I am still thinking about ‘not always so’, one of Suzuki Roshi’s trademark expressions.
“Not always so” was never far away in Shunryu Suzuki’s teachings. He prefaced much of what he said with the word “maybe”, and yet he did not seem at all unsure of himself. When he said this sort of thing, it seemed to come from a deeply rooted strength. (David Chadwick)
As I sat with a coffee and almond croissant this morning (outside my favourite cafe, in the early morning sunshine) I was thinking about how this position, the position of not knowing, potentially brings so much ease to our everyday lives. The question of nutrition and the latest diet trends are still a significant topic around these parts. I am the head chef in one of the world’s top rated wellness retreat centres for goodness sake! Yet, here I am drinking a latte and eating an buttery, flaky, sweet and delicious almond croissant, and quite frankly feeling fabulous. Are almond croissants the new superfood? Definitely not always so.
I spent the afternoon working in the kitchen, preparing for the next retreat. I started thinking about the ever changing dynamics of my work environment, the people, the produce, the schedule. My mind. When everything is in flux, what do we hold on to? Last month’s menu, which we thought we’d nailed? I don’t think so!
The Japanese have a saying ‘tambankan’. It translates as “man who carries a board on his shoulder”. Because he carries a long plank on one shoulder, he cannot see the other side. As soon as we say ‘it should be this way’, we pick up the plank – we have immediately created duality. So what should we say?
A few nights ago I was telling the story of how I used to practise Nutritional Medicine, and then I gave it up when I realised there was more to health and nourishment than minerals, vitamins and antioxidants, avoiding certain foods and taking certain supplements. I still believe this; I feel that “I am right”. But as I continued talking, I literally felt myself tailing off – I had picked up the plank. Maybe, it was not always so. It had felt right for me to put all of my energy into studying and applying that viewpoint for many many years, and it was all part of my journey to now. What can we say?
In a final twist, Suzuki Roshi didn’t even let “not even so” become the formula to cling to. We can’t just not move – our selves, or our minds. He encouraged students to explore their opinions, take sides, follow their intuition. What is the other side of ‘not always so’?
This, from David Chadwick’s book about the life and teachings of Suzuki Roshi:
Suzuki talked about the first principle and the second principle from his early days in San Fransisco. He said the first principle had many names: buddha nature, emptiness, reality, truth, the Tao, the absolute, God. The second principle is what is said about the first and the way to realise it – rules, teachings, morality, forms. All those things change according to the person, time and place – and they are not always so. Suzuki said that talking about Buddhism was not truth, but mercy, skilful means, encouragement.
For now, this comes together for me as a teaching of non-attachment, wisdom, and being present. Who knows whether what you need to eat this morning is a green superfood smoothie bowl, or an almond croissant? Only you know that, at the appropriate time… and expect to feel differently tomorrow!
I’ve never mastered croissants, but here is a great smoothie bowl recipe:
- 1 frozen banana
- handful fresh spinach (150g ish)
- 1/2 cup coconut cream
- 1/4 of a whole lime
- 1-2 tsp matcha green tea
- 1/4 avocado
- 1/4 cup water, or enough to create a scoopable consistency
Put all the ingredients in a high speed blender until very smooth. Go mad with garnishes to offer lots of crunch – granola, coconut chips, fresh berries etc. Maybe you won’t like it much. Maybe you’ll love it, for while. The most important point, is to find out….