The Grace of the Table: A Way to Reconnect

After a couple of back to back trips to neighbor islands for bits of business and social calls, I’m home on ‘the Mountain’, as I call it, nestled comfortably into the tranquility of our little sanctuary on the high slopes of Haleakalā on Maui. I had a brief hop over to O’ahu, ‘The Gathering Place’; it’s the location of Honolulu, Waikiki, and Pearl Harbor. With over a million people living on the island, O’ahu is the population epicenter of Hawaii. Many of those not familiar with the Hawaiian Islands mistakenly assume that Honolulu, the state capital, must be on the island of Hawai’i (I can see how this sort of makes sense) but actually it’s on O’ahu, not Hawai’i (which we generally call the Big Island). My trip to O’ahu was followed by a quick hop to Kaua’i, ‘The Garden Isle’, one of the most stunningly beautiful places on earth.

As an aside note, yes, you do have to fly between the islands. A few are close enough together to see from a certain shoreline but most of the major islands (O’ahu, Maui, Kaua’i, Hawai’i, etc) are separated by significant and turbulent ocean channels. There are boats from Maui to the islands of Lana’i and Moloka’i, but currently no car ferries or significant passenger ferries exist (this is a hotly debated and tangled political issue), and we all have to fly from one island to the other. I do understand that there are unique environmental, agricultural, and marine issues in Hawai’i, but if you ask me, it’s pretty absurd that an island state has no means of passenger transportation other than aircraft between land masses.

Apologies, I digress.

honoluluBeing over on O’ahu amid the urban buzz, hum and congestion of Honolulu – a more chaotic rhythm than the quiet flow of my normal life – had two effects on me. As usual, the noise and energy blew my circuits and I felt jangled, frazzled and fried. Simultaneously, while sitting in traffic or navigating crowds in Waikiki, I was reminded of the importance of having some practical skills for keeping grounded on a soulful and spiritual path.

When swept up in the busy-ness of daily life, a stream of emails, and the noisy commotion that surrounds us, how do we reconnect to center? At home, I’m able to step outside and drink in the beauty of Nature… barefoot on the earth. Jammed in gridlock or staying in a high-rise condominium tower above a noisy city, however, the power of nature seems very far away.

I found myself repeatedly coming back to the living resource of my body: focusing upon my breath, and also the soles of my feet. Body, breath and earth are all tremendously effective tools for ‘grounding’, coming back to center, and being in the present moment… no matter where we are.

It’s sadly ironic that despite how ‘connected’ our modern society seems to be with mobile phones, email, text messages and WiFi, we are more disconnected than ever. Couples and families sitting at the same table and sharing a meal are wired to their text messages rather than to each other. We live amid a stream of distractions. Isolated in our heads in a high tech culture, we’re largely ‘disembodied’ and out of touch with our own bodies… as well as from any sense of earth or nature.

Although in Hawaii a lot more of us are in ‘slippers’ (flip flops) or barefoot, most people never even touch the ground in daily life: rubber-soled shoes keep us disconnected from the actual earth (when it’s not buried under concrete); automobiles carry us around in air-conditioned metal boxes; and even our work places and houses are severed from the earth (and illuminated artificially). We sit in chairs and sleep on beds… never touching the ground. There are documented health benefits from being connected to the earth in a ‘grounded’/non-insulated way (check out Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever? by Clinton Ober, Stephen Sinatra, and Martin Zucker).

We are truly disconnected.

I suppose that one of the enduring powers of food is that, however briefly, it brings us back to the moment and our bodies. Yet even the simple pleasure of eating has become dulled or ignored by countless numbers of us (particularly Americans). We eat heavily processed, packaged, microwaved foods while watching television, or hurriedly eat in our cars something purchased from a drive-thru.

To take just a bit of time to make a simple, tasteful meal and then sit down to enjoy it is a powerful ritual of reconnection, gratitude, health and well-being. It’s a spiritual practice and a soulful one, a meaningful way to close the work day and reconnect with our loved ones. Sharing a meal offers a sense of communion, which further heightens its beauty and relevance, while our dulled and overstimulated senses are reawakened through a sensual interplay of aromas, visual appeal, flavors and textures. Food needn’t be complicated or fussy to nourish the soul; in fact, the simpler and fresher the ingredients, the less that needs to be done. There is beauty in simplicity.

After returning last night from my inter-island, overnight hop to Kaua’i (right on the tail of returning from O’ahu), I stood for awhile outside, listening the to the quiet of the mountain and feeling my bare feet on the cool, wet earth (always helps after flying in a plane). With my partner away, the house was empty and the fridge shared a distressingly similar fate. Debating my limited options in the kitchen, feeling tired and yearning for something easy but deeply satisfying, I fixed a supper of lime & cilantro rice.

When the organic basmati had finished cooking, I squeezed a fresh lime into it, tossed in some freshly chopped cilantro, and added a wee bit of butter along with a pinch of salt. Half a pomegranate was still lurking in the fridge (left over from a Moroccan-inspired dinner on Saturday evening), so I threw a handful of the ruby seeds in with the rice in my bowl. I put on a bit of soft music, selected a pair of teak chopsticks, and then I sat at the table and ate my solitary supper… glad to be home in our quiet sanctuary. The visual interplay of vibrant green herbs and red, juicy jewels with the white rice, along with the sublime medley of singular flavors, offered a meal of utter simplicity and fragrant nourishment for body and soul.

We all need practical skills and simple rituals to keep us upright in the currents of life. Descending from the head into the body—and Earth—is one such tool. Stepping into the kitchen and preparing a fresh meal is another, and if we can share that meal with friends or loved ones (cell phones cast aside and television turned off), so much the better. Keep it simple and fresh.

It is essential to take time to disconnect… and reconnect with the soul. Your life will be all the richer for it.