What could chopping onions and initiation possibly have to do with each other?
Here’s a simple question:
Do you know how to chop onions?
I have never known an adult to actually tell me: “I don’t know how to chop onions.”
What is there to chopping onions? We just grab an onion, grab a knife and start chopping. End of the story, right? However we do that the first time, whatever knife we did that with, is more or less how we’ll do it the rest of our lives. Same as all kinds of things we do in life: have a relationship, get pregnant, raise “kids,” work for money, start a business, vote, protest, take up a “spiritual” practice, etc.
And we’re all “doing our best.” What is our “best”? Whatever we are doing. That is the standard we hold ourselves to: whatever we are doing, however we care to do it, we are sure that it is “our best” and, for most of us, “we” are the only measure of our experience. It’s all about US.
How many of us have elders in our life who inspire us to a level of artistry in everything they do, from whom no detail of life is insignificant but an invitation to mastery, to Beauty? Consider that question in your life.
This entire website is about the onions we chop in our lives. Many of you will browse an article and say “oh! I already know that. NEXT!”
I will share treasures that a very, very few people are using to enjoy amazing transformations in their health, their wealth, their relationships, their contributions to and celebration of the Greater Aliveness. These special ones apply themselves carefully at precisely that which 99% of my readers will totally pass by. Why? Because they “already know” what I am talking about, and “knowing” something is, according to the deep conditioning we’ve all undergone, “being able to say words about something,” no need to pay attention the potentiality in Reality required.
Notice this: If you disagree with me, nothing more need be learned. Your description of reality just doesn’t jibe with mine. Notice even further: if you agree with me, your description of reality already matches mine. Here again, nothing more need be learned! This is our deep programming and it makes us immune to learning.
You will learn nothing, EVER, from what I say. The point of my writing these words down is neither for you to agree or disagree with words, but rather to pay attention to the sense-able reality you are IN, and that you ARE. REALITY is the Teacher.
We become Students when we pay attention to Reality. That is the Invitation here.
The word “student,” comes from the Latin studium: “application, care.” Students apply themselves to living with care. They are Artists in the Medium of Living as ALL Natural, Undomesticated Life is. I LOVE them enough to dedicate years to write these Offerings; the Student knows the difference between care-fully Receiving and care-less-ly taking.
Most readers, however, will totally miss what’s being offered here, because you have to offer it to yourself, through attention. They will read an article, recognize some words, immediately convert it to their own frame of reference, never imagining that perhaps something new is being offered them and, just like chopping onions, say “Oh, yeah. I already know that!”
So what is “your best”? What is YOUR reference for what YOUR best is? What does that reference connect to?
We are “modern.” That word has a meaning for us. The sense of modern, from the Latin modo, means “just right now.” That means we have a perspective on life that is “just right now.” “Just right now” is the way we chop onions, raise our children, make money, relate to our “loved ones,” relate to the Ground, to our bodies, to the Water, to each other. What this means, in reality, is that we have become almost completely decontextualized to Living, Planetary Reality, with a very small sense of the artistry that ALL of our living invites us to.
Our approach to living is not only consequent, but is also the consequence of an ancestral experience which we continue replicating, and often ignore at the same time.
Anyone who received professional training in cooking got the surprise, early on, that one of the first lessons taught was on how to use a knife, which knife to use and how to chop such basic things as onions. Why was it a surprise?
Because most of us assume we know what a knife is and how to use one. After all, most of us have been doing so for a lifetime. Many of us also presume that chopping onions is a trivial activity, and that there are much more important things for us to pay attention to.
Yet how we do one thing is how we do everything.
What importance could such a trivial matter have in our lives? Few of us imagine that if we learn how to chop onions skillfully, we can apply the same principles to most other things we’ll chop, and to most other things we do in any of our endeavors.
At the same time, many of us live lives of struggle. We conclude that “cooking takes a lot of time, relationships are hard work, making money is hard, and on and on.” We ignore First Principles, and how to apply them to ALL of our living, starting with the simplest tasks we engage in every day. Then we come to all kinds of conclusions about “life,” “humanity,” and on and on.
For someone to tell us, “you need to master chopping onions FIRST,” for most anyone that has cooked for years or even decades, much less mothers and fathers who cook every day for their families, sounds downright bizarre, irrelevant, even insulting. Most readers will consider the notion curious, interesting and… mostly irrelevant.
Few will imagine that it takes them so long to cook because they don’t know how to use a knife skillfully. They will spend a lifetime concluding that “it takes a lot of time to cook.” Then they come up with “very good reasons” why they either don’t cook or their food is so bland and no real celebration whatsoever of the Life Forms that are on the plate and now getting reduced to a bland human life. Frankly, I would hate to be a leaf of spinach entering their lives.
In just about every other aspect of their lives, be it relationships, earning money, taking long vacations, feeling good, enjoying good health – what will have the greatest impact will be the “onion chopping” of those activities; the details so basic that even a twelve year-old is convinced they have it down-pat – and doesn’t, and will probably never accept the invitation to learn.
Such people will spend their entire lives longing for freedom, while avoiding most pointings to everyday details which they regard as irrelevant and insignificant. There’s an Art to Living, and we begin to discover, learn and master it in the small things, which soon show us how to apply the same First Principles to the rest of our lives. So here’s a hint:
We rarely imagine that, in spite of all of the things that we know how to cook, there could be something essential missing and it effects everything we do in the kitchen, regardless of how delicious and elaborate our cooking is. The same is true in all of our lives.
Many will read these articles and never catch what’s being offered here. Just like they are convinced that “they know how to chop onions,” they are convinced that they practically know most everything else, like reading, as well. They will come here looking, but not SEEing, in a semi-distract, always-busy state, in all their other “reading.” They will walk right by keys and treasures which, for as amazing as they are, are powerless to transform anything because they are too busy to engage with life at that kind of depth with any one thing. They wear “busyness” like a badge of honor, instead of the indicator of incoherent engagement with life that it is.
When cooking, we pass by the initial realities in the illusion that it’s the “advanced” things that are “important.” That something initial is the conscious respect of the form and function of what we transform into food and everything we use to achieve this transformation, starting with ourselves, our energy, effort and form, and the tools we use. That something initial actually takes up the bulk of our effort when we cook but we don’t pay much attention to it because we’re focused on “cooking.”
We think “cooking” happens in the pan, right? So we ignore what we do on the cutting board. I can tell you that many non-initiated people ignore the “cutting board,” not just in our cooking, but in most aspects of our lives. We are in a hurry to “advance.” The further we “advance” the less attention we typically give to mastering beginning steps, premises and processes.
A friend of mine starting a “cooking business.” Her food is delicious. Every time she invites me over for supper my mouth waters. I went to visit her a while back. She didn’t have knife skills. “Uff,” I thought, “hmmm… wow… that’s not going to be an easy way to do a ‘cooking business'” I thought, watching her chop away laboriously. Then she told me about how little money she was earning per hour with her cooking business. She had to take a job to make ends meet. For awhile she worked in a restaurant as a prep chef. They hired her because she had a “cooking business” and they were already one of their client’s and selling some of creations wholesale. After three weeks of working in the kitchen as a prep cook, which is mostly chopping and preparing ingredients, they told her she had to go. Too slow. She’s read this article.
She laughed, “yeah, I know. It’s kind of like what you wrote about in your article on chopping onions.” Here is someone who had a cooking business. Here is someone who had lost a job in the cooking field she supposedly “loved,” but not enough to learn the most basic knife skills. Here is someone who explicitly told me what it cost her to not have those skills. I watched her prep me a delicious meal. She still didn’t have the skills.
I smiled. Inside I cried.
I wish she were an unusual case. When I work with “modern” people – people cut off from any enduring, multi-generational community, speaking a language where “meaning” is almost 100% opposed to the sense of the words spoke, there is a whole relationship to everything that is reflected in this story and what we do to the most basic elements of Life, like the water. It is very rare for me to meet anyone who does not “get” what I write about here, as an idea. It is exceedingly rare to meet someone who leads themselves all the way to actually GETTING it.
I write for those who still have a spark in them that compels them to lead THEMSELVES, all the way to actually GETTING it and who appreciate some guidance..
There are deep pitfalls to “teaching ourselves” without any guides or mentors. It’s also the results of the mind-numbing, sense-LESS programming of what we call “schooling” today.
This does not invalidate whatever knowledge and experience we have with food, spices and so on. What IS lacking is a foundation and an appreciation of the actual form and function of what we use to achieve a result and how we use our energy and attention to achieve it.
Many will say that we have no need to learn such basics when we are already cooking elaborate dishes and achieving “advanced results.”
And for those who never receive this foundation, the cost of what we ignore – literally, our ignorance- will remain unknown to us, invisible, constant and lifelong!
We pay the cost of our ignorance for our entire lives yet we ignore the cost. We consider such things trivial, ignoring that, as we shall see later, trivial knowledge is actually critical, foundational knowledge.
Typically we attribute the cost of our ignorance to the “nature” of whatever we are ignoring. We draw up all kinds of conclusions about those things. Whatever we are ignoring doesn’t even show up on our radar; that’s exactly what it means to ignore something.
Read that last paragraph on the nature of ignorance, the sense of what’s being pointed out. Whenever we ignore something, especially when it comes to our own relationship to something or someone else, we generally attach the consequences of our ignorance and resulting lack of skill to the nature of that something or someone.
We ourselves, and our grasp of the nature of our own personal capacities, are the most impacted. The cost is constant, but we ignore that the price we pay is the price of our own ignoring things that are often so basic that we take them for granted, convinced that we already have them “down pat;” like chopping onions.
Whenever we complain about “the nature” of something, imagine that perhaps there’s a skill and/or understanding that we’re lacking, and ignoring. It may very well be something that 99.9% of the people around us also lack, and ignore, and will also qualify as an aspect of that something or someone. Listen to the things you say, affirm or deny.
“Cooking takes a lot of time. Children are disruptive. Relationships are a struggle. You’ve got to work hard to make money. Learning new languages is hard. God I wish I could live like you do but…” leading to a life lived in the cage of unexamined premises.
Many years ago a French friend of mine surprised me when he taught me how to chop onions. I’d been cooking and chopping onions since I was 6 years old. I never imagined that there was something about knives or something as basic as chopping onions that had escaped me. This friend came to my house to eat two or three times a week. He loved my cooking.”
Fortunately, he and I both shared a culture of saying things very directly to each other, and he was one of my students on Sacred Mountains; which meant that I had committed to learning with him, and from him, and not just teaching him. One day, he was watching me prepare lunch and said, “No one every showed you how to use a knife!”
I was surprised, but it was true. I had never thought that there was something to learn about using a knife but, as a jeweler, I had already learned the importance of learning precisely how such a simple tool as a jeweler’s saw, is designed to be used and is an incredible tool when used as designed, and an incredibly frustrating tool whose blades break continually, when used improperly.
I recognized an invitation to learn something from the beginning, once again. “I’d love to learn,” I said to him.
My friend was a world-class baker who learned in the French guild system that very few people get accepted in, and even fewer apprentices complete. He was very knowledgeable about food and all kinds of interesting topics. He was trained in the literal Old School, called compagnonage, in French, a Journeyman tradition. Young people pay their dues in a seven-year traveling and working apprenticeship, all over Europe, until they complete their literal masterpiece. His brother was a French chef and had taught him the knife skills he then gave me the gift of teaching me.
When I started spending time with indigenous friends one of the first things I learned was not to go around asking people questions. That didn’t mean to not have questions. It meant asking myself the question, not just in my mind, but with my attention. I learned a different way of relating to my questions: one of responding to my questions with my attention instead of just blurting them out and making them someone’s else’s problem.
In the traditional way one might ask if there’s a better way to chop onions and the other person would just smile and chop onions. It’s up to us to notice what he or she is doing and how they are doing it.
In many traditional, initiatory paths we don’t ask other people questions: we ask them of ourselves and, most of all, of our eyes, our ears, our senses. Traditional teachers will be showing us what the next thing to learn is all the time by doing it. In my French friend’s compagnonage tradition, he told me a number of stories of master bakers whom he had learned with and who would practically refuse to “teach” their apprentices anything. The apprentices had to apply total attention in order to CATCH the secrets of what their master was doing every day, right in front of them, without explaining anything.
True Teaching is done in DOING.
True Learning is done in NOTICING CAREFULLY, THEN DOING.
We respond with attention rather than opinion. To really get to the crux of what we’re trying to comprehend we have to go to the foundations, to the reality, to the initial aspects of what we want to understand. We become capable of paying attention to something as simple as the way of cutting an onion.
Few of us were raised this way. We have been trained to parrot other “experts’” pre-cooked “answers.”
I accepted my friend’s invitation to learn how to use a knife. He asked me if I had a chef’s knife. I did. But I never used it. It wasn’t the knife I “preferred.” He showed me its design. I realized then that I didn’t “prefer” it because no one had ever shown me how it was designed to be used.
“Everything has a design. Whether that’s the onions you’re chopping or the knife you’re using. In the meeting of the knife, onions and cutting board you get several results: the chopped onions, the amount of time you spent to chop them, the amount of energy you used to chop them and how you feel in your wrists, your shoulders and your heart. Every action generates results. When the meeting of forms optimizes our desired result we can use less energy to generate more results. Simple.
Every knife is designed for a specific purpose and every vegetable has shapes, textures and properties. The meeting of knife and veggie has an energetic cost.”
My friend explained the design and use of the different knives I had in a knife set I had picked up at a garage sale. Being a jeweler, I already knew the importance of tools, and how they are designed to be used in a very specific, and generally effort-LESS way. Having paid my dues in several apprenticeships, including Tai Chi and critical care nursing, I appreciated that the Greatness of an Art is rooted in foundational relationships that seem insignificant, and will be ignored, to those who jump to “advanced” before ever building a foundation.
Few untrained cooks enjoy chopping onions, for a number of reasons. We conclude that “chopping onions is tiresome.”
What we generally ignore is that “chopping onions the way I’m chopping them right now is tiresome.” We come to all kinds of conclusions about “chopping onions.” But there is no objective “chopping onions” out there to come to all kinds of objective conclusions about without including you and how you do it. This is another example of the difference between making a meaning and making sense of what we do.
Every trade and every profession has its tools. A professional knows, respects and takes maximum advantage of how these tools are designed. It’s the same with cooking or anything else. You could use any knife to cut just about anything, but one tool will do the job easier than others, depending on what we are cutting.
We can take offense at the suggestion that we do or don’t know something, or we can just pay attention and learn what we hadn’t noticed before. The energy and time saved will be ours to enjoy thanks to our new skills. What is our willingness to learn?
My friend showed me how to chop onions. I was surprised that something so simple could be done so much more simply and with so much less struggle.
The world is full of women and men who are tired of spending hours a day preparing food for their families or for whom cooking for their families is some great, tedious, heroic act. 99% of them don’t know how to use a knife, which knife to use or how to chop onions. Yet they use a knife every day chopping all kinds of things “to the best of their ability.”
Most are offended when someone suggests that they could learn how to use a knife and chop onions. I can tell you because I have worked alongside of them. I have had plenty of them work for me chopping onions in a retreat center where I was head cook. “I already know that!” When such people worked in my kitchen, and showed me that they didn’t want to learn and were unteachable, I asked them to exit my kitchen and find something they were actually skilled at and enjoyed doing, and/or someone they could receive guidance from.
Since I did have to fulfill on preparing meals for a huge number of people at specific times, I didn’t have the luxury of pussy-footing around the willful incompetence and “sensibilities” of those who assume that they are already “experts” because they are still sucking air and “trying.” Most, even when shown, will not follow simple instructions. Difficult feels natural to them, even when they complain of how difficult it is.
Then there are the gems: you show them something and they do everything to get it. They treasure those who bother to not pussy-foot around their feelings and dare to point out an incompetence and lead them to mastery of the competence.
When I learned how to use a chef’s knife effort-LESS-ly, I discovered that I could make delicious, nourishing and healthy dishes with about 10 minutes of active cooking. The rest was just allowing things to cook. For most of my friends preparing a meal involves 45 minutes in the kitchen. They tire and complain of cooking as “a chore.” They’d rather eat in a restaurant. The rest of their lives is similar in ways they don’t suspect. They spend far more time and money, eat much plainer and not very delicious food – just because they never had anyone teach them basic knife skills. Nevertheless, when invited to learn such a fundamental skill, most will insist that “I like doing it my way,” precisely the way they had just complained about being so “time-consuming” just 30 seconds before being offered the opportunity to learn something that would get rid of that complaint, permanently, in their lives.
I have to listen closely to what I say about life and the activities of my life and get curious about my assumptions and the very real chance that maybe I’m ignoring other, fundamental possibilities, skills and understanding that I don’t even suspect.
Wisdom, art and pleasure await us in the onions we chop every day. But we prefer to search for wisdom in Tibet, or with exotic cultures, mystical theories and all kinds of illusions and distractions that allow us to avoid the nature of the onions of our lives.
We look for “initiation,” never imagining that our true initiation awaits us in the basic realities of our daily life and such simple actions as seeing, hearing and moving.
This article is not just something to think about. 99% of the people who have signed up for my newsletter, in truth, have no time to actually read anything from start to finish, much less to apply it to their lives. Unsubscribe or gain some skills so you can be less busy, not more! I do not want to contribute to your distracted busyness.
There’s an opportunity here for YOU to take YOU into the first steps of initiatory learning. Are you up for it?
The quality, artistry and love you put into preparing the food you offer yourself and those around you reflect the quality, artistry and love you put into receiving the entirety of what Living is Offering you. It is foundational. Many “modern” people I know, especially Americans, don’t eat feed; they eat feed, like livestock, like slaves. Instead of protesting at that, learn to treat yourself and that which gives its life to feed you with a little more regard. Replace your busyness with skillfullness and carefullness and the entirety of your life will change..
Invest in learning knife skills and I can guarantee that you will enjoy the investment for the rest of your life. You’ll enjoy cooking at least 5 times more, using 5 times less time, energy and effort along with better health, more delicious food, more free time and, if you truly pay attention to your whole learning process with this, you’ll have learned something applicable to the rest of your life.
Consider how something so simple as chopping onions can be tiresome and unpleasant, or can be pleasurable, artistic, relaxed and can be done with greater ease in a fifth of the time as before. How many things in your day-to-day life are just as seemingly “insignificant,” never really appreciated or really realized?
How many things in your life aren’t this way?
When we pay attention to our life openly and with curiosity, we begin to discover that our lives are FULL of ignored details and actions. Something as everyday as a knife all of a sudden reveals to us something of the journey and intelligence of its design. We begin to approach life as an apprenticeship that is not just “ours” “just right now,” but that connects us to the intelligence that is present even in “inanimate” objects. As we develop our capacity to take ourselves to the reality of our experience we begin to discover true marvels hidden in what we take for granted and all of the things that we presumed to “know” without ever really having savored, played with and explored their essence.
We discover the wonder of becoming a Beginner, over and over and over again,
and learning something more deeply, more beautifully, more effort-LESS-ly.
If you’re really curious, you might soon find yourself deeply questioning that which “everybody knows,” all the unexamined affirmations and negations that populate our minds and define our possibilities and capacities, or lack thereof.
YOUR journey to the sense of your life, with your senses, attention and intelligence is the one that will make the difference in your life. Chopping Onions and Initiation are profoundly related, but you may think I’m kidding, or engaging in metaphor. I’m not.
Gather Seeds of Attention and Skill. Plant them in Your Life. Grow Them and Watch Your Life Blossom.