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Appreciating the simple things


The dinner I cooked for Marilyn last Thursday was so good, it made me realize, once again, how wonderful are the simple things of life.

Too often I forget how to just stop and smell the roses. I rush around, doing this and that, thinking about the past or anticipating the future, hardly pausing to notice the “Now” that is actually all that exists. The restless mind, what Buddhists call “the monkey mind,” churns on and on, never stopping, heaving up thoughts and memories and desires and fears, leaving us cut off from the real source of what succors and sustains us.

Like many people I have been financially hurt by this Recession. This past winter and spring, when I would worry about stuff, I developed the habit of taking long walks after work in the park down the hill from my house, Oakland’s Lakeside Park, which contains Lake Merritt, a rest stop on the Pacific migratory bird flyway, where herons, egrets, gulls, ducks, cormorants, pelicans, gadwalls, loons, even, on occasion, swans live, breed and forage, in addition to our usual city birds, the starlings, pigeons and sparrows. I’d sit on a park bench, clearing my mind and feeling the sun’s heat on my shoulders and thighs, and watch the birds. They would distract me. Birds are so funny. The crows are very smart and canny. The pigeons seem very stupid and dull-witted. Geese have an amazing perception and an enormous shit-making capacity. Herons seem to realize they are royalty. I wondered, why do small birds, like sparrows, hop, while larger ones, like geese, walk (or waddle)? I would watch a sparrow peck around in the grass for a bug, and then realize that for 5 or 10 minutes my monkey mind had been stilled. I had found a simple pleasure, bird-watching, that brought me peace, and still does.


Lake Merritt

Cooking gives me the same pleasure. For the dinner with Marilyn there was prep: shopping, selecting the perfect veggies, making the salad dressing. A little more EVOO to offset the balsamic. Another pinch of thyme. Chopping and slicing. Roasting the corn and slicing off the kernals for the salad. Preparing the seasoning for the chops. Setting up the pots and pans in the order I’d use them. Preparing the table, lighting the candles, making sure the wine glasses were sparkling clean. It was all mindless, Zen sort of work that steadied and quieted my monkey mind. And then the best part of all: eating and drinking! We drank too much, no doubt, but everything was so good, so wonderful. I served an older Robert Young Chardonnay with the salad of greens, prosciutto and artichoke hearts. Perfect. For the pan-fried scallops on a basil pesto aioli I had the rest of a bottle of Mumm Napa 2001 DVX they’d sent me for review. A friend had given me a bottle of Viader 2001 “V,” a Cabernet-Syrah blend that was spectacular with the lamb chops on buttery polenta (the real slow-cooked Italian kind, not instant). For dessert, Osborne PX Sherry, with chocolate brownies from Bakesale Betty, an Oakland hole-in-the-wall joint famous for chicken cutlet sandwiches and pastries. The combination of the chocolatey, Kahlua-like PX and Betty’s handmade brownies almost made me cry.

The simple things in life. Taking pleasure from what’s around us. Indulging the senses without causing harm to others. Living in the moment. Being with friends. Forgetting our woes and cares for a little while. And eating and drinking great wine (and beer and spirits)! As long as we’re alive, we can do those things, and revel in them.

  1. This reminds me of the centering I did on Tin Cross. We were ducking in and out between the trellis, weaving the vines up and over through the tin structure. And as we would move along the row we left the foliage in our organized wake. Like this task, most vineyard activities were highly repetitious, but this was my favorite. Within that repetition my mind would unlock and I felt as you described, Steve; present. I was “here” in the literal moment and I felt connected only to what I was doing. It makes you wonder if they didn’t call it the present because it is a true gift.

  2. I loved this Steve and could not agree with you more. People spend so much time worrying about their lives that they tend to forget to LIVE in it.

  3. I’d like to point your readers to this site– — that presents the ideal philosophy to support your perspective.

  4. Kelkeagy says:

    A lovely reminder about being here now. Thanks Steve

  5. I’ve become more aware of birds ever since I mistook a cuckoo for a clock in France.
    When I visited the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz in July (if you haven’t been, find a kid and go), there were stuffed birds in the gift shop. Ava wanted a white owl after I told her about the one in our barn but amidst the birds, there was no owl. Turns out these stuffed birds have actual bird calls from Cornell so we went online and played with bird sounds and types and colors several times and looked for the birds in the parks. Her little owl should arrive this week and maybe she will see the white owl, it’s rare.
    Today really is the best we can offer or receive. Thanks, Steve.

  6. Morton Leslie says:

    The way it started out …recession…birds at the park…I thought you were going to snag a couple of young pidgeons and tell us how to pluck and cook them.

  7. Nick Guerrero says:

    The monkey mind …. the restless mind. I think most of us have this kind of mind. Always thinking. Looking for balance. For me, I find balance when being with my family, all of them. It can be physical exercise with the boys, or shopping for earings with my daughter, or simply holding my wife’s hand. Balance.

    I love the bird picture of Lake Merritt. Wonderful. So awesome in fact that I don’t think Hollywood could do better. Life imitating art.

    Food and wine. Making the home cooked meal. I think we are all doing that alot more these days. And drinking a nice wine while making the meal. My favorite is Pinot noir but on a warm day, or over a warm stove, a Chardonnay or crisp Sauvignon blanc does the trick. Being with good friends and good family – that’s the trick. “Bad” family. No such thing really but there are members that are best enjoyed on rare occasions. Thanks for the comments about monkey mind. Provocative.

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