Coffee Meditations

Coffee really is a marvellous thing.

In the 16th century, Sheik Abd-al-Kadir wrote:

Coffee is the common man’s gold, and like gold it brings to every man the feeling of luxury and nobility….Take time in your preparations of coffee and God will be with you and bless you and your table. 

Since visiting coffee shops wasn’t an option during the pandemic lockdown, I have become very devoted to, and appreciative of, my dependable espresso machine at home. Making a daily flat-white has taken on an almost sacred significance that I’m reluctant to set aside.

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Hermit Life

I was really grumpy this morning. It wasn’t my fault – someone really pissed me off (by email!!), and quite frankly they should know better than to be so rude.

I messaged a friend, suggesting that we continue the hermit-life for the long haul…. who wouldn’t want to continue living in solitude thereby avoiding annoying human interactions for, like, ever? My friend is up for some hermit goings-on, but I had a quick look online and retreat accomodation is outrageously expensive so it’s not looking like an option. Thoreau’s hut is almost certainly $500 a night on AirBnB, who can afford to be a hermit contemplative these days? Continue reading “Hermit Life”

Going Home

Here in NZ, in one more week we will move beyond the strictest level of lockdown. I’ve already noticed a shift in my energy, and a flurry of thoughts and emotions about re-entering normal life. It’s very similar to the feelings that I’ve experienced when I’ve neared the end of a retreat and contemplated returning home.

For me, there is comfort in self-isolation, like there is on silent retreat. No-one can disturb me, bother me, challenge me or make demands of me, and I have the freedom to turn inwards and try and untangle (or at least make sense of) some of the knots in my personality.

On the spiritual path there are many paradoxes, and one that has long troubled me is the need for acceptance of one’s current body & mind predicament, alongside the desire to cultivate more wholesome mind-states and habits that would benefit ourselves and others. This came up for me over and over on the 4-day mindfulness retreat I’ve just finished with Stephen Archer, as I noticed thoughts arising in connection with potential changes that I’d like to make post-lockdown. One of these changes is stepping outside my comfort zone, figuratively and literally. I’ve written before about failure, and it’s definitely something I try and avoid at all costs. Should I even try? Why not accept that sometimes I prefer being in the background where it’s nice and safe?!

I’m currently involved in another fantastic online course; “The Courage In Poetry” offered by the wonderful Irish poet David Whyte. The ‘courage’ aspect of this course (thank you universe) is very well-timed. David says that all good poems are born from a part of us that doesn’t know how to fully articulate itself yet. We start exploring our ideas and emotions without knowing where we will end up. Continue reading “Going Home”

The Essentials

Easter greetings from my bubble to yours!

Life is pretty simple right now. “Stay home, break the chain, save lives” has been the message of our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and overall the level of compliance to the lockdown in NZ has been remarkable. Simple is good; we can all understand simple.

Two weeks into a lockdown, we’ve all been distilling our lives into only the essentials and it has been an interesting journey. If we are not in the health services; connected with the food supply chain; a scientist or a vet; then most likely we are currently deemed non-essential workers and we’ve been told we must stay at home. I, along with 130,000 other hospitality workers, am part of that non-essential set. How does that make us feel?! Anyone whose self-worth is enmeshed with their job might feel a little rattled.

This is certainly one way of looking at ‘essential’ and it’s foolhardy to argue against the NZ government right now considering how they are currently not just flattening the curve but squashing it. 

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Day 4: Hope

Today I offered to make some cinnamon brioche for the 8 bubble-buddies I’m self isolating with (sorry, on retreat with) for our breakfast tomorrow morning. I mixed the milk, butter, yeast, eggs, sugar and flour, and then spent the next 20 minutes watching the dough thinking, “I hope it rises”. Their breakfast, and more crucially my reputation was at stake!

I reflected on how often hope is beside me in the kitchen. Hope that the food delivery arrives, hope that I don’t drop a pan of soup or burn the quinoa, hope that the dishes taste yum and are ready on time. The more significant the situation, the more tightly my fingers are crossed.

I know that a lot of us have our fingers crossed very tightly right now, which got me thinking about hope. Hope doesn’t make it on to the list of the Buddha’s 10 Perfections, or the 7 Factors of Awakening, and it’s not a stage on the 8-Fold Path. From a Buddhist point of view, hope seems more akin to desire. Like a unsubstantiated wish, we can hope and pray for a good outcome all we like, but wishing doth butter no parsnips! Ordinary hope, like a fear that the brioche dough won’t rise, is also a subtle form of suffering.

 

Dostoyevsky said, “To live without hope is to cease to live.” Is there a wise way to harness hope? Continue reading “Day 4: Hope”

4 Week Retreat – Day Two

Welcome back to the most infrequently written blog on the internet! Thanks for opening the email, I’m certainly happy to reconnect with you all.

I don’t want to write about you-know-what; I want to write about the 4-week retreat I have just started, here in my staff-house at Aro-Hā.

Day One of the retreat was a bit bumpy. It was hard to be away from friends and disengage from the life I had planned.  My mind was very restless. I was still figuring out the schedule, the practicalities of cooking, cleaning and exercising, and how to use the space I share with my house-mate wisely so neither of us triggered an outburst of afflictive emotions in the other; if at all possible. The fact that I hadn’t signed up for this 4-week retreat contributed to Day One being a little vexing.

When I think back a couple of weeks, how I had imagined this month playing out is just about as far removed from today’s reality as is possible. It’s fair to say that I thought I was in control of some very exciting and well laid plans that had been years in the making. Anyway, not so much, it turns out.

Day Two of the retreat has been way more relaxing, clear and calm. Why? Because I have stopped calling this situation a lockdown. This shift has been the biggest help. The re-framing of my physical isolation has triggered a shift in my mindset in other ways too. Continue reading “4 Week Retreat – Day Two”

The Extraordinary Retreat

It’s been more than a week since I left the retreat with Edward Espe Brown, the Zen priest and beloved chef who has been such a inspiration and spiritual mentor to me for the last 10 years. Ed was the first head cook at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, and many people will know him from his bread making bible “the Tassajra Bread Book.” Even though we had never met before, he has been like a friend reaching out to me through his books and online talks, so finally being on retreat with him was something very special.

Writing about retreat experiences, generally, is difficult. Even profound experience, in fact especially profound experience, is usually subtle and beyond words.

What is common for us humans is to seek out extraordinary experiences. This you could say is the ordinary wish. What is extraordinary therefore is to be content yet engaged, utterly at peace with the ordinary. That really is extraordinary, and in many ways, that is what Ed offered on his retreat. Continue reading “The Extraordinary Retreat”

Everything Is Waiting For You

Greetings!

Here are some reflections on Brené Brown’s Netflix show A Call To Courage, and also something inspiring I learnt about the exceptional poet, Mary Oliver, who died earlier this year. Both are calling me to be more vulnerable, and more courageous. And also a recipe for a yum Mushroom and Wild Rice Risotto!

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Take Rest…

In-between retreats, probably the most nourishing thing I do is spend a day (or more) by myself.

Many people seem to be confused by this; it’s pretty unfashionable to want to be alone! But I get things done; practical things like cleaning the house and doing laundry, nourishing things like cooking and practising yoga. All of these things and more, when done at my own speed and alone, add up to a deep feeling of rest. The best description I’ve ever heard of rest is:

REST is the conversation between what we love to do and how we love to be. Continue reading “Take Rest…”

Temple Medicine

Possibly the most inspiring thing I’ve ever heard, and definitely something which has influenced my life’s journey, was told to me around 17 years ago. At that time I was neither a chef nor a Buddhist (or any kind of contemplative) and knew nothing of natural medicine or nutrition. I was at a university lecture on the topic of natural medicine (which I was contemplating studying) and the professor began his talk with a brief reference to Temple Medicine. Although I remember nothing else about that lecture, (or anything else particularly from 2002!)  the notion of Temple Medicine has never been surpassed in my mind as a model for healing. And I think my working life since has been a subconscious search for modern day equivalents.   

Dating back to the ancient Greek civilisation, these healing temples – known collectively as Asclepeion Temples after the Greek God of Medicine; Asclepius – were basically ancient retreat centres. These temples were often located in secluded locations surrounded by beautiful scenery, like modern spas or maybe a bit like Aro-Hā! Continue reading “Temple Medicine”