Category Archives: World and Community

“What Would You Like To Order?”

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As I sat peacefully in a fine dining restaurant, under the shade of a cool tree, I could not help but overhear the conversation at the table next to me.  A young couple, clearly in the early days of courtship.  Tremulous excitement.  Uncertain but hopeful air.  Attempting to decide upon mutually appealing fare as smoothly as possible.  They spent some time discussing the menu and then it was time to place the order.  

But the steward had other plans. With an air of authority, his confidence stopped just short of arrogance.  The couple before him were clearly no match.  The young man was anxious to please his date.  He hesitantly ‘suggested’ a dish they had discussed.  The steward responded with disdain, politely verbalizing, “Wouldn’t you like to try … instead? Our chef is particularly good at pastas.”  Visibly nervous, the young man glanced at his friend who had begun shaking her head in negation. “I don’t like pasta too much,” she pouted.  This put him in a fix.  He tried placing another order, but the steward was beginning to look displeased.  The lady also began to feel intimidated, doubting her own tastes.  “Are you sure it is good?” asked the customer.  Despite the affirmative, he asked another three times, in different ways.  Essentially, unknowingly, asking for assurance as they all knew that they would finally settle for the steward’s choice.  

As he walked away triumphantly, the two looked crestfallen and yet relieved.  “It should be good.  He told us so.” muttered the man.  “Yes, I guess no harm in trying.” she replied with a little disappointment.

While it is perfectly fine to solicit information and advise and be willing to experiment, seeing the dampening effect on them, the following observations came to mind:

  • It is easy to be influenced when we are not sure of our selves.
  • We give away our power easily to those in authoritative positions.  A steward can make you change your choice of food, a doctor your choice of treatment, and so on.  While there is nothing wrong with acknowledging and relying on another’s expertise, the question is, have you chosen your ‘expert’ with awareness, or through fear?  Is this a conscious evaluation or blind faith?
  • Despite having doubts about the congruence between the steward’s recommendations and their own preference, the customer failed to find the courage to voice them.  How often do we silence our inner voice and what does this cost us?  More than a meal I am sure.  Where have you stifled your own choices because of someone else’s influence?
  • Once he had relegated his power, repeatedly asking for assurance hints at how we attempt to justify the actions we have given in to.  The initial error is now re-framed by seeking reasons to rationalize it.
  • The feelings of discomfort are obvious and palpable, but ignored.  All they had to do was acknowledge that neither of them was happy with the order, call him back and change it.  But instead, they both pretended to be fine about it and even perpetuated the pretense with each other.  Again, what does this kind of masking cost us in other areas?

Who we are reflects in all our spaces.  And sometimes being observant in one area can lead to useful insights in other areas of your life.  So the next time you pick a new restaurant, do notice how you go about choosing your experience.

PS:  In case you are wondering, they did not enjoy the pasta after all. And drew the radical conclusion that they should avoid this restaurant in the future.  Rather sad, because the food and ambiance are excellent actually.   They just never took the opportunity it offered, but relied entirely on someone  else instead.

Image Courtesy:  Marylou Falstreau

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Dive in Deep

“When the smells from the kitchen
Overtake the awareness,
Reading the menu loses its appeal.”
Wu Hsin

Since I started sharing some food snaps on Facebook, several of my friends have been complaining.  They say I should be giving them samples of the dishes I prepare.  Simply tempting them with attractive photographs is unfair.  Providing recipes is not enough either.  They want the real thing.

There is no substitute for the experience. 

Because food is such a sensory experience, it is easy to understand their point of view.  From the sizzling sounds of a saute, the aromas of a curry, the vision of a decorated dessert, the texture of a perfect paratha to the overwhelming satiation of the taste buds by a delicacy – food leaves you no choice.  You are seduced into wanting to ‘know it’ and will not settle for less.  You will not settle for poetic descriptions or well captured photographs.  That is the power of our senses and their hold on us.

But there are matters of deep importance that do not present themselves as loudly, and yet remain a persistent voice in the background.  The  fundamental questions that lurk in every heart.  Such as:

  • Who am I?
  • Why am I here?  
  • What does all this mean?  
  • Is there a purpose?  
  • If so, what is it?  
  • If not, then what?

Your list may vary a little, but I am sure you get the gist.
More than looking to arrive at conclusions, exploring these in itself has great merit.
And as you pay attention, your answers will change over time.  As will you.

Most of us tend to park our inquiry aside for another day, but I choose to question this Retirement plan.  

The above quote from a non-dualistic teacher had me remembering how I used to feel that fully engaging with life and non-duality cannot go hand in hand.  But my experience has taught me otherwise.  It seems it is time to live from an awareness of the simultaneity of wave and ocean.  And for that, we cannot remain with intellectual discussion alone.

We read the books, we listen to the talks, we evaluate the newer teachers and choose our favorite points of view.
We debate for and against.  Succumb to the lure of captivating concepts.
And never test the waters.

Life is best understood in the living.
As Wu Hsin goes on to say,

“[Likewise,] one cannot learn to swim
While remaining dry.”

The nuts and bolts of everyday living test us and remind us throughout the day.  And if we are honest with ourselves, most of us on the path would find places we are still working on.  Its not as easy as it is sometimes made out to be.Where ‘awareness’, ‘unconditional love’, ‘forgiveness’, ‘letting go’, ‘allowing’, ‘accepting,’ and ‘Oneness’ are not simply intellectually and emotionally appealing concepts – but something you attempt to live in every moment.

When we fail to apply it, we become victims of our own jargon, reducing the wisdom to cliches that end up resulting in self sabotage.

So the invitation is to dive in deep – test the waters for yourself.
Theory only helps us  know about it.
To know it, we have to jump right in.

Whether hot or cold, calm or still, obscure or clear – I would like to experience this wave-ocean rather than simply talk(or write) about it.

How about you?  Wouldn’t you rather eat than look at the pictures?

🙂

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Image Source: BoardingPass.Gr

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9 Buffet Tips That Can Be Applied To Life

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Even if the menu says ‘All you can eat‘, what you get out of the meal is largely up to you.  Much as is the case with life. Like the generous spread on offer at a lavish buffet, we are offered a wide variety of experiences.  And just as we can navigate the meal in different ways with varying consequences, so it is with life.  It has taken me a while to learn the ‘art of eating at buffets’ and I felt many things understood there are equally relevant to the way we move through life.  So here are 9 parallels one could draw between enjoying such meals and life:

  1.  Run a quick survey first:  Instead of loading up the plate from the start, an observant glance around the table will give a good idea of what is on offer.  While it may be tempting to think one can sample it all, going by the number of dishes put out on the average buffet these days, it would be wise to be more discerning.  Similarly, there are number of interests and experiences available out there, but realistically, we cannot sample them all.  Having a general sense of what you would definitely like towards the top of your list and what you can live without is a useful place to start.
  2. Decide what you don’t want:  The older ideas of sampling a spoonful of everything before deciding on the mains is now simply impractical.  You will either end up overeating or be too full to really dive deep into the flavors that appeal to you.  The body knows what it would like and what is good for it.  Those inclined can learn muscle testing to quickly and discretely discover what would work for them.  In life, mindfulness can just as easily guide us as to what would be appropriate for us.  The thoughtful pause is extremely useful in making conscious choice a way of being.
  3. All that glitters is not gold:  Attractive looking dishes may not make for the healthiest of food.  Artificial colors, additives and unhealthy ingredients can often look appealing but prove costly in the long run.  Which one of us has not had difficulty in resisting temptations in life?  But here too, short term indulgences can lead to expensive, long term consequences.  Sometimes the best things appear simple and you may miss their true merit if you go by appearance alone.  Weigh the pros and cons carefully.
  4. Don’t be afraid to explore: Bearing in mind the above, you can still experiment with the unfamiliar and unknown.  We tend to stick to old favorites, even checking the spread with an intention of finding what we liked the last time.  Be open to discovering something new.  If you never ask ‘What is good and new?‘, something fresh and wonderful may be under your nose, but you wouldn’t see it.  We often need to unlearn our old ideas in order to see radical shifts in our lives.
  5. Choose quality over quantity:  Anything in excess can prove detrimental to one’s health.  Selective portions of pleasing items can appease the taste buds and yet not be excessive.  We can practice the same discernment in life, displaying a wise moderation in our choice of activities and behaviors.
  6.  Make room for your favorites:  I have no qualms about having a sweet tooth.  So I ensure that I have a look at the desserts section at the very beginning and adjust my other intake accordingly.  I feel the same way about making room for sweetness in life.  There is no point in filling our hours with activities (or the lack of it) and depriving ourselves of whatever it is that really makes us come alive.
  7. Remember tastes differ:  One man’s meat is another man’s poison.  The beauty of having so much diversity on offer is that everyone is free to enjoy what suits them.  This is also true about diets, religion, philosophy, healing techniques and so on.  So live and let live.
  8. Value everything:  People seem to believe that the only way to get value for an expensive meal is to overeat.  Which implies that the only thing you are valuing is the quantity.  Whereas you are actually also availing of taste, ambiance, space, comfort, pampering and so on.  So don’t worry about stuffing yourself, but do make sure you appreciate the finer nuances of the dining experience.  Ever seen the modern day, typical tourist?  They seem so busy clicking pictures to take home ‘memories’ (or demonstrable evidence of their travels), that they forget to actually experience memorable moments.  Don’t pass through life blind to all the gifts it offers you.  The moment you widen the scope of what you value, you will find yourself appreciating each experience with a new depth and sincerity.
  9. Appreciate generously:  A lot of painstaking effort goes on behind the scenes, to make possible your heavenly dining experience.  If you like something in particular, do make it a point to pass on your compliments.  Look around you and notice how many people have contributed towards whatever joy you are experiencing today.  Have you thanked them for it?

What insights have you gained from your own buffet outings?  Do share your comments below.

 

Image Kind Courtesy: Marylou Falstreau (all rights reserved)

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Simple Living + Recipe Roasted Vegetables

A child of five could understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five.” ~ Groucho Marx

Somewhere in our attempt at keeping up with the Jones, we seem to have lost our connection to the simple pleasures of life. Society and media encourage us towards more and more expensive, grandiose and pretentious tastes.  Whereas everyday gems are long forgotten, even dismissed for their ordinariness.  But that is the challenge that we humans face.

We tend to take our gifts for granted.  Unless they come wrapped in fancy trappings and are difficult to obtain, we seem to miss their intrinsic value.

What would it be like to actually appreciate the presence of the many unadorned gifts in your daily life?  The flowering of your terrace plant, the smile on your child’s lips, the appreciative glimmer in your partner’s eyes, the colorful sunset over a soothing sea? We starve ourselves of these daily blessings by failing to notice them. Instead, we are distracted by our impatient cravings for the rare designer label, the exotic vacation to far off lands, or more commonly, the validation of having provoked envy in others through the obtainment of such symbols of success.

Consider how your food preferences can remind you of all this.  Despite all the expensive restaurant meals, lavish parties, complicated recipes and exotic ingredients that you may have already sampled, your regular favorite is likely to be a basic, home cooked meal. Perhaps the jhunka-bhakar for the Maharashtrian, or the sambar-rice for the Tamilian. No matter which part of the world you come from, your own preferred fare will most likely be one of the simplest dishes of the region.  For example, one of the most popular pizzas in Italy is the original Margherita, which has only tomato, mozzarella, and basil.  Now, isn’t that food for thought?

So while I am not dissuading you from your ambitions and aspirations, what I am proposing is that you re-discover an appreciation for the day-to-day ordinariness around you.  You may be amazed at how much is going unnoticed.  If you need any help, as Groucho suggested, call for a child.

After all, they say God is in the details.  We just need to look.

This post was inspired by the extraordinary taste, nourishment and satisfaction provided by this uncomplicated dish… The slow cooking and light herbs proved ideal in bringing out the nuanced taste of each vegetable in generous deliciousness.

roasted vegetables

Roasted Vegetables

Ingredients
4 cups                        mixed vegetables (bite sized)- Cauliflower, 
                                     Potatoes, Mushrooms, Yellow Pepper, French Beans
3/4th cup                cherry tomatoes, halved
4                                  small red onions – cut into wedges
8-10 cloves             garlic,  finely chopped
4 leaves                    garlic chives
4 sprigs                     marjoram
4 tablespoons        olive oil
3                                   lime leaves, broken
Salt
Dried Herbs (mixed)
Optional:  Small amount of crumbled cheese(feta) and paprika
Method
  1. Coat onions in salt and oil, roast for 10 minutes.
  2. Mix rest of dressing, toss and coat vegetables.
  3. Add roasted onions on top.
  4. Cover dish with aluminium foil.
  5. Bake at 230 C for 40 minutes.
  6. Optional topping of crumbled feta and paprika

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Don’t Get Caught In A Pickle

Caught in a pickle

Every family has their secrets. Some are the pink elephants of traumas, tragedies or other unspeakable tales. Some are the revered ones, such as traditional knowledge or crafts, that are guarded like the family jewels, passed carefully from one generation to the next. In the rich depository of such ancestral inheritance, what I considered exceptionally valuable, was a recipe for mango pickle.

Sounds innocuous, but if you had ever tasted this delicious sun-dried, spicy mango delight at my grandmother’s, you would understand. It seemed unlikely that any other preparation could ever match that taste.  After her demise, my uncle took over. As he got older, the preparation became my sister’s responsibility. An essential requirement is the stark, dry heat of Nagpur or Nasik. In my mind, this is how I rationalized the difference in taste from the other Maharashtrian pickles available in Mumbai. That and of course, the exceptional ‘family recipe‘. To me it was as precious as the traditional medicine for jaundice that is passed on in a cousin’s family. Or as notable as the anecdotes about another ancestor’s medical prowess. It was unique, and our own special inheritance.

A couple of years ago, I happened to be in Hyderabad for some work. Our hosts were kind enough to take us out for a sampling of the local thali meal.  I cannot describe my shock at finding ‘my’ pickle in my plate.  I was even more stunned to discover that this was the popular Aavakaya pickle.  Every Andhra household prepares this and my friends were confused and surprised at my excited reaction.  A couple of them offered to bring me homemade bottles, as most of them had it at their homes.  I was humbled and delighted, all at the same time.  I now had easy and limitless access to this delicacy.

But the irony was not lost on me. Despite having a liking for spicy food and having sampled many pickles, I had not ‘discovered’ that what the younger family had assumed ownership over was actually a given in a far larger collective. The rich variety and diversity of food and culture in India does make familiarity with all foods near impossible to the lay person.  (I have no idea how a South Indian recipe became a staple part of my centrally located grandmother’s recipes.)

But how easily we become proud and possessive of something that actually belongs to the whole world.
Just because of our ignorance.  Because of our limited knowledge and experience.

When one applies this across other subjects, the gravity of the repercussion is self evident and significant.  We debate over ideas and beliefs, one region against another, one religion against another, one nation against another.  Vociferously, righteously clinging to our claim over what are often universal truths and planetary gifts that we mistakenly believe we own exclusively.  Only because we view them from some historical, blinkered perspective, often relying on mythical memories to back our version of things. Makes me wonder, how much of the rigidity and conflict would dissolve – if we began to respect how much we all have in common and that  we have simply failed to see – nothing is ours alone.

The same also applies to what we consider our unique failings and challenges. In Marathi, we have a saying, “Gharo Ghari matichya chuli“.  What it implies is that every household that you visit, essentially faces the same challenges.

In a conversation about plagiarism,  I heard that some people deliberately do not attribute credit to the original source whose quotes or teaching they share.  Because if they have subsequently lived it,  they feel that they can now ‘own’ it.

Perhaps eventually, we will come to realize that all roads lead home and far enough down these roads – all paths are one.

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