Monday, August 27, 2012

"Whatever you eat..."

"Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer in sacrifice, whatever you give, whatever you practice as austerity, do so, O son of Kunti, as an offering unto Me."
Bhagavad Gita IX.27
This post may p@#* some of you off because it’s about food.  Specifically it is about eating. Most specifically it is about eating meat.  Now, if your initial reaction is “How could you! That’s horrible!” then not only should you stop reading, you should throw away your Manduka mat, your Lululemon pants, your (probably unread) copy of The Yoga Sutras and run screaming to  your registered trademark guru for some yoganastics or yogacrobatics or yogalaties or whatever ersatz spirituality dance lessons they’re trying to pass off (at a very high price) as yoga.

This post (and snarky attitude) is inspired, in part, by watching some of Julie and Julia this weekend.  Well, not by the movie, per se, but because it inspired me to pick up my butcher paper covered Les Helles Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain. This is not just a book of recipes, they are there to be sure, it is a book about technique.  Technique in cooking is totally based in attitude, the attitude that all that food you are preparing is a gift, you are a lucky son of a gun to have the opportunity to have any of it so you best use it all and make it taste good. Over and over again Bourdain screams this point. My favorite is “A highly intelligent animal died so you can have bacon.  So don’t overcook it.”  He reminds the reader that French food is based on transformation—they didn’t have much, so they used everything, transforming the grizzly bits into tasty meals.

Not many of us cook with this level of awareness.  We go to the store, pick up something in cryovac or on a foam tray, slap it in a pan, and viola! dinner. We are so far removed from the animal that gave of itself that we don’t even remember that our dinner was once breathing the same air as us.  Even fewer eat with this level of awareness—understanding that something died for your meal AND someone labored to make it possible—most just shovel it in without even bothering to offer thanks or even taste the food. Even worse, many of us complain when what we have been given is not to our liking, rather than <gasp!!> trying to appreciate what has been offered to us.

I have a great appreciation now for helping my Dad butcher deer when I was a kid.  Was it grizzly? Yes.  Was there blood and nasty bits everywhere? Yes. Did it smell pretty bad? Yes. But it was done 100% as an offering.  100%. 100%.  Hunting was (is) not done as a sport, but to provide food.  Any joy did not come from slaying the various beasties, but from being able to provide good food to the family when there really was no other choice. And before we dug in, we said grace, thanking the Lord for the food we were about to receive.  And it tasted good.

I don’t think my Dad has ever done headstand or chanted “Hare Krishna” or even thought about what a Lululemon is.  But he was my first yoga teacher, teaching about selfless service and devotion.  I regret that I was too stupid to realize it then.  At least I’m beginning to see now.  

Go eat your meat.  But only after offering gratitude to the selfless animal and plants that died so that you may live, and to the efforts of those who have transformed those beings into a palatable meal for your enjoyment and benefit. Join me in trying to remember to offer thanks before putting anything in your mouth, whether it be a lovingly prepared steak or cheesey poofs.  Your meal will taste better, and you might just begin to understand that yoga has nothing to do with contortions.

Happy Birthday Dad!

In gratitude.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Two Most Important Words

With Molly Duncan at Hudson River Yoga

I’ve worked in the restaurant industry for nearly 20 years: as a cook, as a chef, as a sales-rep, and as an educator. Something we cooks learn very early on, which shapes us as professionals and as humans are the two most important words in the English language: “Yes, Chef!”

There are millions of methods to achieve the same culinary end.  The only correct way to do something is the way that Chef wants it done.  Not because Chef knows better (although they do), not because Chef’s ego needs to be stroked, but because, in a service industry, we need to remove our ego from what we do in order to serve our guests.  My opinions and ideas do not really matter, my duty as a cook is to follow the formula/example given so that the guest receives exactly what they ordered, every time.  And there may be a very good reason for doing it that way, but that does not mean that I need to know the big picture, I only need to do it.  NOW. CORRECTLY. WITH FINESSE. REPEAT.

We have a similar opportunity to quiet our ego when we approach our yoga practice.  Sri Dharma Mittra says “Copy the Teacher.”  Not because the teacher knows better (although they should), not because the teacher’s ego needs to be stroked, but because, as students, we need to respect the teacher by following their direction.  The teacher may not explain why they do what they do, nor should they have to.  It is up to the student to listen and observe, then practice and realize.

Through listening and following direction (especially when it is contrary to what you want to do/feel should be done) creates an opportunity for our growth.  For that one second we are allowing ourselves to experience that we are not in control.  And that is ok. For one second we stop thinking about ourselves and become receptive (another of Sri Dharma’s common phrases). 

And this teaching is immediately applicable off the mat.  How many times during your average day do you have to do something you don’t agree with, follow process you feel is silly, smile wink and nod when you would rather yell, scream, and shake your fist?  20 times before 9AM? 

By simply learning to listen, paying attention, and following directions we move forward.  Headstand provides this opportunity.  The DMV provides this opportunity.  Your place of work provides this opportunity. 

The easy mantra to remind you of these opportunities is “Yes, Chef!”