My Guru, The Pita Bread!
I am no Monk, nor any authority to claim knowledge about the Dharma. But I do have a somewhat regular, yet sincere contemplative mindfulness practice that helps me experience and understand life, as I observe phenomena within and without me. So, here are a few reflections for your coffee time. As you sip on your deliciously made aromatic coffee, tea or hot cocoa accept these thoughts for your reflection.
Finally, at the 3rd mindfulness class I took with Daniel, I decided to do the homework he had asked everyone, which was to do one thing we do routinely during the day, mindfully. That is to be with the experience of it and fully giving it our undivided attention. For example, if we chose brushing our teeth, he said, to brush slowly, feel every stroke, how the brush moved around the mouth, what it felt like, the taste of the tooth paste, what our mind was doing and observe everything about that experience, while also focusing on our breath. This was our mindfulness exercise, which to me didn’t sound too exciting. So, what? I thought and didn’t do it.
Until that final day of having burnt my 967th pita bread.
You see, aside from running my business, tending to clients, raising kids, continuing graduate school, etc., I also managed to lead a life of arranging parties, cooking for anywhere from 25 to 70 people all year round for my kids and family and for different occasions. I’m considered a very good cook by those who enjoyed flawless dishes over and over. With one helper at my side to help prepare I could cook and prepare up to 10 dishes for a party all in one day and have everything come out perfect with beautiful presentations . . .
. . . well, I also burnt nine pitas out of every ten I tried to warm up!
You see, for us Persians, using the toaster or microwave or even an oven to heat up the pita is a no-no. At least that’s how my grandma taught me. So, we have to heat our pita bread over the fire to cook it to perfection. This takes anywhere between ten and twenty seconds. I timed it. So, a competent cook like me burning nine out of ten pitas is really absurd and unacceptable . . . so why was this happening?
I had to find out. Hence, this became my mindfulness exercise for my homework. Oh boy, was I in for a huge lesson in getting to know how I go about living life . . . while I stayed with my pita bread to heat it up following the instructions of my teacher, feeling all my feelings, being with the experience, being with my breath, etc. I observed how absolutely difficult it was for me to just do one thing at a time. I saw how I could not stay put for twenty seconds to finish this task. I had to run to the fridge to get something, wash vegetables, cut them, put on music and so many other things while leaving the bread on the fire and rushing to turn it over in between all those other necessary tasks.
OMG, I could not, and I mean could not for the life of me stay put. I saw how absolutely uncomfortable it was for me to pay attention to one thing and wait till it finished. As if it was not worth my time or something! As if I had to prove I can do more or having accomplished heating a few pita breads was too low of an accomplishment! It was one the most bizarre experiences I encountered with myself.
It was at that moment that I reflected, “Where else in my life do I behave this way? Where else do I not pay attention that might be so much more harmful than just burning a few pieces of bread?” I had to sit down with that overwhelming thought, practice mindfulness and let all those thoughts go.
After that, I tried heating my bread as an only task and it was not easy. As if I was a smoker or an addict who had to quit this way of doing things. At first, I stayed close by, opened the drawer next to the stove to get forks and knives out, and the cabinet above to get plates out. The practice of mindfulness helped me experience the urge to do more than one thing at a time, how it felt and to see that only a fraction of my attention was applied to any of the tasks I did, while multi-tasking. This is not to advocate against multi-tasking, but to be aware while doing it and to be realistic about the results and outcomes of our behavior. Perhaps some tasks may be done requiring only a fraction of our attention. Practicing mindfulness has enabled me to see clearly the connection between my efforts and attention to my serenity and desired outcomes. I’ve learned that the quality of time and outcomes definitely depend on the quality of my awareness.
And this simply, is how the pita bread became my guru.