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.