When I make my porridge in the morning I take one of the Japanese teacups down from the shelf for a measure.
In parenthesis: I am trying to avoid the word “use”. I intensely dislike the idea of “using” anything. I caught myself just now about to say “I use one of the Japanese teacups as a measure.” And then again, when I stopped on the verge of saying “I don’t like using the word ‘use’.”
At his community in Plum Village, periodically in the course of the day a bell rings, and at the meeting for meditation it’s customary in the Buddhist way to start with the ring of a bell. Thich Nhat Hanh describes this as “inviting the bell to sound”; I love that. To regard even inanimate objects with respect, and encounter them as though they were living beings, is skilful means in my eyes.
Not “use”, then.
So anyway, I place into a milk-pan one cupful of rolled oats from Scotland, about a third of a small teaspoon of salt from our own sea here in St Leonards (hooray!), one cupful of soya milk, and two cupfuls (cupsful?) of Oatly (oat milk). Then I cook them until they are porridge.
When we chucked out all our sugar a week or so back I ate the porridge without my customary sprinkling of sugar, and discovered to my surprise I really liked it without. Then we all fell off the wagon (sigh: so soon!) and I went back to putting some sugar on my porridge. But after two mornings of this I noticed something. I didn’t actually want the sugar on my porridge at all, I was just having it because I could – defiance in the face of hardened oughteries – in spite of the fact I preferred it without. This has to be a manifestation of insanity! Because I noticed, I stopped. Because I stopped, I didn’t feel the need for a cup of tea with my porridge. Tea and sugar are evil twins in my life; always found together. If I can’t have the tea I don’t want the sugar. If I can’t have the sugar I don’t want the tea. If I have them both I think they’re delicious, but they make me feel really . . . really . . . t i r e d . . .
Not what you want at breakfast time.
But I digress.
So anyway this morning I had to face the first challenge of the day: opening a new carton of Oatly and a new carton of soya milk. “Oh, here we go – I hate this!” I was thinking to myself. The Oatly has to be very well shaken up or it’s all strange and watery, and the soya milk has to be shaken too. Neither can be shaken successfully before being opened, and when opened but full there’s a risk of spilling soya milk liberally everywhere when shaking it, if the fit on the little cap isn’t good. Plus the sealing tabs are so darn fiddly to get off. So I was grouching about this and muttering in my soul when suddenly I realised that in so doing I had stopped concentrating.
If I concentrate, things aren’t a nuisance (well, all right, some things are but not opening new cartons of plant milk).
If I concentrate, I feel peaceful in my body in the task of opening the little tabs with care to make a successful job of it. I enjoy the teacup in its beautifulness. I shake up the carton thoroughly and enjoy the milk pouring out in the right consistency. I enjoy being there and doing that thing.
Why it makes me cross is because I let my mind go galloping on to the next stage – cooking the porridge – and get impatient with the first stage of opening and shaking and measuring and pouring. So I get scattered and the present task harasses me because I am actually somewhere else in the future cooking porridge and don’t want to be distracted from that by the inconvenient present.
Because I noticed this, I remembered to come back to now – where else is there to be, really, after all? And then I enjoyed it all, in a happy contented sort of way. And because I had noticed I didn’t actually want any sugar (yes – how could that be?), I didn’t want any tea either, and none of that was a struggle and I didn’t have to cope with that dragging weariness end-of-the-world or at least end-of-my-life feeling that follows on the heels of ingesting the evil combination of tea and sugar.
In case you should conclude I am reaching a pinnacle of rarified dietary purism, let me tell you that I did have a cup of tea and a cinnamon biscuity thing that has sugar on it this afternoon.
But this was not meant to be about tea and sugar really, but about concentrating and not concentrating, so let’s not dwell on the evil twins more than absolutely necessary.
(if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)
Oh, boots! I have two flat sturdy pairs of boots for striding about in, and two more ladylike pairs with low heels (one black pair, one brown) for when I have a momentary Aspiration To Elegance. That seemed enough, really. Because I have massive feet it’s hard to get shoes, so I tend to clutch compulsively onto any that seem to fit. These did, so I bought them. They simply duplicated another category already supplied. I hope they managed to find some other lady with massive feet to wear them.