Zen teacher Ed Brown is a brilliant cook and founder of the Greens Restaurant in San Francisco, famous for its natural foods cuisine. But during Ed’s early days as a cook at the Tassajara mountain retreat center, he had a problem. No matter what recipes or variations in ingredients he tried, he couldn’t get his biscuits to come out right.
His unreachable standard, as he discovered, was set years earlier—growing up he had “made” and loved Pillsbury biscuits.
Finally one day came a shifting-into-place, an awakening: not “right” compared to what? Oh, my word, I’d been trying to make canned Pillsbury biscuits! Then came an exquisite moment of actually tasting my biscuits without comparing them to some (previously hidden) standard. They were wheaty, flakey, buttery, “sunny, earthy, real.” They were incomparably alive, present, vibrant—in fact much more satisfying than any memory.
These occasions can be so stunning, so liberating, these moments when you realize your life is just fine as it is, thank you. Only the insidious comparison to a beautifully prepared, beautifully packaged product made it seem insufficient. Trying to produce a biscuit—a life—with no dirty bowls, no messy feelings, no depression, no anger was so frustrating. Then savoring, actually tasting the present moment of experience—how much more complex and multi-faceted. How unfathomable
There is something wonderfully bold and liberating about saying Yes to our entire imperfect and messy life. With even a glimmer of that possibility, joy rushes in.
Yet when we’ve been striving to make “Pillsbury Biscuits” for a lifetime, the habits of perfectionism don’t easily release their grip. When mistrust and skepticism creep in, we might be tempted to back down from embracing our life unconditionally.
It takes practice, learning to bounce back each time we’re dragged down by what seems to be wrong. But as Ed points out, when we stop comparing ourselves to some assumed standard of perfection, the “biscuits of today,” this very life we are living right now, can be tasted and explored, honored and appreciated fully.
When we put down ideas of what life should be like, we are free to wholeheartedly say Yes to our life as it is.
From Radical Acceptance (2003)
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