I’ve recently started working at Aro Hā, a stunning, purpose-built retreat centre in Otago, south island New Zealand. A new chapter, new colleagues, and new expectations to put upon myself.
It’s so exceptionally beautiful here, that I actually think it added to the pressure I felt to create mind-blowing meals. For my first retreat, our food actually way exceeded my checked expectations. As I had been anxious to make a good impression, I was supremely organised and took care to oversee as much detail as possible. I got up pre-dawn and walked home under the stars, and had plans and checklists to cover every morsel that would leave the kitchen.
But midway through that first retreat, something I had given minimal importance to started to fester. Namely, I was putting so much effort into the food that I was simultaneously suffocating and ignoring my skilled and creative colleagues. You know, the actual human beings I was spending 10 hours a day with. The shameful thing was, I hadn’t even noticed that I was doing it. In my narrow mind, those first few days were all about me, and when I eventually became aware of my hardworking colleagues, I was shocked and mortified to realise how little attention I had given them and consequently how upset they were. I was immensely grateful that they gave me critical feedback, and, humbled to see how they could forgive and forget my shortcomings.
As the days go by, letting go comes more naturally, the days become more fun, and balance is restored. On our second retreat together there were less checklists… some imperfections appeared, then on the final day my team mates spontaneously expressed how much more love there was. Is that okay?!
It’s something that I struggle with. How to achieve our life goals and improve our skills, without striving – slave to our own egos – and being attached to the outcome. In the kitchen, I know that on the one hand ‘it’s only lunch’ but on the other, I want to make my very best offering. I hope I never forget that my offering isn’t just the meals, it’s also love, acceptance, support and gratitude to the people I share this amazing life with.
This morning, my wonderful friend Satya shared a quote from one of her own dharma teachers, David Brazier. It struck such a chord with me, that I read it ten times over and want to share it here. It was a timely teaching for me, because not only do I strive to be an accomplished chef, I also want to be an amazing spiritual practitioner that loves unconditionally, has all the right answers to the deepest quandaries and is always calm in a crisis. David Brazier however, who has devoted so much of his life to spiritual practise, studied the profound Buddhist texts and lived in spiritual communities with the highest ideals, offers a more human conclusion to all this hard, inner work that we do:
What I have discovered, that is of supreme importance however, is that I now have a sense of being one who is loved by the universe, imperfect, limited and vulnerable as I am. The sun still shines upon me, things do work out, food appears, rain falls, wonderful conversations take place and the grass grows without any help from me.
I grow old and my teeth fall out, but I am more comfortable in my skin than I was, and in consequence, I do not feel so critical of others because we are all in the same boat. I have not learnt great compassion, but I have acquired fellow feeling. I’ve not learnt to bestow blessings on the multitude, but I do feel more blessed. We do not radiate the unconditional love that we read about in holy texts ourselves, but inadvertently, we often reflect it. All the little loves that make our life what it is are sparks that fly off from a cosmic wheel that is much greater than ourselves. We do live in the midst of an unconditional love that we can never fully comprehend. We can be grateful for that.
Thanks for reading!
*leaf photo by Cristina L.F.