Prompted to Tell: A Rosemary Awakening
This piece is by B. Asher, a contributor to Juiceboxartists writing workshops. The prompt was to say a few words about how meditation inspires creativity.
My first week-long silent meditation retreat, at the Aryaloka Buddhist Center in Newmarket NH, took place over Christmas a few months after my boyfriend left me for someone else. For days, I gnawed the bone of his betrayal between breaths in the shrine room. Evenings, I walked my stinging heart in the frozen woods, declaiming loudly, to him who was now only a phantom and a figment.
I was also nursing a crush on one of the center’s Order members.
One night, it was my turn to cook. I was new at this: cooking for a crowd, meditation, silence, Christmas away from any signs of it except the cold and the dark. The dinner was vegetable soup, and I followed the recipe to the letter. I sliced the potatoes into 1-inch cubes. I sautéed the onions for 10 minutes, then added chopped garlic and cooked for 10 minutes more. I added the broth. I added the greens. I added the herbs.
The awakening came with the dried rosemary. The instructions said, “measure 1 tablespoon.” This seemed an opportunity for logic and creativity, because, really, what is one tablespoon dried rosemary? Unlike, say, pepper, it comes out in little sticks, so it shouldn’t make a difference if you just estimate, I thought to myself. And estimate I did, intending to shake out just a little, and then a bit more — and into the soup the entire contents went.
What helps to know about me at this juncture, which will explain why this was a moment of insight, is that in my family, dumping a box of rosemary into a pot of soup would have been the equivalent of setting the curtains on fire. Good gracious! Help! Stop! Police! Large adult bodies would rush to the stove. Invectives would spring from lips, as would insults and illustrations of my idiocy and incompetence, and someone would hiss: “You can’t make the soup. Here, I’ll do it, just go away….”
No wonder I never learned to cook, I think in a flash. At that moment, my crush the Order member wandered by. “I dropped all the rosemary in the soup,” I whispered, a look of what I assumed was despair on my face. He gave a delightful smile, picked up a slotted spoon, and started the gingerly process of retrieving as much as he could before the dish was ruined.
It may not sound like much. I find these insights never do. But in that instant, I saw the world expand from an unhappy place where meals were ruined by people like me, to a lovely river of food, where this and that could be throw in, fished out, rescued, and the end product eaten without fear or disgrace.
My ex-boyfriend was erased from my mind. My phantom critics stood off to the side, sputtering, as the current object of my affection slowly, deliberately, and with great humor, undid most — though not all — of my mistake.
We had the soup that night while the wind hammered the windows and bent the staffs of the domed roof above our heads. We were hungry, and we ate our meal in grateful silence.