And he took bread, and gave thanks, and broke it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. — Luke 22:19
The communion ritual fascinates me. I suppose for some it can seem an outright lie or ignorant superstition. Even as a girl who came to church solely for the sake of obedience, the words drew me into their mystery, and I partook. I still take communion whenever it is offered to me. I take my sustenance in the mystery.
Last week I was tenzo, or cook, at a five-day retreat, preparing three meals a day for 25 people. I have participated in countless Zen retreats, maybe a hundred, taking many more hundreds of meals, and never cooked. Let me express my deep gratitude to every cook who has ever prepared my food. I had no idea.
Having no idea is the doorway to realization. It is the essential ingredient, you might say, in the miracle.
They sat down in ranks of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. They all ate and were satisfied. — Mark 6:40-42
At first my assistant and I were inept and overwhelmed, chased by the doubtful hours and disappearing minutes. We rushed and scrambled. We erred in composition and quantity. Every bowl we set out was returned empty. The diners seemed insatiable. The food was not enough.
But sitting down in the ranks transforms everything. By the third day of sitting, appetites quieted. Minds settled. In the kitchen, we moved with silent purpose. The miracle had begun to unfold. The food became a marvel; our hands, the instruments of magic. The taste was indescribable.
The cooks made an offering of the meal; the guests made an offering of their appetites. Everything in harmony; everyone blessed. By faith alone, we were all fulfilled.
I am full and not hungry right now. — Zen verse
Coming out of a retreat can be a shock. Not merely because of the silence, the rigor, and the departure from routine. It’s a shock because all of its lessons are lived, not just read or recited. The truth is ingested, as real as rice. And what we swallow, we become.
From this vantage point, what I’m shocked to see is the size of my own appetite, and all the foolish ways I attempt to satisfy it. My vanity and greed are grotesque.
As you might guess, I’m talking about Facebook.
Want little and know how to be satisfied. — Buddha
Our addictions are always on display, even if we don’t see them. Social media is a particularly unflattering mirror, and yet some of us are looking into it all the time. Go away for a week; really go away. Be quiet for a week; really be quiet. Set things down; really set things down. And when you come back, you might see what I do.
Oh my god.
From time to time people announce that they are going offline for a week, a month or longer. I always wonder why that requires an announcement. It never seems to me that they are gone for long, because I’m not either. It’s kind of like a smoker deciding to quit, then upping his habit to four packs a day because he’s going to quit.
How often do I go online hunting for a little morsel? And then another? Something to feed my self-image, validate my self-importance? How many likes, how many shares, how many comments, friends, followers or retweets? The rankings on Amazon; the reviews on Goodreads. How much delusion does it take to feed my insatiable ego?
These measures are as meaningless as counting grains of rice in a bowl, and even more so, because this rice is imaginary. It does not feed you; it eats you. You cannot live on imaginary rice. But oh how we try.
I went away for a week and filled myself with faith and wonder. I broke the bread; I lived the mystery. Every time I do it, I will do it in remembrance of this.
I am so blessed. I am so full. I have a practice.
For by grace you are saved through faith; and this is not from yourselves: it is the gift of God. — Ephesians 2:8
Please join me for the next meal.
Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat, Los Angeles, Feb. 24
Cultivating Stillness: A Weekend Retreat, Cincinnati, Mar. 15-17