the best chocolate cake

February 14th, 2013

DoubleChocolateSnackingCakeForkMy father-in-law was a simple man, and the things he said could ring with unintended clarity.

Every time he ate something, like a piece of chocolate cake, for instance, he would say, “This is the best chocolate cake I’ve ever tasted!” He meant it, and it was true, because it came from the exuberance of a mind emptied of critical thought. A mind like that can seem silly and childlike. It is, and that’s what makes it so wise.

Last night I finished a small book that was the best chocolate cake, and I’d love for you to taste it. At the start, you might not think this kind of cake is for you. Nearing middle age, a man faces himself honestly, courageously, admitting that he is gay, a liar, a cheater, a thief, a phony, a creep, a mindless alcoholic and ugly drug addict, and here’s the sweet spot—despite his serial failure at suicide—he wants to live. Does this sound even remotely like your kind of chocolate?

He envisions for himself the sort of idealistic quest that is the stuff of parody. He travels to India in search of enlightenment. What you find in India is, well, India. And what you find on a quest is yourself. But he tells his story with such beauty and feeling, such flavor and artistry, that I could not resist the whole thing.

At the end of the book, he is finishing his trip with a trek to Nepal in the company of a young guide and porter. His months of meditations and mantras, vows and renunciations seem to have failed. On the trail he is back to being angry and resentful, feeling foolish and even exploited. The objects of his spite are the two poor servants who are attending him. Does this sound even remotely like what happens daily in your kitchen, your home, your neighborhood, your world?

I remember the promise I made to myself to keep my heart, mind and senses open for the rest of my stay. My journey was coming to an end too fast. There was no more time to drift off in daydreams, or to lose myself in petty complaints. But all that resolve had flown off like a bird from an untended cage and the hours given over to anger and self-cherishing are now gone forever. What sights, sounds and joys did I miss as I sealed myself off from the world?

This is the practice. Watching my actions, watching my words, watching my mind every day. It does not only occur at holy pilgrimage sites or on retreats or in the presence of great spiritual masters. It occurs everyday, with the people who are with me right now, in this time, in this place.

“Hey, Chris!” my guide waves to me with a big smile. “Your dinner is ready.”

He wipes off a seat on the rough little bench and hands me a bowl of stew and when I look down into the steam and the goodness of it, I already know it will be the best meal I have ever tasted.

I really, sincerely, wholeheartedly recommend The Narrow Way by Chris Lemig. Buy yourself two copies: one for you, one for a friend. Leave a comment below and you could win the copy I’m giving away on Friday.

Update: The winner of the book is commenter #12, Robin Gaphni, whose blog is Grief & Gratitude.

There is still time to register for the Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat on Sun., Feb. 24 at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in LA.



  1. Mmmmm. Cake.

    Comment by Jena — February 14, 2013 @ 11:22 am

  2. That would be a lovely gift. I write now as I wait, still wait, waiting and waiting… For my darling three year old to allow her eyes to close. I’m failing. A good book might help?

    Comment by Jessica — February 14, 2013 @ 11:29 am

  3. Definitely sounds like something I want/need to read for my own journey. When the student is ready, the teacher appears. It seems as if I have many teachers showing up in my life and I am taking this as a signal that I am READY!

    Comment by Angela Leddy — February 14, 2013 @ 11:33 am

  4. Well,you got me over here from FB with the lure of chocolate cake. :) I have to say that I will read that book. The excerpt resonated with me. Particularly the watching my mind, watching my actions, watching my words. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Dana Barbieri — February 14, 2013 @ 11:34 am

  5. Holy cow that sounds like my kind of book/cake.

    Comment by marcea — February 14, 2013 @ 11:37 am

  6. Sounds like a wonderful book.

    Comment by Jaclyn — February 14, 2013 @ 11:50 am

  7. Would love to read it.

    Comment by Sarah Stanton — February 14, 2013 @ 12:16 pm

  8. I am ready to read that book!

    Comment by Kathryn — February 14, 2013 @ 12:20 pm

  9. I have started a “magical” journey this year to change my way of thinking. I am focusing on the joy of everyday life and the joy of letting go of old patterns and behaviors which no longer serve me well. I love to read your posts and I will go and buy 2 copies of this book and I will give one to my friend.

    Comment by Kristine Poterbin — February 14, 2013 @ 12:53 pm

  10. word as food for the soul: Ha! I will never read a book the same way again.

    Comment by MJ — February 14, 2013 @ 1:07 pm

  11. I want to read that!

    Comment by Judy — February 14, 2013 @ 2:05 pm

  12. You have steered me towards two wonderful books lately: Magical Journey and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. I look forward to reading The Narrow Way. Thank you.

    Comment by Robin Gaphni — February 14, 2013 @ 2:15 pm

  13. looking forward to reading this one too….books=my kind of cake. sending love.

    Comment by Cristina Spencer — February 14, 2013 @ 2:34 pm

  14. This sounds amazing!

    Comment by Meg — February 14, 2013 @ 2:35 pm

  15. Thank you for this. I really needed it and will get that book!

    Comment by Jenny — February 14, 2013 @ 3:47 pm

  16. Sounds like a great read!

    Comment by Amy — February 14, 2013 @ 4:30 pm

  17. Sounds like a great read, thank you for sharing.

    Comment by Jen — February 14, 2013 @ 5:59 pm

  18. Thank you! I needed a new book to start and the excerpt got my attention!

    Many blessings,


    Comment by Jane — February 14, 2013 @ 9:18 pm

  19. This book sounds delicious and exactly what I need right now, as I am in search of something – perhaps enlightenment or perhaps just a good night’s sleep.

    Comment by Darrah Parker — February 14, 2013 @ 9:35 pm

  20. Chris is amazing with his words and his wisdom and has amazing insights in person and in print. I can’t wait to read his book finally!!! 😀

    Comment by Amy — February 15, 2013 @ 1:53 am

  21. I’d love a bite of that chocolate cake. I’ve loved every book you’ve recommended, Karen. Thank you! XO

    Comment by kasey — February 15, 2013 @ 2:56 am

  22. I am craving this kind of chocolate cake!! I love memoirs – raw like this one. The truth is delicious

    Comment by Clair Norman — February 15, 2013 @ 3:48 am

  23. I would love to win a copy!

    Comment by Christie — February 15, 2013 @ 4:22 am

  24. Sounds like that could turn out to be the best book I’ve ever read!

    Comment by patraq — February 15, 2013 @ 4:33 am

  25. Two scoops from the bottom. Every time I think I have it rough I am reminded of Viktor Frankl’s account of the holocaust in Man’s Search for Meaning.
    side note
    My best meal occurred when I was 11 camping with my family we hiked 6 miles and had spam and it was ohh so yummy.

    Comment by Benton — February 15, 2013 @ 6:06 am

  26. Sounds like a really wonderful book, packed with wisdom!

    Comment by Janet — February 15, 2013 @ 6:43 am

  27. Sounds like it’s just what I need to hear.

    Comment by Kitty Shannon — February 15, 2013 @ 6:48 am

  28. Sounds like the perfect kind of gluten free cake for me…thank you for the offer!

    Comment by Stacie — February 15, 2013 @ 6:51 am

  29. i think this book sounds delicious…
    thank you for offering to gift it to one of us.

    Comment by Angela (journeyswithasimplegirl) — February 15, 2013 @ 6:54 am

  30. Sounds delicious!

    Comment by Aparna — February 15, 2013 @ 6:57 am

  31. Oh yes! What to have for dinner, somedays this is my biggest koan.

    Comment by Suzanne — February 15, 2013 @ 7:18 am

  32. Oh yes! What to have for dinner, somedays this is my biggest koan. The best chocolate cake is the one my father made.

    Comment by Suzanne — February 15, 2013 @ 7:21 am

  33. I can really identify with his struggles. This: “This is the practice. Watching my actions, watching my words, watching my mind every day” is something I constantly strive for, but always seem to come up short. I keep at it, and one day will achieve this goal…I hope!

    Comment by Laura — February 15, 2013 @ 7:28 am

  34. I hope it’s not to late! Love your writing.

    Comment by marilee pittman — February 15, 2013 @ 7:32 am

  35. Thanks for allowing me the chance to win this book. It sounds wonderful.

    Comment by ashlee — February 15, 2013 @ 7:50 am

  36. I just ordered it.

    Comment by Elizabeth — February 15, 2013 @ 7:54 am

  37. I’m ready to read that book :)

    Comment by athinux — February 15, 2013 @ 7:54 am

  38. I’m ready to read that book :)

    as gay and buddhist I feel so into that history.

    Comment by athinux — February 15, 2013 @ 7:56 am

  39. Watching my actions, watching my words, watching my mind every day
    And my 11 year old baby boy who struggles with Aspergers & anxiety watches me as well, taking his cues from me. I do my best, until I don’t.

    Comment by juliep — February 15, 2013 @ 7:57 am

  40. I have been anticipating the release of The Narrow Way since I first heard about it and started following author Chris Lemig on Twitter. I am so excited to read his story and and to have my teen son read it also, because I know for the differences we all share as individuals, we also share similarities. Kudos to him for writing his story. That is something I probably will never be able to do (share my story), however, my respect for authors who do is just tremendous. I hope his story reaches out and just impacts the heck out of this world. The excerpt I just read on this page reinforced for me that he’s not saying he’s perfect or found all the answers, which is what a lot of authors try to say. The excerpt summed up for me his honesty that he still deals with different emotions, BUT his actions are honorable. Teaching me that I am still allowed to have these emotions on my own spiritual/soul journey makes me feel okay about myself and I like hearing this in the subtle way of narrative, whether or not it was intended.

    Comment by Liz — February 15, 2013 @ 8:57 am

  41. Zen cake!

    Comment by Lisa — February 15, 2013 @ 9:18 am

  42. I usually avoid reading anything that might be labeled “confessional” . . . until I don’t. And I want to read this one because if it’s chocolate cake, then I’ll love it.

    Comment by Laura — February 15, 2013 @ 9:22 am

  43. I love cake. I’m glad cake is not like cocaine because I would be in real trouble with chocolate all over my moouth all the time.

    Comment by Mary Miller — February 15, 2013 @ 9:40 am

  44. Thank you for the recommendation!

    Comment by Stephanie — February 15, 2013 @ 9:41 am

  45. cake is everything.

    Comment by sue — February 15, 2013 @ 10:08 am

  46. Count me in. :-)

    Comment by Pam Ferguson — February 15, 2013 @ 10:26 am

  47. I appreciate your recommendations a lot Karen. Thank you.

    Comment by Kirsten — February 15, 2013 @ 10:48 am

  48. Sounds delicious!

    Comment by Caroline — February 15, 2013 @ 10:54 am

  49. Sitting for some luck today! :)

    Comment by Tara — February 15, 2013 @ 2:03 pm

  50. I want to thank you for ‘Harold Fry’, it blew me away. The language was wonderful and satisfying, like the sweetness of that fist bite of chocolate cake! It made me want to taste it all over again, just like the best food, ‘moreish’.

    I would love to read ‘The Narrow Way’, but fear my book budget is way over its limit. Maybe I’ll wait till it is in my library.


    Comment by Jude Smith — February 15, 2013 @ 2:34 pm

  51. […] You can check out the full review and some of the other wonderful things Maezen has to offer here. […]

    Pingback by A Gracious Review — February 15, 2013 @ 7:31 pm

  52. Oh, did I make the deadline? I love cake! I love books that I’m not so sure I like in the first few chapters! Maybe I’ll win a copy…. maybe not…

    Comment by Maia Duerr/Liberated Life Project — February 15, 2013 @ 8:25 pm

  53. Chocolate cake mmmmmmm a good book to read to go with it….. even better.

    Comment by Robin Abshier — February 15, 2013 @ 9:53 pm

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