime I'll tell you about jacking up the joists on the house, hacking out the studs, and literally opening up the walls to this kitchen--even though everybody said, "That's a bearing wall; that can't be done!"), then somehow, it can't help but be be good. That we can be...a real family.

The fact is, it's not just okay and it's not just good, it's been nothing short of emotional alchemy.

Let me tell you that with 5 kids ranging from Kindergarten to Learner's Permit, three of whom live two hours away (that's 8 hours in the car for a "simple" visit, often in less than 24 hours), with incredibly complex sports schedules and a whole, whole lot of opposition by those enigmatically flummoxing, (utterly human) outside forces called ex-husbands and wives, that we (I, dammit!) cannot control, still with absurd obstacles and enormous amounts of old-new pain, somehow, it has always been pure magic, from the first day we were all here together.

And what did we do that day we all met? We cooked. Right here. We didn't do anything special.
We ate at home.
We were strangers when we rolled out the dough right on this very table--nothing fancy, homemade pigs-in-blankets, I believe (still, what a crazy-intimate thing to do!)--and somehow, by the time we cleaned up the dishes together and pushed the benches back and stood up straight, forever changed, we were a Sangha of Seven.
Shrug. Look, I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't been there.

That somehow, there was…even room, despite every single constraint of this tiny farmhouse kitchen (with its as-yet undemolished, unopened plaster walls), is a plain miracle.
I don't know we were just so in love we were blindly courageous, or not.

Here's what I think. To have the courage to even start Eating at Home again is some magic.
To even start investigating just what it would take to blowtorch through the steel walls of the heart, and pick the hundred fearful city-locks, and start pulling out all the long rusty nails on the 2x12's, to be willing to kick up all that plaster dust and discomfort, is brave and takes faith.
To turn around and agree that it's even possible to come home is the act of faith.
That faith is the emotional alchemy which is the very key to Home, what the Buddha called "the sure heart's release." 

I admit I am fascinated by this picture of myself because it was a moment of release for me, unstaged, an accident. I don't know why I had the urge to take it, but I did not resist.
In this way, it's a picture of an act of faith within an act of faith, which is is so, so lovely a circular magical thing to have happened, not to mention documented, that my mouth is actually sweet inside saying that.
Taking this picture, the way I had to hold the camera, for all practical purposes, I mean come on, that's just lotus mudra, right?
The lotus of the heart, gracefully unfolding. This is what it looks like when it's open, even when it doesn't realize it is.
The organic synthesis of all of that is here is an experiment with nothing less than the absolute magic of that new word: peacefoodlove.
Kitchen Alchemizing dis-ease to ease, and dis-grace to grace.

The thing that can bring us back home, the thing that is "doing" this (better said: "undoing this")? Is mindfulness. Mindfulness is, as the tremendous Tara Bennett-Goleman observes, "seeing ourselves as we genuinely are, not as we seem at first glance as viewed through the filters"--HA! even Instagram filters!--"of our habitual assumptions and emotional patterns."

Maybe the power of this photo is that it's not about catching myself unaware--it's about catching myself fully aware.
That is the transformative power.

There are tribes upon clans who have always resisted having photographs taken by earnest and intrepid national geographic explorers, because they were concerned about their souls being captured, their true natures.

Look and tell me that doesn't make sense.

I don't have "time" to be writing this. 
My and-children (so much softer and more accurate than "step-children," don't you think?!) are coming, and the house is a disaster and we have a Hunger Games birthday cake to bake, and edible gold fondant glaze to figure out how to make work in Connor's honor, since that was the magic series of books we discovered together, which turned the act of reading from lead to gold for him. Which transformed him into a reader.
That, and I have a twenty page paper to pull off by tomorrow night (so I am now looking at the clock and thinking about eliminating the actual pyrotechnics on the Catching Fire cake) and pheeeewwwwww!...
But the first thing I said to myself this morning, before I even opened my eyes was, "resist nothing."
Including the undeniable urge to look up, resist filters, and to write what I feel.

The last thing my husband said on the way out the kitchen door to the long drive down there for a soccer game/turnaroundcomeback was, "It will be good, you will be good, it will be magic--it always is."

And he's right. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

I Want to Tell You About My Zen Green Apple Hang-Up

I always want to tell you everything--even though I'm medium-well to well aware that Writing Workshop 101 is show don't tell. A picture isn't "worth" a thousand words, by the way, it's a whole different currency.
So let's start there:

So, I was listening to The Beatles' I Want To Tell You this morning--such a thumping, cheerful birdsong thing, that!--and I was just sort of looking out from where I was sitting at the table. 
Just letting my eyes move in big circles around the kitchen after my morning meditation.
Let's face it, there's nothing like the gorgeous ulterior noun, Revolver, turning and turning, to bring a mind full-circle.
And my eyes looked up, resting suddenly and firmly on my magnetic knife bar:
"Resting suddenly and firmly" is a polite way of saying got hung up on, got hitched, was snagged by, got stuck.

I believe I've told you that I have a bowl thing; we received many of them for our wedding here last summer--evenespeciallyofcourse from people who didn't or couldn't know that. This is a really fantastic metal peace bowl our friends Rex & Carol gave us.

I loved everything about this gift right away. It's so darn aesthetically pleasing! Loved the color, loved the lightness, loved the thinness...and yeah, you guessed it, loved that it's made of words.
I especially loved that in India there are real people with real hands making real and beautiful things which help other people, wrought of old bicycles and metal (and did I mention it's made out of words?!).
I loved everything about this gift, except, um, it's a bowl, and it's mostly wide open, and what for/how would we use it exactly? I mean as an actual container for things. How would it hold, well...anything?

I know where you're going with this--the transparent Mettāphor of the thing! Which is that this bowl is really the vast, changeless container for all of the thoughts and changing contents of mind, so of course the bowl itself wouldn't have to be welded tight to "hold" any of it. But gentles, I wasn't there yet!

Actually, pretty much exactly (read: all) I was thinking about this morning, seeing this bowl hanging up there, was the Darth Mom & the Death Star Egg Dying post I was going to (and still am about to write, and phew! that one is kinda complicated, mostly by me) and just how hung up I can get when I'm writing these things. 
How hung up I get on my own thinking. 
Okay, my hang-ups, in general.

I want to tell you
I feel hung up
But I don't know why

How easily words and ideas will come to me when writing them down isn't an option! When I'm barely awake and there's maybe a mechanical pencil & a rumpled Post-it somewhere under my sheet-covered spleen, but it's just too much effort to break the drowse; when I'm in the shower with water not ink pouring down, or kneading bread with sticky-sticky hands. The thoughts are there in my mind--until I Mac down and try to articulate them, of course.
Well, no one can ever improve on the Beatles or the Buddha, but it is extremely comforting when George Harrison knows just how you feel:

I want to tell you
My head is filled with things to say
When you're here
All those words
They seem to slip away

I now bow my head to one of my most notorious hang-ups, Perfectionism, but also, to the recent understanding that when I'm somewhere out there in the ether, experiencing and actually feeling things, being in it, that's where "it's" actually happening.
And the minute I go to write "it" down? Well, I'm transformed into a person doing a description, not a being be-ing.
I'm growing more confident that there is plenty of stuff to write about (and it never runs out), and that we do not have to execute every single thing (thank goodness) we experience in our heads.
But...the force of that magnetic must-do tug is still there.

So let me tell you a little more about how this particular bowl actually got hung up there.
After the wedding, I spent a couple of months lovingly but helplessly moving this bowl from place to place. It was stunning filled with our kitchen's ever-present green apples (TRIVIA ALERT! Since he labored desperately over naming them, George Harrison always gave his songs limbo-working titles...and "Laxton's Superb"--a green apple variety--was a working title for I Want to Tell You), with a spray of cilantro or hank of rosemary, or some end-of-summer cuttings or tomatoes in it. 
Along the way, I realized that when I put things in it, I couldn't see the bowl for the trees--that really, it was just more beautiful empty.

But this is a tiny farmhouse kitchen and counterspace is scarce. Bowls need to hold things other than just Mettāphor.

So I was trying to figure out how to hang it (maybe wire from a beam?), trying it out at various places on the wall, and I was wafting it past the stove when shlunk! It was pulled right out of my hands and whammy stuck pinned to the knife bar.
Just like a hang-up.
A hang-up is this force that comes out of nowhere. Sucking whatever your intention was for that moment right out of your hands. 

When I get near you
The games begin to drag me down

For me, thinking I have to find the perfect chiffonade of adjectives and images with all these different knives, my writer's and cook's tools, somehow without (sorry) mincing words, is a real force, a real drag and a real be-ing sucker.
And, though I have a growing collection of shiny, one-pointed tools, I don't know that to do with them or how to use them just yet.
Who out there has tools that dice, slice, and cut--so many they hardly know that to do with them all? When my sister gave me that bread knife, by the way, I nearly cut my finger off because I was unused to handling it, and it was so dangerously sharp, I almost didn't even notice or feel it.

Now this morning when I looked up at the bowl, I saw my cutting hang-ups and my doing-ness, but I also thought, wow this is really cool. Look at this.
Peace nestled amongst, alongside, within, the doing of the tools.
A spacious bowl between knives.
Enter the mulligan stew blessing of insight meditation, the Do Over, whether it's on the field, on the chopping block, or in the mind:

It's alright
I'll make you make me next time around

--there's always a next time, and another deeper, kinder way of looking at anything.

I happened across this reading this morning, too: Aung San Suu Kyi, describing Engaged Buddhism, said that it requires active compassion or active metta (lovingkindness). Oh no! Do-ing?
But wait:
"we have got to do more to express our metta and to show our compassion. And there are so many ways of doing it. For example, when the Buddha tried to stop two sides from fighting each other, he went out and stood between them. They would have had to injure him first before they could hurt each other. So he was defending both sides. As well as protecting others..."[emphasis mine].

Turns out, a spacious, airy bowl hanging midair, making a space between my knives is about the perfect thing to represent the self-protecting space one's own buddha nature can provide between do-ing and be-ing.
There's space on the knife bar.
Space can be engaged and loving.
Mindful space is a dizzyingly powerful tool, because it gives us choices.
And safety from our mere me-ness.

It's only me
It's not my mind
That is confusing things

So, leaving this bowl hanging up takes giving up some real estate (though a good cook really only needs one very good knife--to chop, pare, finesse with--the rest are just like jewelry), but it's an important space, every day, in the visual field of my tools.

These tools are also really not at odds--the knives and the space. They are both within each of us.

It also reminds me that sometimes the things we think are our hang-ups, those moments, are not really hang-ups, but pauses in what we're doing, places to look at; potentially loving and kind spaces to consider.

Consider the fact that sometimes, you throw something up there and it just sticks--not at all where you think it will. Usually my brain sticks to the bad, stuck place, but there are good ones.
Usually, our brains are wired (sigh) to be velcro for negativity and teflon for good…well, in this case, it was backwards! A naturally, elementally good outcome! This is new for me. And I didn't even have to do anything but keep the two materials in proximity to each other.

So, on that first photo: I generally don't like photos of myself, but I do like this one. Even I could recognize there is a weird magnetic quality to my expression. All I can tell you is that I felt curiously compelled to get up from the table, take the bowl down--to "un-hangup it," to hold it, examine it, and look through it, and take that picture of myself, looking through it, to you.
If you look, you can see all the things my head was filled with at that moment, in a much clearer way than I could explain with words. Shrug, that's why they call it an expression. Curious about the ineffable, happy, plenty of time.

I don't mind
I could wait forever
I've got time

That's just the look on my face, isn't it?--not so much in my mind.

Pausing in my hang-up litany to take this photo actually helped create the space that got me writing about the space.
Maybe it's okay for there to be space--some peace--around and between the words, between the precise and sometimes shiny, shiny sharp tools of relentless self-examination and self-improvement. 

When I look at the bowl hanging up there now, I can see the space as room for the good and necessary ether to circulate, even if it never gets a direct translation.
And the good green apple I thought might be displaced is still there too. It's implied and so, in ethereal gesture is permanent, precisely in its impermanence, like the fabled missing rock in a Zen garden.

But much juicer.

PS: Kind of crazy coincidence, you might notice that the You Tube link for the song is a performance from...April 6th, 1992. Twenty years ago, today.