I’ve been living on a greatly reduced income for a couple of months. Unlike millions of people who actually never know when their next wage is coming, I knew this ‘gap’ was ahead, so I made some calculations and gave myself a meager daily budget to make sure my money would stretch.
The first 2 or 3 days were the most challenging – I felt I was in a self-imposed prison of deprivation and worry about the future. And boredom.
But before long I saw these weeks as an experiment: I have a bit of a stubborn nature, and I wanted to prove to myself that I had the discipline to live simply and renounce some very unnecessary habits (usually involving a trip to a café!) When it was reframed like that, it became more interesting. But what was the point, really? What was I trying to prove, or achieve? I have a credit card and guaranteed work ahead, why didn’t I just put a big food shop on credit?
Suzuki Roshi taught that, “The most important point,” and here he paused to make sure he had everyone’s full attention, “is to find…out…” another pause, “what…is….the most important point.” I don’t know how to express how much I love Suzuki Roshi!!
So I’ve been trying to learn from my cravings and desires. And learning from slowing down, unhooking from the need to be busy.
Every day the ‘most important point’ has been different. Sometimes it’s been about creativity. Other days, renunciation. About growing in faith. Definitely about deep gratitude and letting go. Without the excuse of ‘just popping to the shops’ I’ve had a lot more time at home, just being. This has been interesting too – what are my outings distracting me from?
Last night I saw this wonderful documentary on NetFlicks, called Living On One Dollar. It follows 4 young American college students – intelligent and decent young men, economic majors – who decide to spend their summer in a rural village in Guatemala living in the same situation as the villagers – in a hut with a dirt floor, and $1 per day to live on. This is the reality that 1.1 billion people will wake up to today. To add to the integrity of the experiment, they devised a system that meant that each day they have access to a random amount of their total 56 day budget – so some days they have nothing at all, other days up to $9 (between them).
The film highlights the scarily real situation of living below the poverty line. At one point, one of the young men gets seriously ill. Off they go to the hospital, and the cost of the medicine is $25. They can’t afford it. It’s a pretty powerful and thought provoking moment, making my own situation seem regal by comparison.
In my own case, I realise I always have more than enough, much more. Even my meager daily budget more than meets my simple needs, and not only that, but I can bake a cake, a loaf of bread, make a pot of soup, give half away, and feel richer than if I had hoarded it all myself.
Because I like to reach conclusions, I am tempted to say that the most important point is just to to be with what is. To understand the limits and the blessings of the situation we find ourselves in, and not being caught up in wishing things were different.
But now I think that that I didn’t need to plunder the stores of my brain to come up with the answer, because Suzuki Roshi had already given it to me – the most important point, is to be finding out what is the most important point. The process, not the result.
Investigation is one of the ‘7 factors of awakening’ after all!
Here is a recipe for a very delicious and very moist Lemon & Lime Olive Oil Cake, which I’ve made twice this week (thanks to the abundance of lemons & limes on the tree, and a donation of almonds from my house mate). It’s very clear that my month of poverty was anything but!
Lemon and Lime Olive Oil Cake
Heat oven to 170, and line a loaf tin.
- Take 2 limes and one lemon. Cut off and discard the ends, then slice fruit into thick rounds. Put in a saucepan and cover with just enough water, bring to the boil then simmer for 15 mins. Drain, then when cooled, flick out any remaining pips.
- Put the cooled lemon and lime slices in a processor, and pulse to get a coarse chop. Set aside.
- In the same processor (no need to clean it), blend 1/2 cup of olive oil and 1 cup of golden castor sugar until pale and creamy, then add 2 eggs, one at a time.
- Add the processed lemon and lime and whizz to combine.
- Add 1 1/4 cups of ground almonds, 1/4 cup of polenta, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tbsp poppy seeds. Pulse til well combined.
- Pour into lined loaf tin, and bake for 45-50 mins, until a skewer comes out clean. Cool for at least 15 mins in tin. Ideally, let rest overnight in airtight container – the flavour develops and the cake is even better on day 2 or 3!
- Optional – on the day of serving, make a topping with 1 cup of sifted icing sugar, 2-3 tbsp of lemon juice, and 1/4 cup of sliced almonds. Drizzle over cooled cake, and let icing set.
The Muffin photo above is by Susanne Nilsson