the appetite

January 6th, 2013

7244511-rice-on-a-blue-bowlAnd he took bread, and gave thanks, and broke it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. — Luke 22:19

The communion ritual fascinates me. I suppose for some it can seem an outright lie or ignorant superstition. Even as a girl who came to church solely for the sake of obedience, the words drew me into their mystery, and I partook. I still take communion whenever it is offered to me. I take my sustenance in the mystery.

Last week I was tenzo, or cook, at a five-day retreat, preparing three meals a day for 25 people. I have participated in countless Zen retreats, maybe a hundred, taking many more hundreds of meals, and never cooked. Let me express my deep gratitude to every cook who has ever prepared my food. I had no idea.

Having no idea is the doorway to realization. It is the essential ingredient, you might say, in the miracle.

They sat down in ranks of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. They all ate and were satisfied. — Mark 6:40-42

At first my assistant and I were inept and overwhelmed, chased by the doubtful hours and disappearing minutes. We rushed and scrambled. We erred in composition and quantity. Every bowl we set out was returned empty. The diners seemed insatiable. The food was not enough.

But sitting down in the ranks transforms everything. By the third day of sitting, appetites quieted. Minds settled. In the kitchen, we moved with silent purpose. The miracle had begun to unfold. The food became a marvel; our hands, the instruments of magic. The taste was indescribable.

The cooks made an offering of the meal; the guests made an offering of their appetites. Everything in harmony; everyone blessed. By faith alone, we were all fulfilled.

I am full and not hungry right now. — Zen verse

Coming out of a retreat can be a shock. Not merely because of the silence, the rigor, and the departure from routine. It’s a shock because all of its lessons are lived, not just read or recited. The truth is ingested, as real as rice. And what we swallow, we become.

From this vantage point, what I’m shocked to see is the size of my own appetite, and all the foolish ways I attempt to satisfy it. My vanity and greed are grotesque.

As you might guess, I’m talking about Facebook.

Want little and know how to be satisfied. — Buddha

Our addictions are always on display, even if we don’t see them. Social media is a particularly unflattering mirror, and yet some of us are looking into it all the time. Go away for a week; really go away. Be quiet for a week; really be quiet. Set things down; really set things down. And when you come back, you might see what I do.

Oh my god.

From time to time people announce that they are going offline for a week, a month or longer. I always wonder why that requires an announcement. It never seems to me that they are gone for long, because I’m not either. It’s kind of like a smoker deciding to quit, then upping his habit to four packs a day because he’s going to quit.

How often do I go online hunting for a little morsel? And then another? Something to feed my self-image, validate my self-importance? How many likes, how many shares, how many comments, friends, followers or retweets? The rankings on Amazon; the reviews on Goodreads. How much delusion does it take to feed my insatiable ego?

These measures are as meaningless as counting grains of rice in a bowl, and even more so, because this rice is imaginary. It does not feed you; it eats you. You cannot live on imaginary rice. But oh how we try.

I went away for a week and filled myself with faith and wonder. I broke the bread; I lived the mystery. Every time I do it, I will do it in remembrance of this.

I am so blessed. I am so full. I have a practice.

For by grace you are saved through faith; and this is not from yourselves: it is the gift of God. — Ephesians 2:8



  1. Amen. And thank you.

    Comment by Jennifer — January 6, 2013 @ 8:06 am

  2. I wish I was there to eat your food. Prepared in that wonderful kitchen with the little altar I’ll always remember. I’m sure you gave it your all.

    As for the rest, my practice has filled me up more than I could ever say, think or expect.

    Right now Kenji is cooking his first family meal in weeks: rice. Real rice!

    Comment by Roos — January 6, 2013 @ 8:09 am

  3. “I still take communion whenever it is offered to me, and where I will not offend the host”

    The host, surely is never offended when one chooses to accept, Is the host ever capable of offense?

    Comment by MJ — January 6, 2013 @ 10:48 am

  4. Yes, thank you.
    “From this vantage point, what I’m shocked to see is the size of my own appetite, and all the foolish ways I attempt to satisfy it. My vanity and greed are grotesque.” Yes–you could’ve taken many routes from there. The new boots for Christmas. Farmers market cheese. Facebook. We are so very blessed and barely stop to notice.
    Thank you for reminding me today.

    Comment by Jen — January 6, 2013 @ 11:04 am

  5. I could clarify “the one true host” is perhaps not ever offended.

    Comment by MJ — January 6, 2013 @ 11:05 am

  6. Yes – and wherever I risk offense or misunderstanding I make amends.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — January 6, 2013 @ 11:59 am

  7. Oh dear,
    Addiction! And with that such self-honesty it requires. Way to painful to acknowledge, but then you must! At my age (72) I have explored all parts of “addiction” Food and Facebook are what my appetite craves now! Goodness I wonder what is next?

    Comment by Vivian Hatfield — January 6, 2013 @ 5:00 pm

  8. Oh my–I can relate. Convicted. 🙂 I started this little space–don’t want to say blog–that I have not publicized or mentioned to friends, and I have no comments allowed. I have no tracking of visitors. Today I realized how desperately I want someone to visit it–to tell me how beautiful it is, how wise. I was horrified to recognize this in myself–that I am so in need of praise and approval. I have been reading Richard Rohr’s *Falling Upward,* and I really felt like I was “in the know” of what he calls folks living in the second half of life, but I am not. Maybe no one is, but I am broken (and whole). Anyway–I have been struggling a lot w/ fb and my own addiction w/ it, and how that affects my parenting and my day and the fact that I have made promises to myself to cut back. It has not worked. The force is so strong. I am so shocked to learn all of this at this late point.

    Comment by Tara — January 6, 2013 @ 5:45 pm

  9. “You cannot live on imaginary rice.” Nor on imaginary connection.

    I quit Facebook, because I found myself posting so much more often once I started using FB for my work. I made an announcement on my personal page—which seemed silly and necessary (if only to remind myself if I went to post again).

    I am preparing my 7 year old son to make his first communion. Isn’t language interesting? In the Catholic tradition, we say “make” your first communion, not “take”…because it is about making connection, between you and a story from long ago but even more with the community who gathers to break bread together.

    Comment by Deirdre — January 6, 2013 @ 5:49 pm

  10. So much to chew on here. I, too, have been horrified at the way I allow the internet to devour my hours, my days, my psyche. Not sure I can give it up, not sure I want to. Nor am I ever quite sure where the healthy appetite ends and gluttony begins. There IS sustenance to be had on-line. But it isn’t free. And it isn’t all real either; sometimes I feel as if I’m eating in a dream. And as you say, “You cannot live on imaginary rice.” Thank you for the awareness. And thank you for feeding us the truth. xoxo

    Comment by Katrina Kenison — January 6, 2013 @ 7:01 pm

  11. seems to me, it is all quite human: the appetite and the food, the hunger and the satisfaction, and finally the observation of all the interacting parts

    Comment by Bill — January 7, 2013 @ 4:59 am

  12. I especially treasure the line:
    “At first my assistant and I were inept and overwhelmed, chased by the doubtful hours and disappearing minutes.” Gives me a re-taste of my panic seen while preparing a meal that I WANT to go well.

    Comment by Bill — January 7, 2013 @ 5:01 am

  13. Wish I lived closer so I could attend your retreat….maybe one day 🙂

    Comment by Nancy — January 7, 2013 @ 9:13 am

  14. Oh my, oh my, oh my, Karen. First of all, the line “Having no idea is the doorway to realization,” is simply stunning. And then there is the line, “It does not feed you it eats you.” Honestly, I feel like I’ve been eaten alive these many, many months where I’ve tweeted and fb’ed, commented on other’s blog posts I didn’t feel particularly inclined to comment on, but was playing the supposed to game, b/c this is how social media works and I had a book to promote. But all the while I just wanted to be out in the woods with my dog. Last week on the Reiki table it all came together when I realized the heaviness and distress living in the back of my neck was from my playing a game that never felt right to me in the first place. As a newly published author, social media has been a blessing, in that it allowed me to promote a book and stay home and present to my kids, yet I’m desperate for it to become more authentic. Your post has come as a confirmation that it’s ok to honor and do what feels right to me – walking in the woods, making authentic, meaningful connections b/c that’s what I want to. Thank you, mam!

    Comment by kasey — January 7, 2013 @ 9:16 am

  15. Thank your dog, too.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — January 7, 2013 @ 10:19 am

  16. I made one of those announcements lately, even wondering in doing so what the point was. Why did I need to state my intention to spend less time on Facebook on Facebook? I’m not quite up to four packs of Facebook a day, but the trajectory isn’t hard to see and the truth is: I never miss it when it’s gone.

    Comment by Jena — January 7, 2013 @ 10:58 am

  17. …and suddenly, I realized after writing that, I don’t miss it when it’s gone because it’s never really there.

    Comment by Jena — January 7, 2013 @ 11:02 am

  18. So pertinent to my life right now! Thank you for your perspective!

    Comment by Amy — January 11, 2013 @ 6:51 am

  19. Thanks.This post is an island of calm in a frantic world

    Comment by john — January 13, 2013 @ 9:08 am

  20. You’re so awesome 🙂

    Comment by Honmei — January 13, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

  21. Thanks.
    I didn’t guess you were talking about facebook, and that caught my attention. I’ve just moved back to the woods and will put up a yurt, but I also have a fancier phone that allows me to be online, and I’m also trying to learn how to use social media to market… It’s an ironic combination of wild-real v. tech-vapid.
    I always appreciate how grounded and grounding your writing is. There’s such a quality of space and reflection that gives the same to me.

    Comment by Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux — January 18, 2013 @ 1:01 pm

  22. my daughter and son-in-law and my first grandchild, an amazing little baby boy named Huckleberry, are living off the grid in a yome. Their days are spent in the mundane tasks which most of us no longer need to contemplate: washing dishes and cloth diapers by hand. Thinking about what to prepare which can be cooked on top of a wood stove. The basics, literally, ‘chopping wood, carrying water’. Part of me envies them, another part honors their honest attempt to live more simply. Their contact with the high tech world must be done on their infrequent trips to town and the computer hook-up at the library. A different world. Your words reminded me of this.

    Comment by Jude Smith — January 24, 2013 @ 2:56 pm

  23. […] “Having no idea is the doorway to realization.” Karen Maezen Miller  […]

    Pingback by A Night at the Circus | Shannon Esposito's Blog — May 30, 2013 @ 6:19 am

  24. How easily we forget, slipping into the comfort and complacency of our modern lives. I spent 10 years living in rural West and East Africa. The poverty was stark, sometimes mind numbing. And yet the love and joy which people expressed every day was palpable. It seemed often that the less people had, the more joy they found in life.
    And now, removed from my priceless experiences by 30 years,I go about as though I had never seen children begging, talked to mother’s making choices about who would eat the only bowl of rice in the house. I feed my greeds mindlessly.
    Thank you for bringing me back to reality.

    Comment by Jude Smith — September 5, 2013 @ 3:28 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

archives by month