I’ve spent all week feeling deeply uninspired for something to write. It happens to me on occasion. The week solely consists of my regular day to day activities and the only movement occurring in my internal world is still murky and inexplicable.
I know that I have some movement in my internal life over the last year about self care and slowing down. I also have a fear that’s currently paralysing me when I challenge myself to write something other than this blog (a big shift from 6 months ago when I couldn’t even fathom having the courage to write here). And surrounding all this is a pain sitting in my chest that I believe, at the moment, has something to do with grief of letting fear keep me small in my desired life – but may have nothing to do with that at all, and really, I feel wholly unqualified to write about something that’s still so shadowed.
So I keep meditating and just trying to observe that part of me through the day as it twinges, without engaging or telling myself a story about what the feelings mean. I just let them come and go, trusting that when the time comes the acceptance and solution will become clear.
The reason I do this is not because I’m someone who woke up one day thinking, “this meditation and mindful-living malarkey sounds like a fun idea, and I just love the thought of trusting something I can’t see, hear or touch.”
I was dragged into meditation, a ‘spiritual’ path (there really needs to be a better word for this, doesn’t there? I can still cringe when I read the word ‘spiritual’ – thanks go to Robin Ince for bringing that to the fore for me again) and a search for something greater than the human experience, kicking and screaming. As I wrote before on my post about fundamentalism, I consider myself rather smart and educated – a dangerous pattern for someone who also gets lost in boggy mires of mental anguish from time to time. No matter how smart I was, how much I studied psychology and philosophy, I just couldn’t shake those long moments of pain, and they were getting worse.
So, I’ve found myself walking a path for the last ten years that I’m a natural cynic for. A journey that I take micro-shuffles on, saying at each step, “I have to do what?! You’ve got to be kidding me? And trust which invisible friend? Pah! Rubbish!” – until sheer desperation has me turning a problem over to this way of living, all the while waiting for disaster to strike.
And you know what? Whatever it is that helps when I genuinely attempt to live mindfully, meditate, seek unheard guidance and trust unseen hands, works. It works every time. Not in a I-get-a-new-car-and-win-the-lottery way, but in a I’m-always-given-what-I-need-along-with-some-good-old-peace-of-mind way.
So I continue to be one of those near non-believers who does all the things that really makes it look as if I believe. Because whether I believe or not, I have a more peaceful, fun, engaged, full and joyful life when I do these things. And so does everyone who has to be around me.
Having written the above, I found myself at a meditation session today being led by a women I like and truly admire. The meditation went well, there were about ten of us present and everyone was beautifully engaged. I felt a great energy during the meditation as my perennially clenched jaw relaxed and I could sit comfortably in the space behind my conscious mind.
She rang a Tibetan singing bowl to finish the session and everyone stood around chatting about the lovely sound it makes. She showed how running the mallet around the edge of the bowl created the singing noise, which produced a chorus of “oohs” from the room.
“I know,” she sighed, “it’s amazing what the Tibetans know, we just can’t imagine their wisdom in the West.”
Now, I’m traditionally not a fan of Eastern religion any more than I am of Western. I’ve seen John Safran’s brilliant TV show on Buddhism and also know that the Tibetan monks were fearsome and pretty horrific warriors in their time who murdered their own people for centuries and generally acted appallingly.
So, with no pause in my mind to check for my audience, I piped up, “yeah, like the monks slaughtering all their own people for years.”
I mean… BOOMING SILENCE…
My wise woman smiled kindly and joked, “thanks for that!”
And everyone went on.
Meanwhile, I just wanted the ground to swallow me up.
What had I said?! Here I was, surrounded by lovely, highly educated, well-meaning people who want to believe the best about Tibetan monks, and it’s not as if that causes any harm. And I basically accused them of stupidly supporting evil in the world.
I stood in shuffling silence for a while, then made my excuses and left.
In the car on the way home, paying little attention to the road, I replayed the conversation over and over again in my mind. Really? I had to say that? I just had to be right instead of happy? Couldn’t I just leave them be? AAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRGHGHGHGHGHGH!!
I called a few friends but everyone was out. So I went and bought chocolate – I wont lie, it was a big bag of chocolate – and I sat in the car and ate it all before I went inside to my husband and son.
When I told my husband what’d happened he roared with laughter and asked why I hadn’t saved any chocolate for him. Sometimes I forget how completely normal he is, and that he just doesn’t get the mad panic that comes from being an occasional total emotional behemoth.
So, when people ask why I meditate and search continuously for a spiritual path, this is one of the reasons why. I may have been a bit of a tit today, but I haven’t been one for at least 2 weeks. Ten years ago I was making these gaffes several times a day and the self loathing was crippling. Today I can laugh at myself (after some time and chocolate) and get on with living a life that’s steady, fun and genuinely forgiving.
With all this in mind, I’m giving you a recipe today that’s stunning in its gentle and generous simplicity. Much like the spiritual journey, you may look at the given ingredients and think, “doesn’t look like much.” But this uncomplicated, untrendy recipe is actually the best cake in the whole wide world.
I’ve made it for years following the River Cottage’s recipe with pears and almonds, but I had some hazelnuts to use up and thought, “why not?”
The result is better than fabulous. Juicy, caramely rounded flavours and truly delicious. I can’t begin to describe how much I love this cake. And if you have a day like mine today, you can eat the whole thing and not feel too guilty because, as cakes go, it’s very low in gluten, uses only raw sugar, and has fruit!
- 175g unsalted butter, softened
- 125g raw caster sugar + 1 tbl sp for the pears
- 2 medium eggs
- 75g wholemeal self raising flour
- 75g ground hazelnuts
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- 3 pears (reasonably firm, but not rock hard)
Pre heat oven to 180°C
Grease a 20cm square cake tin and line the base with baking parchment.
Peel, quarter and core the pears.
Melt 25g of butter in a frying pan big enough to take all the pear pieces, over a medium high heat. When it’s bubbling, add a tablespoon of the sugar and stir gently until it has dissolved into the butter.
Turn down the heat, add the pears and cook gently, turning once or twice, until they’ve softened and are starting to colour – 5 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
In a mixing bowl, beat the rest of the butter with the rest of the sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in one egg at a time, adding a spoonful of the flour with each to stop the mix curdling.
Combine the remaining flour, the ground hazelnuts and the nutmeg, and fold into the mixture. Scrape into the prepared tin. Arrange the pears on top and pour on any buttery juices left in the pan.
Bake for about 40-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
Stand the cake in its tin on a wire rack to cool for a few minutes, then release the tin.
Serve warm or cold on it’s own, or with the thickest cream you can find.