Sunday, December 19, 2010
Food, A Festival of Worship
We are eating in silence. It is so quiet. I can hear myself chewing. In my head, my own teeth gently crushing up each tasty morsel seems to echo across the wide room, which I know from kirtan there has great acoustics. I am self-conscious. Can everyone hear me too? Ever gnaw sounds exaggerated, as the delicious food gets masticated.
I try to focus on my plate and not look up at those around me. It appears as if they are doing the same. I try, as the exercise requires, to focus on the food. My right fingers handle the colorful food on my plate: bright and crispy grated carrots, cubed beet roots oozing with red juicy goodness, red rice topped with the smoothest lentil dish, a dazzlingly festive green that reminds me a little of guacamole. From my fingers to my mouth, each bite tastes of pure nourishing goodness.
James Boag has invited us, his Gita students plus friends from Prague to join him in sampling the exquisitely simple and healthy cooking of Ratna, who will be catering the food for his upcoming Beeja workshops starting in late December. He also wants to share a slideshow of his trip to Kashmir, to ashram of the self-realized saint of Lakshmanjoo, the home of his yoga lineage Kashmiri Shaivism.
Ever the teacher, no learning opportunity is wasted with James. Once all the plates are filled up with Ratna’s delectable dishes, he suggests that we apply what we’ve been discussing in class: yajna, which depending on the translation can be thought of as sacrifice, though we established in class the best way to think about it is “ishvarapranidhanadva” or surrender to the absolute.
In chapter 3, verse 15 of the Gita, we explored how every action is an opportunity for worship; that action with mindful gratefulness can lead towards the divine. Today, we are eating consciously for that purpose.
As I chew my food slowly, savoring the wonderful flavors, as I look my fingers push my food into perfect bite size morsels, I contemplate the chain of gratitude that is connected to this meal.
I start to think about my teacher, James and how kind he is to organize all this. I think about Ratna, who he’s hired for the occasion. I think about her cooking such beautiful dishes with love. I think about the people she’s interacted with to make this spread possible, her teachers, her family, the different grocers, then the people who have sold the food to those grocers, and about where the later would have gotten the food. I think about the farmers and their families in the farm and how they support each other, about how each farmer puts a lifetime of experience into each crop. I think about the energy it takes to tend a field, the richness of the soil, the nourishing water, the spouting of each seed, and that beyond that. My mind pauses here, my eyes closed, my tongue pushing this festival of worship around my mouth, I think about God. I feel an incredible sense of gratitude.
Though not the typical lunch party, where food is imbibed with a healthy helping of small talk and socializing (which, I have to be honest, I will still very much enjoy), I found the experience very satisfying. I felt full and nourished, and not just in my belly. I appreciate the silence in which we ate our food, the connections that were made, the gratefulness that I felt.
James says, “We eat in silence so we can enjoy the internal symphony.” And today, it’s true.
James and Ameli have a series of very interesting workshops entitled Nourishing the Center, which are coming up. Check them out: http://www.beeja.net