… but I really wanted some cake!

As unlikely as this sounds (coming from someone who is a mindfulness enthusiast and a chef) I’ve never really wanted to explore mindful eating as a stand-alone practise. My predominant experience, being on the receiving end of this exercise, is to feel increasing frustration as I watch my meal getting cold. Meanwhile, the teacher talks reverently (and very slowly) about how mindfulness can enhance our enjoyment of the food we are about to eat. Rather than be encouraged to stay mindful of my feelings (which may have something to teach me) I am directed to delight in the food’s visual magnificence, and to contemplate all the people involved in preparing our breakfast and to feel gratitude. All I can think about is how much more grateful I would feel if the porridge was hot. And as a chef I can promise you, the best compliment is when guests tuck in with gusto.

It can be easy to lampoon ‘McMindfulness’ at times. When you’ve had a taste of the profound potential of mindfulness, being subjected to a “I know, let’s add on a mindful eating exercise to today’s lunch!” is as disappointing as limp salad that’s sat around for 20 unnecessary minutes. But I’m willing to re-think this and it’s been a very fruitful investigation.

Continue reading “… but I really wanted some cake!”

Lighting Up Just One Small Corner

I am starting to pull together the menu for our ‘Mid-Winter Christmas’ cooking retreat at the end of this month, and have been thumbing through cookbooks for inspiration. Yes, we are close to the shortest day here in New Zealand, and many of us – regardless of our roots – have no problem associating winter with Christmas, even in June!

This ‘Christmas & Other Winter Feasts’ cookbook was my mums. In Dec 2021 my mum and dad were Christmas shopping in London’s west-end, and were in Fortnum & Mason, London’s luxury grocery store. Founded in 1707, it’s truly an emporium of delight – 6 floors of exceptional food & drink, with ambiance, service and hospitality to match.

Londoners like to joke that it’s their ‘corner-store’, referencing that it sells a bit of everything – as long as you are in a spending frame of mind. From salmon (smoked on the roof) to wild grouse (when it’s in season), possibly the world’s best selection of jams and marmalades, and the opportunity to create your own blend of tea from 80+ types, it’s not only how wonderful everything looks and tastes, it’s about how it makes you feel.

My mum eyed up the ‘Christmas & Other Winter Feasts’ book above, and when her back was turned my dad purchased it as a Christmas gift for her. It’s full of much loved, time-honoured recipes to match the winter traditions, not only Christmas, but ‘bonfire night’, outdoor ice-skating, Boxing Day walks and New Years Eve parties.

My Christmas experiences of long ago, the familial ones and the cultural and historical ones might not have felt meaningful at the time, but looking back it all feels so precious.

My mum, as it would turn out, had a major stoke in January, and died 10 weeks later, aged 78. The F&M cookbook has never been used.. and yet it somehow is so full of memories.

When mum died, we all at one time or another fell back on the same cliché – she had had a good life. Would mum have agreed? What does that even mean?

Continue reading “Lighting Up Just One Small Corner”

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. 

Continue reading “The Essentials”

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”

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!

Continue reading “Everything Is Waiting For You”

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”

The Joy Of Cooking

Over Christmas I read the Book Of Joy, an inspiring and uplifting book based on a week long dialogue between HH Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, on the subject of Joy. It’s my book of the year!

bookofjoy


Skilfully edited by Douglas Abrams, the book works both as an interesting biography of two truly amazing men, who are also great friends, as well as an exploration of what joy actually is and how can we create more joy in our lives. Their conversation is punctuated with teasing, banter and laughter, and also goes into detail of the challenging experiences and spiritual practises of these highly realised and joyful humans.

I found myself talking to my kitchen team about how the book had inspired and fascinated me, and as a result we ended up bringing a little of the book’s content into one of our cooking classes with our guests last week.

HH Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu agree there are ‘8 pillars of joy’, which are mind states & heart states that are the foundations of joy. Both men are very clear that they believe that joy itself is a by-product, or side effect, of these other states. When we go chasing or striving for joy it seems elusive, but when we cultivate these other qualities, joy spontaneously arises. What are the 8? Continue reading “The Joy Of Cooking”