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Chopping, Carrying

Sweeping the Sun In

Like many other things that are good for me, I’m much, much happier when I’m keeping up with the housecleaning, but it’s very hard to do when I’m in anxious or depressed. On the other hand, cleaning is one of the very few things I can use as a redirection when my OCD is getting the best of me, so it’s often the easiest outlet even if it’s a little... earth scortchy.

(When I’m cleaning in OCD mode, whatever I can’t deal with tends to just go in the trash. It’s not the greatest for the environment or whatever but it lets me get on with things so it’s a compromise I live with.)

Creatively, when I'm knotted up like that I feel as if I don’t even know how to write or paint or do anything. My last grandparent, my paternal grandfather, passed away recently, some six years after his wife, my Yaya, died. I’m still not sure how I’m allowed to feel about their deaths. It’s as if I’m not entitled to my feelings, because I’m so cut off from my family. I know that’s not how feelings work, and yet I circle around it.

My grandmother prepared cards for upcoming birthdays ahead of her death. I didn’t know this until I opened the mailbox shortly after she'd died and there was an envelope for my kid’s birthday, addressed in her small, neat handwriting. (Maybe that’s where I get my tendency to write so small.) I won’t lie, I sobbed there in front of the mailbox. That’s the kind of woman my grandmother was – she was dying, and she was making sure her grandkids and great grandkids would have birthday cards. Considering nobody else in my family sent my child a birthday card except my parents, knowing that was the last one is hard, but it was also an incredible gift. It wasn't just a card, but a change in perspective, and one I've carried forward.

It's hard to do things for myself, but it's easier to do them for other people. I am learning to do things for myself, but it's a long, long process. In the meantime, I turn them into things for other people. Maintaining the household, the hearth: this benefits me, and it also benefits my spouse, and my kid, and the household as an entity.

Chop Fish, Carry Butter Sauce

Going into the earth is hard to explain because it’s such a simple experience. There’s not a lot of flowery words you can put to it. I put down my hands, I lay down roots, I go down. That’s it. The bedrock holds me, takes me in. I become it, it becomes me, and there’s nothing to do but rest inside it.

What I like about earth is how grounding the work feels. I feel more present and more in the moment, even though earth itself is… well, it’s not timeless, but geologic time is not the time scale we’re used to. Aside from the vague sense of the history of different types of rock, there’s not a lot of sense of time there. There’s just now, and everything is now, and worrying about the future isn’t very helpful.

Instead I’m battening down the hatches around the house. We’ve mostly skipped over the nice parts of autumn and gone straight into cold rain, so I’m less inclined to go out. I’m trying to finish up some of the organizing I didn’t get to during the summer, I’m just about to sew up some medical stuff, and I’m teaching myself to cook. Last night I made pasta with leftover roast, tonight I made salmon with leftover pasta, and I’m learning to do more than just throw things in the slow cooker.

I appreciate the slow cooker. It’s a marvelous invention, and there’s definite appreciation of the forethought that has to go into slow cooker cooking. But the shorter-term cooking is more grounding, more earthy for me. When I have something in the oven and a pot and a saucepan on the stove, as I did last night, and I’m keeping an eye on all three, there’s nothing else I can do except maybe spare some attention to clean up as I go. If I’m not in the moment, I find out right quick because something gets away from me.

It’s a delicious form of chop wood, carry water, as well as a lesson in trusting myself and not being afraid of failure. For years I let myself believe I was ‘not good’ at cooking – I had some bad experiences in home ec (did you know it’s possible to set a crepe on fire?), never particularly learned at home, and my ex very much thought of herself as a Gourmet Chef so I had nothing reasonable to compare myself to. Now, I’m probably never going to be a gourmet chef or appear on a Food Network competition, but I’ve finally made the connection in my head that I don’t have to. I can put the salmon in the oven with a butter and lemon dill vinegar sauce I made on the back burner, and it’s not the end of the world if the sauce is a little heavy. Cooking doesn’t require perfection; if I wanted to be perfect, I’d learn to bake.

Earth isn’t really concerned with perfection. Plants grow where there’s dirt, whether it’s a good idea or not. Rocks don’t usually polish themselves.

Maybe I could use a little polish, but I’ll worry about that another time.

Tasting Menu

It’s easy to forget to enjoy things.

I get distracted. I’m trying to finish reading something, or I’m still annoyed about something that happened earlier, or I’m wondering how something is going somewhere else. I do it all the time. I think it’s pretty normal for people to be thinking about other things. Even when you’re supposed to be living in the moment and reaching for enlightenment, it’s awful easy to miss out on the moment because you’re thinking about the next enlightening thing, or the chores you have to do later when you’re done meditating.

I’ve been watching No Reservations on Netflix, watching Anthony Bourdain go effortlessly and appreciatively from street food and dive bars to Michelin-starred restaurants and appreciate everything about all of them. Now, I am definitely a food truck kind of guy, and when I’m looking for a place to eat I think the divier, the better, but I was fascinated by watching him eat a tasting menu at one of them fancy, experimental restaurants.

You might get nine courses, but you only get two or three bites, and each of those might be an entirely different flavor or kind of food. I started out wondering how you can even appreciate something like that, when it’s gone by the time you experience it, but I watched how he experienced it. He would take a bite and stop and reflect on the flavors in that bite. Each one was distinct and worthy of his full attention, of having his memories and all of his awareness tuned into it. How perfect an example of living in the moment! You get only one bite, so you fully experience the bite as you’re taking it. You enjoy the texture, the flavor, the interplay with the sauce or whatever else is going on there.

I’m surely not going to be running out and spending a couple hundred dollars on a fancy three-star tasting menu any time soon, but Mara values… well, she values valuing what you have. Even if I don’t have a fancy tasting menu, I am lucky enough to have food and to be able to cook, and I am doing my best to enjoy the food I have, to savor every bite, and to really be in the moment with it while I’m eating.

The food that I have is a gift. It’s not the most extravagant gift, but every time I find a good-looking cut of meat in the clearance section, I thank Mara. Everything from salmon to steak and bacon to lamb necks can be a gift, and I try to appreciate it as such. Using things before they go bad, mindfully cutting coupons to stock a pantry, any of these things can be a devotional act when you see the food you eat as the gift of the earth.

For other folks, this is probably obvious, but it’s something I try to think about every day because it gets away from me if I don’t. I used to let myself get caught up in trying to keep my mind focused on “good” thoughts, higher and more spiritual things, to the exclusion of appreciation a good meal or a warm bed on a cold morning. Mara is also the name for *illusion* in Buddhist stories, after all. The Buddha ignored Mara, seeking something higher and beyond what the world could offer.

I’m no Buddha, though. I’m finding myself much more suited to a down-to-earth spirituality lately. It’s easy for me to lose myself when I’m stuck in those higher realms, so when I have other, everyday concerns distracting me, keeping myself down to earth, appreciating what I’ve got and being right here.

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