Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Succulent Saturday

Mom and I by the bonfire
Jumbo candy canes, jumbo people!
Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert & Christopher Curtin "Good & Evil" chocolate bar from Eclat 
Succulents that looked like elephant hooves (or dinosaur paws)
My favorite: burnt orange dried Japanese lanterns

On a whim this past Saturday my mom and I decided to venture out to Terrain at Styers in Glenn Mills. As soon as I stepped out of the car and heard and felt my boots crunch against the uneven stone-filled parking lot, I felt an instant calm that saturated my whole being. In fact I was not in the place for more than ten minutes before I started choking up. I felt as though something tightly wound in the center of my chest was beginning to release and unwind and unravel and make its way up into my throat. Hot tears welled behind my eyes, and a glob of emotions wedged itself in my trachea and trapped its fist behind my breast bone. I quickly scooted into the bathroom to pinch a few tears out and take some soothing breaths. Words can't explain the emotions, which is maybe why the emotions came flooding out at the sight of a few bushels of dried Japanese lanterns arranged together just so and the smell of delicately brewed drip coffee sputtering into porcelain mugs, balanced on a slab of chosen wood. My mom looked at me, puzzled by my seeming sadness, and all I said to her was, "it's just so kind here. I am not used to this kindness." Deliberate kindness towards everything - a handful of orange winterberries, a carefully crafted homemade penny candy made to look like a rooster, a burning fire pit, a plaid, wool blanket. Everything my eyes and senses took in was itself a poem - each smell (burning balsam and fir), each sight (a miniature octopus ornament crafted from newspaper), each sound (hunks of branches cracking into ash in the fire pit) and each touch (smooth, cool measuring bowls made of jadeite.) The atmosphere begs you to slow down, to notice (really notice) and to take it all in. The careful attention taken for each minute detail at Terrain reminds me of a quote I read once by my buddy Thich Nhat Hanh:

“Feelings, whether of compassion or irritation, should be welcomed, recognized, and treated on an absolutely equal basis; because both are ourselves. The tangerine I am eating is me. The mustard greens I am planting are me. I plant with all my heart and mind. I clean this teapot with the kind of attention I would have were I giving the baby Buddha or Jesus a bath. Nothing should be treated more carefully than anything else. In mindfulness, compassion, irritation, mustard green plant, and teapot are all sacred.” 
How can seeing a teapot as sacred help us? Well, if we see every single thing (every twig, every keyboard on a computer) as neither good or bad, or less more than or more than anything else than we can apply this same acceptance to the feelings tumbling in our own emotional beings. Jealousy and wrath are as real as tenderness and compassion- and none of them are worse than or better than the other; feelings are not inherently good or bad. They are just feelings. (A good friend often reminds me that feelings are also not facts.) It's what happens when we judge the feelings as wrong, or believe the feelings as facts, or try to stuff them down, or run away from them or control them that we suffer, make poor decisions and end up hurting ourselves or others.

But back to my succulent Saturday at Terrain. We ate lunch at the cafe where we enjoyed freshly baked bread (in a clay pot!) with maple syrup butter and pumpkin salt, butternut squash bisque (which also made me cry), a goat cheese and arugula omelette, and a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie - all washed down with sweet blueberry, vanilla tea. I am sure the waitress thought it strange when she came to the table and saw tears streaming down my face. Perhaps she wondered if it was the soup she recommended. (It was.) But not in the way she might have thought. Moreso it was that, again, I was made acutely aware at a sensual and physical level of the deliberate kindness taken towards the simple act of creating a meal. A kindness that I could taste, that warmed my throat and whole body - and most importantly, a kindness that I allowed myself to take in and fully absorb.

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