Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Tassajara--Food and Work

I am trying to get myself jazzed about going back there, so I am remembering and to some extent idealizing all the things I love about it.

I did a big post on the RWBS about food. But the corollary to all that good food is the joy of experiencing real hunger. Anyone who has done hard physical work can attest to this--when you work with your body all day, you get hungry. Deep down muscle and cell hungry, sharp in the belly, but you feel it all over. And when you eat--my God, the food tastes incredible. There's nothing like it.

At Tassajara, you basically wake up hungry, and get hungrier in the two hours of sitting and soji before breakfast. Soji is the set of chores the workers do the get the place spick and span and ready for the day. Some people clean the zendo, some people set up the dining hall, some people clean bathrooms, etc. By the time you're in line for breakfast doing the meal chant, you're so hungry and chilly and awake that everything looks crisp and the smells just sneak up into your head and make you high. It's all about delayed gratification, and savoring. The students do a meal chant, then you have to sit and wait for the signal to begin eating. (Yes, it is regimented--I reiterate my friend Michelle's observation that zen has lots in common with S&M). For the first five minutes of the meal, no one is allowed to talk. So you really get to taste and experience the food in ways that you don't when you're babbling bullshit over mouthfuls of whatever.

After five minutes, the edge is gone, and things slow down, and you can talk. But those first few bites--even if it is something as bland as plain oatmeal with a little soy milk thrown in--you think you're sipping ambrosia.

Every meal is like this--but breakfast especially. In the ordinary office-job world, I usually skip breakfast, because I am not hungry. But at Tassajara, breakfast--you can feel it getting into your bloodstream, combating the cold, shoring you up, giving you strength for the day ahead--can feel how food really is fuel and not primarily pleasure or distraction, feel how work and food and yes, shit, are intimately connected, and there's an aliveness in it--the food is alive, you're alive, the work you do is alive, all this energy circulating, none of it congealing to fat, none of it stored, all of it expended in lifting, running, toting, cleaning, greeting, working. I really love that.

The work gets tedious and so does the menu. And Tassajara brings out other hungers, too. Less wholesome ones. But the phenomenon of looking forward to food with my body--and of discovering a real relationship between food and work--is something I cherish. That is why I go back. To get into more balanced physical rhythms, if only for a summer.

2 Comments:

Blogger Boz said...

That reminds me of what it was like in Basic Training in the Air Force. As soon as one meal was finished you started looking forward to the next meal. Actually there are a lot of similarites between basic training and the monastery. But, we were never allowed to talk during meals, and we marched everywhere, and we got yelled at a lot.

11:44 AM  
Blogger Juan Bodley said...

It's almost like you're submissive to your superiors, or something like that. I don't think I could handle that; I'm superior in my own unique way. I think.

3:49 PM  

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