When I was a little girl, my mother claimed that tea tasted so much better when drunk out of a beautiful porcelain cup. She would get out her best tea set dishes, Royal Crown Derby to be exact, and she trusted me and my sister to be careful not to break them. Although there are many subjects on which my family and I don’t agree, I think there was a great deal of wisdom in my mother’s approach to the proper enjoyment of tea.
As I muse over a selection of my recent readings and viewings of films, I find a common theme running through most of them: Fulfillment, health, and finding balance in life. Recently, my son showed me a Buzzfeed article showing school cafeteria meals from around the world. It is interesting to see how various countries present their meals, many of them using “real” dishes, silverware, and glass goblets. Whole foods, prepared with care, and the importance of care and beauty, attachment to traditions…these seem to be aspects of life too often ignored by our culture of convenience in America. What if the quality of care taken in the preparation of our meals, the way we grow our foods, and the way we treat one another actually enhances the nutritional value of the food we eat and the ability of our bodies to better process these foods?
I often feel that it is an integral part of American culture to be (in my opinion) highly competitive and dissatisfied. This state of incompleteness gives us goals, things to do, things to buy to improve our condition and lot in life. We are all about fixing things without taking into account that perhaps our enhancements are not always needed. Although few of us actually stop to consider this aspect of our culture, there exists a concerted effort by factions of all kinds to make us feel as if we are somehow not good enough as we are right now. Doing and accomplishing is generally considered more important than simply being and joyfully accepting reality exactly as it is. This predominance of masculinity, that in order to be worthy, we must constantly modify ourselves and our environment, weighs me down.
After living in France for nearly 18 years, and after 10 years in the U.S., I have realize that France seems a much more balanced yet more conservative culture than ours. The conservative aspect is the feminine, an attachment to tradition and rituals of life that keep the people and the country stable and fairly happy. The attention to the quality of food, of conversation, and the devotion to agricultural traditions, preventive health care, abundant vacation time, and family life are all aspects of nurturing that counter-balance the rush of modern life and the constant changes brought about by science and technology. Both aspects of life are necessary for balance.
In the United States, our mainstream culture has cut most of us off from many of the nurturing and artful traditions that fulfill us and that connect us to nature, to our ancestors, and to our own nature as human beings. Without a constant connection to our inner source–which can be personal or collective–we may feel untethered, and the results of the imbalance are evident throughout our primarily masculine-driven society. Anyone who watches the evening news will observe an excess of violent and anti-social behaviors, and if you look around your neighborhood, more than likely, you’ll observe a growing lack of community. People are addicted to work, to sugar, to their electronic devices. Everyone seems to be driven to perform, and yet no performance ever seems good enough. Social media promotes endless chatter, and yet there seems to be little or no time for real conversation, for cooking or eating meals together as a family, for finding meaning in the simple acts of daily life. Instead, we are offered entertainment to distract us from our discomfort and sense of disconnection. Convenience reigns, yet disease is also equally prominent. Our American lifestyle is out of balance.
While I personally believe that culture is not the answer to everything, and that there is no ideal collective or individual way to be or to live, I do find it interesting to observe and to compare how various societies deal with what it means to be human. As creative and complex beings, it is challenging to be human, as we are continually required to reinvent ourselves. The biggest challenge of all is self-awareness and self-love. In the meantime, why not try to use your best dishes every day, celebrate any occasion with a long dinner around the table, without any scheduled activities or events, and observe what it’s like to simply enjoy whatever happens during your day, without any expectations.
Here are some of my recent reads and views…some in progress:
Fed Up, a 2014 documentary by Stephanie Soechtig with Katie Couric. I definitely recommend this film for viewing by all parents and anyone who feels concerned about the obesity epidemic, the omnipresence of sugar in the diets of our children (and adults), and the state of public health in the United States.
Year of No Sugar: A Memoir, by Eve O. Schaub. The story of a mom who grew up with a deep and abiding love of home-baked desserts and for whom sugar was the chemical equivalent of true love. She basically transformed her own life and that of her family after viewing a documentary about the evils of sugar in our diet. She decided to embark on a year-long experiment to mostly ban all added sugar from her family’s diet, with the exception of a monthly treat and birthdays. The book details the emotional roller coaster of the experiment. What impressed me in particular was that new family closeness grew, as well as creativity and cooperation. The children seemed to adapt well for the most part, and they learned to cook and create new recipes. When the year came to an end, to some extent sugar was re-incorporated in various ways into the family’s diet. All of the family members were transformed by the experience of trying to find ways to compensate for their sweet tooth.
Writing Diet: Write Yourself Right-Size, by Julia Cameron, 2007. This is a book for the creative person who feels that he or she is not sufficiently fulfilled creatively-speaking, and who is probably compensating for that frustrated feeling by eating too much. Ms. Cameron noted in many of her other workshops that participants were leaner going out, and she began to examine the connection between frustrated creativity and weight gain. She explains that the more we express our feelings with the written word, the less we are driven to eat for unhealthy reasons. The fulfillment that comes from expressing the inner self satisfies the hunger, and the weight is lost without real effort.
Dying to Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, To Near Death, To True Healing, by Anita Moorjani, 2013. This book is a highly personal account of one woman’s inner transformation. Ms. Moorjani grew up in Hong Kong. Exposed to multiple cultures in her youth, she was pushed to conform and to repress her individual dreams and desires for her life. She describes how she believes fear (specifically the fear of cancer) and repression (of herself in order to obtain approval by her family and peers) led her body to rebel, causing her to develop lymphoma, from which she very nearly died. After all of her organs began to shut down and she drifted into a coma, Ms. Moorjani was not expected to recover, and yet she experienced a miraculous withdrawal of the disease which doctors had given a terminal diagnosis. The experience also transformed her thinking and freed her to live according to her true nature and personality. I was personally more drawn to her choice to fully love and embrace herself and all of life without judgment–and to her realization that heaven is not a place, but a state of being–than to the near death experience and healing, of which I have read many similar accounts. I have observed that people who have touched the extremes of human experience enjoy a refreshed view of the real. While it is not necessary to experience near death in order to live life with the awareness that we are all inter-connected and that everything we think, say, or do affects everything and everyone else, it is nice to know that there are others who are able to appreciate life and reality for what it is, simply and without judgment of self and others.