Several years ago I studied meditation in Korea. After my very first meditation class, my Korean friend and fellow meditation student, Jin-soon, led a small group of us us down the street to the most unsuspecting little concrete building containing a church on the top floor, a karaoke lounge on the bottom, and something called Purin Nuri ("green-blue world") in the middle. We climbed the stairs, slipped off our shoes, and entered through the door into a different world, leaving the garish and abrasive city behind. Inside, we were embraced by the comforting smell of freshly baked bread, aromatic rice porridge, and steaming soup. Soft Korean music floated through the air as we followed Jin-soon to pick up a simple wooden bowl, spoon, and chopsticks, and began to sift contentedly through the Buddhist buffet, containing fresh lettuce leaves, glass noodles with mushrooms, tofu and veggie dishes, and a traditional cinnamon drink made with jujube berries and new pine needles. This style of food is called monk's cuisine in Korea and attempts to be as close to the earth as possible. In fact, much of the food would be harvested from the wild that day by the owner, Moon-kyung, and her friend and helper, Sun-hee: bitter wild dandelion leaves, sharp-tasting new pine needles, and fragrant and edible flowers. These two were the only people running this intimate culinary temple. Once we filled our bowls, we sat on the floor on a cushion, our legs crossed under a low wooden table. We paused for a moment of gratitude for this feast and for our lives, and then began the long, happy process of mindfully eating. Like tea, our meditation extended through lunch. This, too, became part of our daily ritual.
Especially after this wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, I’ve been thinking that eating is the sacred ritual of cycling life through our bodies as we ask the life of other beings, plants and animals, to become a sacred part of our own life. We re-member ourselves and make ourselves whole from a dismembered state by consuming other life and making it a part of us. Eating is like many of the old stories and myths from ancient cultures (stories like Isis and Osiris, Rama and Sita, Tristan and Isolde, even the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ) where gods, creatures, and people are re-membered, are brought back together and made whole again, after the refining and learning process of death and dismemberment. And like these ancient stories, so are we re-membered, or placed back into a greater wholeness (the whole of creation), as we stop the process of hunger and death, and assimilate other life by eating. We are gathered and re-membered into an even greater whole during the sacred sacrament of sitting at supper with friends and family, laughing, sharing, eating, drinking. This reverential ritual deserves mindfulness.
With mindfulness, even a humble meal of rice and beans becomes a banquet. With mindfulness, we may sense the love that went into preparing the meal or envision the farm where the food was raised or grown. We may also sense the financial benefit to our community when we choose to support local sources. This heart and soul of eating can be gone in a flash: a fine nine-course French meal may as well be fast food if it's mindlessly gulped down and barely chewed between commercial breaks, newspaper headlines, or text messages.
Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, a way of practicing mindfulness is to pause for a moment of gratitude before your meal. If you don't pray, you may be creative in your expression of thankfulness by reading a poem about food or gratitude, offering thanks to the elements that are sustaining your life, or telling your dining partner(s) what you appreciate about them or the meal. I'll never forget the Thanksgiving I spent in Zion National Park, under the afternoon shadows of the red cliffs of Angels Landing, where my small family shared a meal with a wonderful friend and her daughters. For their gratitude for the meal, these friends sang a simple song together, smiling and giggling. After, we all clapped, laughed, expressed how we appreciated one another as well as the meal, and then dug into our cold turkey, green beans, and potatoes, lovingly hauled down to Southern Utah in a couple of giant coolers.
At the end of the day, ordinary or extravagant food becomes exquisite with mindfulness. Without mindfulness, anything can become as bland as a chalky protein bar. But with the right mindfulness, even a naked bowl of oatmeal could prove to be very provocative!
Here is a quote from one of my favorite poets, Wendell Berry. Post it next to your dinner table, perhaps, as we have:
Eating with the fullest pleasure-pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance-is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.
(from his essay "What Are People For?")
I know this is the week after Thanksgiving, but if you had any sort of wonderful culinary extravagance as I did, you might be interested in continuing the feast of mindfulness with these simple practices.
I’m a twin. We are identical meaning we came from the same egg and therefore have the exact same chromosomes. We’ve done time together: 9 months in the womb listening to that same momma’s heartbeat, sharing the same pulse. All this made us feel more at home when we were together than when we were apart. My parents would place us at opposite ends of the crib and by morning time they would find us entwined together, just like we were used to in the womb. We learned to speak late in development, probably because we already had our own twin language that suited us just fine, why would we need to speak anything else? We’d stand up at the ends of our butted cribs jibber jabbering for hours like two neighbors gossiping over the picket fence. There’s a connection there, clearly. And it still continues even today.
A couple of months ago, a friend loaned me a fantastic book called Fargo Rock City, by Chuck Klosterman. It’s a great read, hilarious writing about a great topic: Heavy Metal. You gotta know, I’m not much of rocker. Growing up, my twin and I shared a music collection of bands like the Cure, The Smiths, and the Pixies. So a few weeks ago, I’m reading a fascinating chapter in Fargo Rock City about the very important distinction between the different types of Metal bands, i.e. glam metal vs. speed metal vs. death metal, etc. and which band should be qualified by which metal prefix and what not. That same day, I get an email from my brother who doesn’t know I’m reading this book and who has a billion other things to reference but who chooses to ask my opinion on the very important philosophical questions regarding metal bands and which type of band qualifies with which metal prefix. It was like he’d read the very same book. Hadn’t even heard of it. Yeah. Freaky twin connection.
So then I’m writing this, or at least a draft of it, and my brother calls and having not mentioned Metal philosophy since our last conversation months ago, and brings it up again. At first I thought it was because he’d read my newsletter, but then it dawned on me that NOONE had read my newsletter ‘cuz I hadn’t sent it, I was drafting it. Metal was on my mind and therefore somehow on his. Yeah. Freaky twin connection.
And even if we aren’t all twins, we’ve all had this experience to some degree or other, right? Who hasn’t been thinking of that friend that you haven’t seen in a couple of months or weeks and suddenly that minute received a phone call or a text or email from them? What is that? It’s freaky Friday is what it is! Or is it? What is that connection that seems to transmit like a frequency across distance so readily and timely? I don’t know but I like the question.
I know the human experience is a complex system and network of everything from bones and blood to neurons and nerves. Then there are emotions and thoughts and the soul, whatever that is. I guess our work as humans, and therefore in our yoga practice, is to practice and experience the process that unveils how it all works and is connected, not so much to answer the question of “how” but “who” or “what.” Who am I and what is this all about? Clues to these bedrock questions are found right at my fingertips, I suppose, as I practice yoga and inquire. One thing that all the parts of human beings and everything else in the universe have in common is energy, vibration, and frequency. I mean every particle and atom in the universe has movement to it. That seems to be the constant, that everything is quickened by some force, right? Energy. In yoga that energy is called Prana (hey, great name for a yoga studio. I’ll keep that in mind). Energy is simply the potential to do work. In yoga, the system of energy channels networked together and converging at particular points is called the chakra system. These seven principle energy centers align at different points along our spine. And when one thing that is conditioned, or designed, or just happens to be aligned with something else, those things resonate. Like twins.
This coinciding vibration reminds me of this concept called sympathetic vibration. It goes like this: Notes represent sound waves which travel at a certain frequency. Different frequencies, faster or slower, plays different notes. I’ll be practicing my saxophone in my living room with my guitar hanging on the wall and when I play a note, an E for example, on the sax, the E string on the guitar, tuned to play at the same frequency, starts to vibrate. I’ll take the sax out of my mouth and hear a “ghost note” the residual vibration of the guitar string. Freaky cool. I think we work much in this same way. When people say things that resonate with us, it’s like we are predisposed, operating under the same frequency, to feel that same way. Thus we listen to politicians, see a great piece of art, watch a dance, hear a sermon, and something resonates with us; we vibrate at the same frequency. These vibrations gotta be different than light, different than sound, but something nonetheless sends a message. What is it?!
Yoga is where we get to both feel and understand better this idea of prana, vibration, and resonance. In yoga, we refine our listening skills, we clear the energetic channels, and set the conditions for our bodies to ring more clearly. Again, what is this vibration that connects us all? I don’t know. But I’d be very interested in hearing your take on it. Click over to my Facebook page and let me know your thoughts on the subject. See what others have written. Please share your stories about being connected or on the same wavelength as someone or something else. In the meantime, I’ll see you in Yoga. Join me this Thanksgiving from 10 am-12pm for a special practice where we vibrate together to the frequency of gratitude. See you there!
by Mary Oliver
all the singing is in
the tops of the trees
where the wind-bird
with its white eyes
shoves and pushes
among the branches.
Like any of us
he wants to go to sleep,
but he's restless—
he has an idea,
and slowly it unfolds
from under his beating wings
as long as he stays awake
But his big, round music, after all,
is too breathy to last.
So, it's over.
In the pine-crown
he makes his nest,
he's done all he can.
I don't know the name of this bird,
I only imagine his glittering beak
tucked in a white wing
while the clouds—
which he has summoned
from the north—
which he has taught
to be mild, and silent—
thicken, and begin to fall
into the world below
like stars, or the feathers
of some unimaginable bird
that loves us,
that is asleep now, and silent—
that has turned itself
I read this poem and imagine this bird wrestling with its idea in the tops of the trees manifesting in the brilliant winter storm we have experienced over the weekend. I think of something large and definitive, a creator or director or maybe simply a grand observer, who puffs and blows the turbulence we all sense in the storms of our lives. I imagine this being as blustery at times, yes, but one who ultimately reaches me softly, a real touch, by sending gentle, delicate, and cold kisses floating through the air, landing silently on my face and shoulders and eyes. Something as simple as the snow falling silently around me manifesting the Divine’s love for me. “I don’t know the name of this bird. . .” but I can feel it. It stops my stomping in my tracks, ankle deep in dark and cold, my brow furrowed and mind brimming with business, and lifts my gaze for a moment to watch the dazzling show of fat, silent flakes, filter through the streetlight. The beauty of it all!
“I don’t know the name of this bird,” but I can feel it move through me in yoga. It breathes me and makes my body move and sway, undulate and reach. It arrests my busy mind and opens my eyes. Come and listen and watch your deeper self this week in the warm studio as the Divine, who has turned itself into snow, sifts softly down and touches and blesses the ground around us.