There are days that feel as though they are nothing but a list of catastrophes, each bigger than the next. I used to find that those days were only disagreeable, but now they are also a source of interest and of learning. In my case at least, most catastrophes I experience could have been avoided if I had acted differently; they show me that I have to learn something, change something, be more careful, do something different next time.
One evening I was baking a special kind of gluten-free bread, full of expensive ingredients. I put the last batch into the oven at 11:30pm, knowing it would take an hour to cook and I was already dead tired. This was, of course, a very idiotic thing to do. I was so dead tired and in such an automatic state of walking sleep that I did not even think of setting an alarm to tell me to take the bread out of the oven…
The next morning, I woke up at 6am and immediately had a sinking feeling of horror at the thought of the bread, which I definitely remembered not taking out of the oven. I went into the kitchen and found the six-hour cooked bread sitting out on the counter, as black as a cannonball, with a texture that could also have been successfully fired out of a cannon. Eric had come into the kitchen, was surprised at how hot it was there (and incidentally at the rather strong smell and the smoke in the air) and had turned off the oven, which had stayed on all night at 450 degrees Farenheit.
The same day I forgot the loaf of bread in the oven, my other batch of bread had utterly failed to rise: probably the sourdough was not active enough to make it rise, but it is difficult to know for sure. Whatever the reason, it was definitely not edible when it came out of the oven; a sticky uncooked block of dough with a crust around it; a good partner for the carbonized loaf of earlier.
The same morning I took the burnt six-hour-baked bread out of the oven, I learned that all of the broccoli I had planted in the past week had died of sunburn. I had not acclimated them properly to the sunlight, because I did not fully understand the process, and so all these plants that I had taken several mornings to plant (and that had taken someone else several weeks to produce) were now dried-out with crisp yellow leaves underneath the sun.
Now on a day like this, when these things happen, there is always a choice: cry in desperation, or find a way to laugh at it, smile at it, correct the mistake, and learn something.
This day I had to work really hard to remove the feelings of disappointment and regret, all the train of emotion that comes as an automatic reaction on the back of one tiny moment of carelessness, not being aware.
There are one or two different techniques that help me, when the emotion gets to big too fast, to drop it or remove it:
First, analyse the problem to see how it could be solved and corrected in future (answer in the case of the bread being very simple: go to sleep before turning into a zombie.)
Second, think about the fact that any second I could die. By a brain aneurysm, let’s say. It might sound odd, but in moments when I find myself drowning in the emotion before I can stop it, the best way I have found to remove it is this. I think about the fact that I will definitely die one day, I almost see myself dying right now. When I really do see the idea of death as a reality that could be this moment, this instantly makes whatever feeling I have drop into nothingness, because they are so unimportant and stupid, if I die now – what the hell am I worrying about? Everything will continue without me; me and my bread and my broccoli are, in the end, so very insignificant.
Moreover, if the practice were stronger, then my happiness would not depend on the failure or success of my actions; the failure or success or the final result is completely beside the point.
If I do not meditate while I bake bread, and then my bread fails, then all my effort has been for nothing, but if I meditate and bake bread, then the final result of the bread does not even matter, it is not the point.
This is the challenge! How to do it all with lightness, not with the heaviness of a Job, not being attached to the result. Ajan is always saying “Don’t be the job. Don’t be the job! Jobs are for donkeys! Are you a donkey?”
The result is not important; what is important is how I do it – do I rush through it, doing it with anxiety, fear of what people will think of me, or with impatience and stress, worry and hurry, or do I do it with joy and calm, take the time to calculate how to do it properly, and take it as merely one more form of meditation?
It doesn’t mean I accept to do a shoddy job instead of a good one. Actually the more I meditate, instead of Doing the Job, the better my job will be, because my attention is there, rather than caught up in worrying about how it will turn out and what others will think of it.
At one point I realised, not without some surprise, that the more upset I get about these things, the more egotistical I am! I want to be one who makes The Best Bread, that people like My bread, that people and that people should appreciate My gardening skills. The more I become the job, the more I make an ego and a self out of it, and the more I will get hurt because of it.