How to Host a Holiday Party and Actually Enjoy Yourself

November 28, 2017

Hey, far be it from me to offer instructions on how to host a stress-free holiday party, since I can’t remember the last time I even hosted a holiday party, let alone stress-free.  Still, as someone who has spent decades in the kitchen, what I do know is that people spend way too much time and effort trying to follow recipes rather than enjoying themselves and making food for one another. So if I was to host a gathering this season, here’s what I would aim to keep in mind.

First things first, lower your standards enough to have a good time. The best story about this is one that Robert Bly tells at his readings about his friend William Stafford, who was confirming to an interviewer that he had a practice of writing a poem each day.  “How,” the interviewer wondered, “can you do that day in and day out?  How can you be that creative?”  To which Stafford replied, “I lower my standards.”

This is a brilliant piece of advice that requires a sleight of hand: Lowering your standards for making sure that others think highly of you. To engage in trying to control what others think of you is stressful, exactly because it is impossible. To lower your standards, you let them think whatever they do. And they will!  At least it’s not going out on Yelp!  (unless it is..)

So instead of trying to be impressively masterful, you could aim to enjoy yourself alongside your family and friends. Enjoyment in this case is a choice to rest easy doing what you are capable of doing, and letting go of the rest. And tuning into warmth, gratitude, and well-being.

Sure, make some plans, consult some culinary bibles or online cooking sites, but leave room for your plans to change as the holly hour approaches. If things are getting stressful, reassess what to do and what not to do. Decide to do less! Perhaps if people are not too busy with being impressed with the spread, they will have more energy for happily engaging with one another.

Be entirely willing to ask for help. When I’ve wanted to appear masterful, I have hesitated to do this, as then others might see me as being needy and helpless, and my project to appear capable and competent would be a disaster. Then nobody helps. But they do tell you to calm down, which doesn’t help.

So ask for help, whether it’s for food dishes from others, drinks to bring, people to serve, help with cleaning up. Inspiration, assistance, guidance, support—the more you ask for it, the more it appears.

Again, it’s not up to you to make sure that everyone has a good time. That’s their job. After all most of them are probably adults now, and they may choose to enjoy themselves. It’s your job to offer what you have to offer, sincerely and wholeheartedly. Letting go of the results.

And when you let go of assessing the results, you may be pleasantly surprised that you are smiling.  You discover what’s in front of you can be sweetly beyond compare.

Happy hosting!

 

Looking for more great reads?

 

Edward Espe Brown was the first head cook at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center and later helped found Greens Restaurant in San Francisco. He is the author of several bestselling cookbooks, including The Tassajara Bread Book (Shambhala, 1970) and the subject of the 2007 film How to Cook Your Life. His newest book, No Recipe, is being published by Sounds True and will be on sale on May 1, 2018.

Edward Espe Brown

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Edward Espe Brown: Sincere and Wholehearted

Edward Espe Brown is a Zen priest and the former head cook at Tassajara Mountain Zen Mountain Center who helped found Greens Restaurant in San Francisco. He is the author of No Recipe and the classic Tassajara Bread Book. With Sounds True, he is publishing The Most Important Point: Zen Teachings of Edward Espe Brown. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Edward about the origin of his newest book: a quote from his teacher Suzuki Roshi, who said, “The most important point is to find out what the most important point is.” Edward describes his discipleship with Suzuki Roshi and why Zen practice can sometimes be like feeling your way through pitch darkness. Tami and Edward talk about the tradition of “taking the backward step” and moments of realization that transcend your expected practice. Finally, they talk about Edward’s path away from extremely low self-esteem and the role of difficult emotions in Zen contemplative practice. (77 minutes)

Coffee Meditation

Coffee Meditations, Edward Espe Brown, Sounds True

During the twenty years I lived in a meditation center, I rushed through my morning coffee. After all, if I didn’t drink it fast enough, I’d be late for meditation. It was important to get to meditation on time; otherwise, one had to endure the social stigma of being late (obviously lacking the proper spiritual motivation), as well as the boredom and frustration of having to wait outside the zendo to meditate until latecomers were admitted.

When I moved out of the center, I had to learn to live in the world. I had been institutionalized for nearly twenty years. Now I was out and about. What did it mean? There was no formal meditation hall in my home. I could set my meditation cushion in front of my home altar, or I could sit up in my bed and cover my knees with the blankets. There were no rules.

Soon, I stopped getting up at 3:30 am. Once I did awaken, I found that a hot shower, which had not really fit with the previous circumstances, was quite invigorating. Of course, getting more sleep also helped.

Then I was ready for coffee—hot, freshly brewed, exquisitely delicious coffee. Not coffee in a cold cup from an urn; not coffee made with lukewarm water out of a thermos; not coffee with cold milk, 2 percent milk, or nonfat milk—but coffee with heated half-and-half. Here was my opportunity to satisfy frustrated longings from countless mornings in my past. I would not have just any old coffee, but Peet’s Garuda blend—a mixture of Indonesian beans—brewed with recently boiled water and served in a preheated cup.

Unfortunately, by the time I finished the coffee, I had been sitting around so long that it was time to get started on the day, but I hadn’t done any meditation. With this heavenly beverage in hand, who needed to meditate?

The solution was obvious: bring the ceremoniously prepared coffee in the preheated cup to the meditation cushion. This would never have been allowed at the center or in any formal meditation hall I have visited, but in my own home, it was a no-brainer. Bring the coffee to the cushion—or was it the other way around?

I light the candle and offer incense. “Homage to the Perfection of Wisdom, the Lovely, the Holy,” I say. “May all beings be happy, healthy, and free from suffering.” I sit down on the cushion and place the coffee just past my right knee. I cross my legs and then put the cup right in front of my ankles. I sit without moving so I don’t accidentally spill the coffee. I straighten my posture and sip some coffee.

I feel my weight settling onto the cushion, lengthen the back of my neck, and sip some coffee. Taste, enjoy, soften, release. I bring my awareness to my breath moving in, flowing out. If I lose track of my breath, I am reminded to take another sip of coffee—robust, hearty, grounding. Come back to the coffee. Come back to the breath.

A distraction? A thought? Sip of coffee. Enjoy the coffee. Enjoy the breath. Focus on the present moment. Remembering the words of a Vipassana teacher of mine: “Wisdom in Buddhism is defined as the proper and efficacious use of caffeine.”

I stabilize my intention. “Now as I drink this cup of coffee, I vow with all beings to awaken body, mind, and spirit to the true taste of the dharma. May all beings attain complete awakening at this very moment. As I visualize the whole world awakening, my mind expands into the vastness.


Friends, this is one of the teaching stories that is shared in my new book, The Most Important Point. This offering comes to you with my gratitude for the efforts of Danny S. Parker, who edited over 60 of my Zen talks for inclusion in this volume.

Lastly, I invite you to try the Tea and Ginger Muffins recipe that accompanies this story. Danny must have enjoyed them!

Edward Espe Brown is a Zen Buddhist priest and was the first head cook at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center.

Danny S. Parker is a longtime student of Brown’s and is an ordained Zen Buddhist priest.

Pick up a copy of Edward Espe Brown’s newest book, The Most Important Point, today!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound

Edward Espe Brown: No Recipe

Edward Espe Brown is a renowned chef and Zen teacher who is best known as the first head cook at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. In addition to writing several cookbooks including the classic Tassajara Bread Book, Edward founded Greens Restaurant in San Francisco. With Sounds True, he has published No Recipe: Cooking as Spiritual Practice. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Edward about Zen teachings on what it means to have to feel our way through the dark—both in the kitchen and on the spiritual path. They talk about cooking as a form of offering and why working with food can be one of the most potent ways to express our hearts in wholeness. Edward shares what he learned in his turbulent first days as the head cook for a spiritual community, including insights from his first Zen teacher, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. Finally, Edward and Tami discuss what it means to seek out our heart’s true desire, as well as how to embody that search in all that we do. (72 minutes)

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