Monday, September 17, 2012

     After all the sorting it turned out both sons would be away for the better part of summer and I'd get a trial-run of empty nest. On a spur I perused artist colonies (not only would I like to be a participant but I've harbored a dream that when my children were grown I'd find employment being an artist's retreat chef, nomadically following warm weather!) Alas- I was way past the various application deadlines. Instead, on a lark, I signed-up for a 10 day silent retreat at the Vipassana Meditation Center in Shelburne, Mass.
    Several people I know had done this, including my sister who told a story of smuggling napkins from the dining room and finding a pencil stub on the bottom of her purse to write illicit poems with the shades drawn in her room. (There is no reading, writing, music, talking, exercise allowed; only eight hours a day of meditation broken up with meager meals and pre-recorded dharma talks.) 
    Let me tell you: it was really hard, and fascinating and uncomfortable and tremendously empowering. The silence was easy, silencing the "monkey mind*" was not. First off sitting that long is difficult (this is why the ancients invented yoga- to prepare the body to be able to sit.) By the second day I pleaded for chair dispensation and despite pillows propping every bodily curve by the third day my hemorrhoids were trumpeting "get off your arse, get off your arse!"
    And it was shocking where and with what speed the mind travels despite the most concentrated efforts to still it. Unexpectedly I remembered so many people and moments I was filled with a magnificent and rooting sense of history. I had many creative thoughts and just as many undermining ones. Sitting so long, feeling every breath, moving my focus back and forth from the top of my head to the tip of my toes I  became able to discern patterns of thought and to welcome both good and troubling thoughts and to take neither seriously. For short moments I was able to appreciate rather than judge. For even a few spare fleeting moments I was able to not think at all and only feel. 
     Small stones along the short paths through the property's woods became my illicit poetry. I pocketed dozens squirreling them to my room, then built and collapsed and rebuilt towers marking each day of meditation, and each day of not drinking wine achieved (this being a part of my agenda for going- to clean house so to speak.) 
     Meals were simple, bland, starchy vegetarian fare. Oatmeal and toast for breakfast, then for the other meal: brown rice or quinoa with steamed vegetables (or horrible canned tomatoey mushes with too much cumin in them.) Towards evening there was tea and fruit. So longing was I for the kitchen (my real life) that I'd string out the tea break peeling my orange with one long spiraled cut, and then supreming perfectly pithless segments into a bowl. 
     I thought I might never eat another bowl of brown rice ever again, but just the other day I got a hankering. What makes the dish is miso enhanced tahini and spicy mixed Indian pickle liberally spooned atop. I know this is a mash-up of Middle-Eastern and Asian flavors, but I think it works. 

Tahini Sauce:
Mix 1/2 c. tahini (ground sesame paste) with 1/2 c. water. 
Stir till smooth and blended. (Add a bit more water if its too thick- or a spoon of yogurt or buttermilk)
Add: 1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice 
a dash or two of soy sauce
1 - 2 T miso (fermented soy paste)

Spoon a few spoonfuls of sauce over cooked brown rice, (or other foods: salad, cooked vegetables...) then top with Indian pickle (which I buy from Patel Brothers in Jackson Hts.) At the Vipassana center I also dusted the bowl with toasted ground flax seeds.

Leftover sauce keeps well in the fridge.    

* Monkey-mind is a term used in Buddhist and Daoist writings to refer to the wandering mind.   

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