Friday, November 15, 2013

the secret to meditation, the secret to happiness, and the patience of ordinary things

Student: “Master, what is the secret to meditation?”

Thich Nhat Hanh: “When you sip your coffee, taste your coffee.”

"When you sit in a cafĂ©, with a lot of music in the background and a lot of projects in your head, you’re not really drinking your coffee or your tea. You’re drinking your projects, you’re drinking your worries. You are not real, and the coffee is not real either. Your coffee can only reveal itself to you as a reality when you go back to your self and produce your true presence, freeing yourself from the past, the future, and from your worries. When you are real, the tea also becomes real and the encounter between you and the tea is real. This is genuine tea drinking."

- Thich Nhat Hanh

I really love this quotation above, and it reminds me of the video of Marina Abramovic that I seem to keep mentioning on this blog. Near the end she talks about a glass of water, drinking the water. Genuine water drinking. Ever since I saw it, I've been drinking my water differently, I swear. And I've also wanted to photograph a glass of water. A genuine glass of water. Just very plain and simple and clean. Unobtrusive.

The third photograph is maybe close to what I wanted. Our kitchen table is oak. It's the kitchen table I've always wanted. Big enough for lots of people to crowd around. Solid enough to last a long time. When we first got it, I imagined afternoons with tea and books scattered all over it. Evenings with wine and friends. I imagined our daughter doing homework at this table, and doing crafts. I wanted a kitchen table that would show the wear of time, and to hold so many things, to be at the centre of our lives. And it has done all that. So, it was a few months after we got the table, Rob and I were sitting in the next room, probably having a glass of wine before dinner, and we heard a strange sound - a cracking or splitting sound. Didn't think much of it to be honest. But when we went into the kitchen to get our meal ready, something drew my eye to the end of the table - and there was this huge crack. I mean, it's dry here. We've seen other pieces of wood crack in the winter here. On the reverse of a mask that a friend brought us from Gabon, there developed a large crack the winter after she'd given it to us. Well, I suppose most people might have returned the table to the store, demanded a new one. Rob oiled the split part, and it actually became smaller, less noticeable.

You'll remember the lines by Leonard Cohen:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

And maybe it's not so much that light gets in (though of course it does), but that it reminds us to forget what is perfect. Whatever I put on that table at dinner time is not perfect. Our meals are not always perfect and happy and the food I make is definitely not perfect. The writing I've done at this table is not even close to perfect, but usually the mad journal ramblings of a 47 year old peri-menopausal woman. Truth.

It seems proper to move from a glass of water, meditation and imperfection, to the patience of ordinary things. I know I've shared this poem before, but it continues to speak to me:


by Pat Schneider

It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How soles of feet know
Where they’re supposed to be.
I’ve been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?

"But I don’t think of the future, or the past, I feast on the moment. This is the secret of happiness."

Virginia Woolf

The days are so much shorter here now so that by 4:30, all the light in the kitchen is gone. The sun already too low to make it directly in through my windows. I had made pizza dough, and left it to rise on the kitchen table. The patience of rising dough, in winter light, seemed something worth recording.

And then this paper bag, which had been used for one thing and another. You don't see this kind of bag so very much anymore, but I like the way that with every use, it transforms, layers are added to it, shape.

What I have been needing lately and trying to learn is patience, which has something to do with my eternal quest for calm.


  1. So much beauty in ordinary things. Imperfectly perfect. And you are so good that you can make even a paper bag look like a work of art!

  2. I came over from Susan's Licht Years site. She's an inspiration to me and since you're an inspiration to her, I'll have to make sure to visit often. I love the poem on the patience of ordinary things. Very true that they hold a certain beauty.

  3. I cannot remember now how I discovered you. no doubt the word calm in the title.
    the little monk is one of my favorites.
    and to see him quoted here with these exquisite basho poetry pictures of yours . . .
    well. it just makes me happy.
    I had never read the patience of ordinary things. it was a little gift today.
    thank you.

  4. Oh the ordinary I love them! Beautiful post and photos, you captured perfectly the Taurus full moon energy coming this weekend: the slow pace and finding beauty in the reality of things.
    Have a beautiful weekend. Thank you.

  5. Your posts fill my heart and I am so grateful. Thank you.

  6. oh my gosh, too many thoughts I'd love to share in response ... but I get much too wordy. Two quick things instead. Yesterday in Pinterest I pinned someone's lovely clay bowl and s/he described how the Japanese don't throw away things that crack, instead they fill it with gold.
    The other thing about drinking water (or tea, etc). I experienced exactly that this morning ... I was feeling like having something my mother used to make all the time so spent ages creating it, only to sit down and gulp it down because I had allowed something to niggle at me just before doing so ... ended up I did not "eat" the item I so lovingly cherished and made. I ate the annoyance instead. Then I felt awful and more annoyed. So this is a great lesson you have reminded me in which to be more mindful. Lovely post.


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