|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