Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Are You Enjoying Your Biscuits?

Buddha Bowl 6"x6" mixed media

I like cooking analogies as they relate to life. They help me see what I am cooking deep in the cavernous kitchen of my heart.  Dogen wrote "Instructions To The Cook" which I usually consume in it's slightly soupy watered down form, finding the original just a little too rich for my pea brain. But here's Ed Brown, talking about biscuits. I think we can all get this in it's original, touching form.  Why do most of us spend so much time wishing for the "Pillsbury" version of life instead of tasting what's on our plate, in front of us?  The answer I think, as Ed points out is that we mostly don't even know we're doing it. The advert media earns it's coin and spends it's full energy convincing us we need something else, something more to be just fine, to be happy. Their livelihood depends on it and often we buy what their selling in a deep way. We become restless and hungry for a life that isn't ours. We reject the burnt corners, the bitter skin, but also miss the tender, sweetness of what is fresh and in front of us.

But without further adieu I will put you in Ed's capable and humourous hands and let you ponder the question, "how are my biscuits?" And if you haven't seen it, his movie "How To Cook Your Life" is a delicious morsel.

"When I first started cooking at Tassajara, I had a problem: I couldn't get my biscuits to come out right. I'd follow the recipe and try variations: milk or water, eggs or no eggs, but nothing worked. I had in mind the "perfect" biscuit and these just didn't measure up. After several failures I got to thinking, "Right compared to what?"

Food For The Heart 12"x12" mixed media

Growing up I had made two kinds of biscuits: one was from Bisquick and the other was from Pillsbury. For the Bisquik biscuits, you added milk to the mix and then blobbed spoonfuls onto the pan and didn't even need to roll them out. The biscuits from Pillsbury came in a kind of cardboard can. You rapped the can on the corner of the counter and it popped open. Then you twisted the can open more, put the premade biscuits on the pan and baked them. I really liked those Pillsbury biscuits. Isn't that what biscuits should taste like? Mine just weren't coming out the way they were supposed to.

It's wonderful and amazing the ideas we get about what biscuits should taste like or what a life should look like. Compared to what? Canned biscuits from Pillsbury? Leave It To Beaver? And then we often forget where that idea came from or that we even had an idea. Those perfectly good biscuits just aren't right.

People who ate my biscuits could be extolling their virtues and eating one after the other, but for me they were not right. Finally one day that shifting into place occurred. Not "right"  compared to what? "Oh, no I've been trying to make canned Pillsbury biscuits. Then the exquisite moment of finally tasting my biscuits without comparing them to some (previously hidden) standard: wheaty, buttery, flaky, earthy, sunny, here. Inconceivably delicious, incomparably alive, present, vibrant. In fact much more satisfying than any memory, much more delicious than any concept.

Those moments when you realize your life as it is, is just fine thank-you, can be so stunning and liberating.  Only the insidious comparison to a beautifully prepared, beautifully packaged products make it seem insufficient. The effort to produce life without any dirty bowls, no messy feelings, no depression, no anger is bound to fail- and be endlessly frustrating.

Empty Vessel 6"x6" mixed media

Sometimes when I was cooking my former partner, Patricia would ask if she could help. My response was not pretty, neat or presentable. The lid comes right off and I would explode: "No!" How could an offer of assistance be so traumatic and irritating. Neither of us could understand why my response was so out of scale, so emotionally reactive. But I suppose it depends on which biscuits you're trying to bake.

I couldn't get it for the longest time. Finally I realized I was trying to make myself Mr Perfect, grown-up man, competent, capable and superbly skilled, performing tasks without needing any help. Someone asking, "Anything I can do?" implied that I need help, that somehow I am not competent, independent and grown-up enough to handle the cooking myself. Ironically the desperate attachment to being the perfect grown-up meant being a moody, emotional infant with strange prickliness. "How could you think such a thing?" I would rage. "You've ruined my perfect biscuits, now leave me alone."

As a Zen student one can spend years trying to make it look right, trying to cover the faults, conceal the messes. Everyone knew what the Bisquik Zen student looked like: calm, buoyant, cheerful, energetic, deep, profound. Our motto as one of my friends says was, "looking good."

We've all done it: tried to look good as a husband, wife, or parent. "Yes I have it all together. I'm not greedy or angry or jealous. You're the one who does those things, and if you didn't do it first, I wouldn't do them either. You started it"

"Don't peak behind my cover," we say, and if you do, keep it to yourself. Well to heck with it I say, wake up and smell the coffee. And how about savouring some cook old fashioned home cooking, the biscuits of the day?  - Ed Brown from "The Tassajara Cookbook


  1. Nice analogy. Is there a middle path between always looking for better biscuits and just accepting bad biscuits and never bettering ourselves? If so where is the line?

  2. hello Zen, it can seem complicated that's for sure. you have probably heard the Zen saying, "we are fine just the way we are and we can do better." I think for me it's about letting go of comparisons, the ones that are so subtle I hardly know I have them, letting go of the subtle dissatisfaction with things as they are. I think as we explore we fall off and get back on the line. For me it's about the subtle aversion that creeps into so many things. My aim is for a little more curiosity and a little less judgment. How about you?

  3. Ha! I just realized I have the DVD sitting on my shelf waiting to be watched. Now's the time.

    I took your suggestion and visited Rawsome Living Foods. I had a chocolate muffin and all I can say is vegan sweets shouldn't be allowed to taste so good! Nice artwork on the walls too :)

    1. I love that movie! You won't be disappointed.

      You gotta try the mocha cheesecake or any cheesecake that they have for that matter!

      Did you get there when my Buddha's were up? Lisa Lipsett's work is up now and it's pretty fine.

      Now you will just have to go to the Naam when you're in Vancouver and see some more Buddha's (don't forget the miso gravy, but you knew that, right?)

    2. Yes your Buddhas were up when I was there. I'll be back for (tofu) cheesecake! I think I may have been in the Naam once in the '60's. Sounds worth Crossing the Great Water (Burrard Inlet) for.

  4. wonderful read.

    it seems to support the case for simplified living, for de-cluttering our days. comparisons are so much easier to fall into when they are strewn almost everywhere.

  5. hello Monica, yes this makes so much sense. I think simplicity can spawn clarity. I know when I work in my studio, every now and then I have to stop and clean up, otherwise I feel an inner chaos and muddle descending over me.

  6. Sometimes those burnt biscuits of life can be hard to swallow (notice the word "allow" is in there) :) especially when they cause indigestion (suffering and hardship and a sense of disconnect from the Flow of Life). Sometimes I just want to bake a better biscuit! :)lol I guess it all depends on HOW we *see* it, and ourselves - and using discernment to know when to change the recipe that doesn't work anymore. But I get the point of not comparing our lives to other's - but just living with open receptivity to what is... Still, sometimes I want a better biscuit - or maybe a little honey with it :)lol

    Love your Buddha Bowl:) I'll have a biscuit with that please... Fun post!

  7. yes, Ed Brown is funny and poignant! I think you'd like the movie. In it cries over the tenderness of a teapot!

    It is true we don't always like the biscuits in front of us. And you are right, we can work on the recipe. But in the mean time they are the only biscuits we have. In the last retreat Howie suggested just feeling what it's like to be sad or in biscuit lingo, just really tasting the biscuit fully. We can't have biscuits with honey all the time, although mostly we think we'd like that!

    This is where the biscuits hit the bowl!

  8. Comparing biscuits.....nope that's not on my agenda for the day. I'd rather work with what's been placed in front of me than fight it. Love your paintings, Carole.

  9. Thanks, Carole. Some people just have good Dharma sense from the get-go! Happy painting!