Gratitude, and Biscuits

On my walk today, I listened to a dharma talk by Tara Brach, as I usually do each Sunday. The talks are given (and recorded) every Wednesday, at a Universalist church in Maryland, and are offered, free of charge, on her website.

This week’s talk, given on Thanksgiving eve, was titled “Gratitude & Generosity”. In it, she spoke of how being grateful is essential to happiness – something I learned when I was at my unhappiest, during a very difficult transitional period in my life a couple of years ago. It was desperate time of anxiety and situational depression for me, so I took up two daily practices: meditation and gratitude. I did these with a blind faith that they would help. I went through the motions, not sure it would make a dent. Fake it ’till you make it, and all that. 

Both practices saved me. 

I’ve let them go a little, since times aren’t so tough anymore. The meditation happens a few times a week, but the gratitude still happens daily. Before I fall asleep each night, I thank my stars for a few things. Sometimes it’s the things we take for granted, like clean drinking water, and sidewalks, and streetlamps.  Other times it’s the bigger things, like the love of my friends, my good health, and my full life.

Tonight I’ll give thanks for the following story, which Brach shared in her Thanksgiving Eve talk. She used it to illustrate the importance of being open to what is here and now, and as an invitation to quiet down the “shoulds” in our minds. For me, a gratitude practice helps with both of these things. It’s tough to wish you were somewhere else in your life, or someone else, when you shift the focus to what is already perfect and amazing right now. 

And damn if cooking analogies don’t get me every time! This one had me smiling ear to ear, and tearing up as I walked on the Cliff Walk today. It is from The Complete Tassajara Cookbook, by Edward Espe Brown, an American who is a Soto Zen Buddhist priest, and who also happens to be an amazing chef.

Making the Perfect Biscuit
     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” buiscuit, and these just didn’t measure up. After several failures, I finally got to thinking “Right, compared to what?”
Growing up I had “made” two kinds of biscuits: one was from Bisquik, and the other was from Pillsbury. For the Bisquik biscuits, you added milk to the mix and then blobbed the dough in spoonfuls onto the pan – you didn’t even need to roll them out. The biscuits from Pillsbury came in a kind of cardboard can. You rapped the can on a corner of the counter, and it popped open. Then you twisted the can open more, put the premade biscuits on a 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 life should look like. Compared to what? Canned biscuits from Pillsbury? Leave it to Beaver? And then we often forget where the idea came from or that we even have the idea. Those (perfectly good) biscuits just aren’t “right.”
People who ate my biscuits could be extolling their virtues, eating one after the another, but for me they were not “right.” Finally one day that shifting-into-place occurred, an awakening: not “right”: compared to what? Oh, no! I’ve been trying to make Pillsbury biscuits! Then that exquisite moment of actually tasting my biscuits without comparing them to some (previously hidden) standard: wheaty, flaky, buttery, sunny, earthy, 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 product makes it seem insufficient. The effort to produce a life with no dirty bowls, no messy feelings, no depression, no anger is bound to fail – and be endlessly frustrating.
There are a few more paragraphs that follow, but you get the idea here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
And I hope your Thanksgiving left you feeling grateful. And that every other day of the year does as well.
More Food, Less Pain,

One thought on “Gratitude, and Biscuits

  1. What a great story. I think I remember telling you about this before, but Tara Brach's book has helped me so much. Thanks for linking the dharma talks. I need to check them out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s