Edward Espe Brown: No Recipe

May 15, 2018

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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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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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The Trauma-Trigger Cycle

When you are stuck with old unprocessed experiences living inside you, they can create what I call a trauma-trigger cycle because they are still very much alive in our systems.

Here’s my analogy to help you understand how this works and why it causes so much trouble. Imagine that you have a very difficult experience, for example, having to say goodbye to a sick pet. All of the details in the form of individual feelings, smells, images, sounds, and more get bundled up and deposited into a metaphorical glass trauma capsule—which gets stored in the body. It sits there with all of the old feelings we experienced at the time the event happened. While you might not be aware of it constantly, you are likely feeling those emotions at a low level all the time. When any current situation reminds you of any of those details hanging out in the capsule—either consciously or subconsciously—the old trauma gets “poked,” or reactivated. This is how we get triggered. Being triggered can bring up flashes of those memories, including images, feelings, and any sensory stimuli.

For the most part, except in certain cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from major life events, where sometimes the trigger is known, this trauma-trigger reaction actually happens at a subconscious level, outside of your awareness. Even in obvious situations, you may think you know what the trigger is, and try to avoid it, but it may be something totally different that got stuck in the metaphorical glass trauma capsule. Often, people come to me and say, “Nothing set this off,” “I’m depressed for no reason,” or “I suddenly started feeling terrible but nothing happened.” While this may seem true, I can bet on the fact that while the bad feelings might seem random, they are being triggered in some way that you simply haven’t yet identified. Triggers can be foods, colors, smells,sounds, weather, or anything, really! Finding and resolving triggers can become almost an entertaining game if you let it.

As you can imagine, this entire trauma-trigger dynamic is very unsettling and unpredictable—which can feel like danger to your system and keep you stuck in that freakout response. Not only that, but in this state, you can actually be excessively tuned in to your trauma, seeing reminders of it everywhere, which further traumatizes you.

I had an experience after going through a loved one’s difficult health crisis where every single place I looked, I saw reminders of the experience. And for someone who wonders if everything is some greater “sign from the Universe” (fact: not every single thing is) or my intuition is trying to get my attention because another loved one might be in danger (second fact: trauma and fear clouds intuition), it felt like torture to me. I kept meeting people who had the same illness that my loved one had had, saw posters and billboards advertising medications for the condition, and more. As a distraction while on vacation, I had deliberately picked out several seemingly lighthearted books to take—and it turned out a character in every single book had that same medical condition! I was constantly on edge and further traumatized by all of these things. This is a perfect example of what happens to us in a traumatized state: we become highly attuned to the world around us, perhaps subconsciously scanning for danger, but in the process, we see and get triggered by everyday things we’ve probably passed by a million times before. I realized that had I been tuned in to any other single thing out in the world, like peaches, I likely would have seen that everywhere. This recognition actually led to a funny mantra I used during that time to keep things light while I did the deeper healing work: Look for the peaches! But in all seriousness, what happened as I worked to release the trauma, just like you’ll be doing in this chapter, was that I stopped seeing reminders of it. I have to be honest in that this took months of using energy therapy in different ways to overcome the trauma I had experienced, like you’ll be learning soon—but it worked. Did all the people with this condition go away? Did all the billboards get taken down? No. The less traumatized I became, the less heightened my sensitivity to it was. This is a perfect example of why it’s essential to work with unprocessed experiences.

Emotional memory is stored throughout the entire body. Thanks to the work of Candace Pert, we know that “unexpressed emotions from experiences can get stuck in the body at the level of cellular memory.” This is such a simple explanation for why we feel bad when we haven’t resolved our past experiences. We are still quite literally feeling them. And even if it’s at a subtle level, it may only take a “trigger” from that metaphorical glass capsule to awaken it.

While your own unprocessed experiences may not disrupt your life in the way that clinically diagnosed PTSD does, you may relate to what it feels like to have PTSD, when one or a few memories from life takes over all of it. This is, again, why we must deal effectively and consistently with our emotions instead of suppressing them. Otherwise, we are at risk of our emotions becoming part of future unresolved experiences.

Even knowing all of this, there’s no need to panic. Again, not all experiences traumatize you. And, not all traumas will need to be dealt with in order to get you feeling better. But the ones that do need careful attention. I want you to understand that by working with trauma, we are not trying to force a positive perspective on it or make you be okay with something bad that happened to you. Not at all. What we want to do is release the stress it’s causing you, even if that stress is undetected consciously. We don’t want these traumas taking up space and energy in your body anymore or triggering you without your knowledge.

Working with unprocessed experiences will help empty the metaphorical glass trauma capsule so we stop becoming triggered by the world around us. In other words, you’ll be seeing peaches more easily instead of trauma triggers.

This is an excerpt from How to Heal Yourself From Depression When No One Else Can: A Self-Guided Program to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t by Amy B. Scher.

 

amy b scherAmy B. Scher is an energy therapist, expert in mind-body healing, and the bestselling author of How to Heal Yourself When No One Else Can and How to Heal Yourself from Anxiety When No One Else Can. She has been featured in the Times of India, CNN, HuffPost, CBS, the Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Curve magazine, and San Francisco Book Review. Scher was also named one of the Advocate’s “40 Under 40.” She lives in New York City. For more, visit amybscher.com.

 

 

how to heal

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The Importance of Being Vulnerable

Emotions are the primary way we connect with others. In fact, for all the ways we perceive that sharing our emotions causes trouble, it’s actually worse for us not to. Sharing our truest, most vulnerable selves actually prevents us from the isolation that occurs when we miss out on the deep connection that only comes from this type of transparency. While social media can be a place of great support, it’s also caused a huge challenge. Because we’ve created a world in which we are addicted to showing our curated emotions, social media posts rarely tell the entire story. We’ve gotten accustomed to holding back our real selves—so much, in fact, that we have a totally distorted view of what’s “real.”

On a wet fall day as I was researching the negative effects of social media for this book, I noticed that a heavy sense of melancholy had fallen over me. Pushing myself to go out for a short walk in my beloved Central Park, only a block away, took every ounce of energy I had. When I was out, my sadness didn’t fade, but astounded by the colorful change of leaves, I felt inspired to take a handful of photos. They were the kind that Instagram is made of. When I got home, I decided to post them on social media. But earlier that day I had read something that was still with me: what happened when Tracy Clayton, host of the BuzzFeed podcast Another Round, asked people to repost photos they’d previously shared on social media, but this time, with the “real story” behind them. The photos that most of us would have longed for had painful stories behind them. One woman admitted to a terrible anxiety attack that took her all day to overcome, someone else shared the grief over a loss of a loved one stuffed under their smile at a party, and so on. What this shows us is that we are all running after a farce. But what’s worse, it shows that we’re all co-creating it.

So after a brief pause, I posted my gorgeous fall photos from the park with this: Full disclosure: Inspired by research for my next book about how social media posts screw us up by making everything and everyone seem OK even when they are not, I’m adding the truth here. These pictures were taken on a walk I dragged myself on because I felt sad today for no particular reason (except for that life is a lot sometimes).

I am typically not a sad person, nor am I one who shares it on social media when I am. I am very transparent on my author account, but for some reason, I am less so on my personal page. The response that day when I shared how I really felt took me by great surprise. Dozens of people I rarely heard from came out of the blue with comments, texts, and private messages. And what most of them were saying was, “I feel that way too.” In our technological age, we are more connected than ever before, but also lonelier and more isolated than ever before. I wondered that day, What if everyone stopped staying so busy pretending everything was perfect? What if instead of hiding our vulnerabilities to prevent the isolation we fear, we are driving it?

The bottom line is that, over and over again, I’ve learned that emotions are better in every way when they aren’t kept inside and to myself. 

This is an excerpt from How to Heal Yourself From Depression When No One Else Can: A Self-Guided Program to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t by Amy B. Scher.

 

amy scherAmy B. Scher is an energy therapist, expert in mind-body healing, and the bestselling author of How to Heal Yourself When No One Else Can and How to Heal Yourself from Anxiety When No One Else Can. She has been featured in the Times of India, CNN, HuffPost, CBS, the Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Curve magazine, and San Francisco Book Review. Scher was also named one of the Advocate’s “40 Under 40.” She lives in New York City. For more, visit amybscher.com.

 

 

Learn More

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Bookshop

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