Tuesday, May 22, 2007

On Life and Biscuits

►::STATUS:: Optimistic
♫::LISTENING TO:: "Physical Cities" by The Bad Plus

I am finally finishing up Jack Kornfield's book "After the Ecstasy, the Laundry." One of my favorite quotations from the book actually isn't from Mr. Kornfield, but rather a section from the writing of Zen teacher Edward Espe Brown:

"When I first started cooking at Tassajara, I had a problem. I couldn't get my biscuits to come out the way they were supposed to. I'd follow a recipe and try variations, but nothing worked. These biscuits just didn't measure up.

Growing up I had made two kinds of biscuits. One was from Bisquick and the other from Pillsbury. For the Bisquick you added milk in 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 kind of a 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 a pan, and baked them. I really liked those Pillsbury biscuits. Isn't that what biscuits should taste like? Mine weren't coming out right.

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? People who ate my biscuits would extol their virtues, eating one after another, but to me these perfectly good biscuits just weren't right. Finally one day came a shifting-into-place, an awakening. "Not right" compared to what? Oh, my word, I'd been trying to make canned Pillsbury biscuits! Then came an exquisite moment of actually tasting my biscuits without comparing them to some previously hidden standard. They were wheaty, flaky, buttery, sunny, earthy, real. They were incomparably alive - in fact, much more satisfying than any in memory.

These occasions can be so stunning, so liberating, these moments when you realize your life is just fine as it is, thank you. Only the insidious comparison to a beautifully prepared, beautifully packaged product made it seem insufficient. Trying to produce a biscuit - a life - with no dirty bowls, no messy feelings, no depression, no anger, was frustrating. Then savoring, actually tasting the present moment of experience - how much more complex and multifaceted. How unfathomable.

As Zen students we spend years trying to make it look right, trying to cover the faults, conceal the messes. We knew what the Bisquick Zen student looked like: calm, buoyant, cheerful, energetic, deep, profound. Our motto, as one of my friends said, was, "looking good." We've all done it, trying to look good as a husband, a wife or parent. Trying to attain perfection. Trying to make Pillsbury biscuits.

Well, to heck with it, I say. Wake up and smell the coffee. How about some good old home cooking, the biscuits of today."

4 comments:

isaiah said...

Like this post-

Makes sense, doesn't it?

Trev Diesel said...

You know, it does.

And it makes me hungry for biscuits, to boot.

gratefulbear said...

Next time you're in Atlanta, give me a call and I'll take you to one of my all time favorite restaurants, The Flying Biscuit.

anonymous julie said...

Simple is always too easy. Nice post!