Bao – the mindfulness of choices


One of my favorite meals is the steamed pork bun called the “Bao.” Recently after a movie about Zen monastic practice, a friend and I went across the street for beers and steamed buns.  We had seen them in the movie – massive trays of them made for the monk’s meals and, since we both love them, we were propelled to find some as fast as humanly possible.  Well, and beer – because , well, its BEER!

The Bao is very hard to make.  Its dough is temperamental and so the whole thing needs the utmost of care in the timing of the stages.  Once made, they are steamed in baskets over the boiling water of a wok, giving the bao a slightly woody flavor.  Soft like a pillow on the outside, meaty and creamy on the inside, the bao is near food perfection.

Sitting there in a new city, a new life even – with an old friend and an old favorite food, it was easy to be mindful – aware, awake to the goodness.  What is harder in life is to sit with less pleasant things like anxiety, our impending death, the end of something we loved, etc.  Sitting in open awareness of those things is difficult.  We shy away from them.  We turn our heads and reach for some intoxicant – any intoxicant for anesthesia – food, drink, sex, shopping, work, drugs – the list is a long one and the most destructive on the list seem to be the most benign.

Love is our only counter-terrorism act against the pain of our life.  And love emerges from looking – seeing – longing – and accepting what exists.  The good, the bad and the ugly as well as the delicious.  To encounter life in such a way that our reaction to the delicious combination of friendship, a beer and a bao can become the same as our reaction to a diagnosis, the red and blue lights of a cop car behind us, a letter from the IRS, or the encounter with people who disagree with us  – these are the beginning of shalom – of unfolding a peaceful world (which emanates from working hard to create a peaceful life.)

Each morning, I sit for an hour and watch my thoughts.  Then sit for a second hour and review my life, speech, actions and intentions.  Then I walk for an hour and consider what it would take to be peaceful.  It is hard work and often I fail miserably.  But the beauty of a cold beer, an old friendship and a soft, hot, bao remind me that life is short and we need to find the right balance between fearlessly speaking our truth while equally fearlessly looking at our one, small life.

Kierkegaard said that “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”  We are free beings – able to make choices and able to have and to hold thoughts.  Anxiety enters stage left when we do not look so hard at our anxious thoughts that we dispel them – exposing them for the lies and concoctions they are.

We are free to be afraid.  We are free to be upset.  We are free to be angry and even rage-full.  But these are choices.

It used to be that I would be enraged at incompetence or manipulation or abuse when its negative results impinged on my life.  Now I try hard to greet them with a nod. “Yes.  I have that in me too.” and then simply chose the freedom of walking away – most recently – to a farm in New Mexico – for a beer and a bao and a friendship.

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