Six monks from the Gaden Shartse Monastery, who have been traveling around the U.S. for eighteen months, arrived in my little corner of the universe on Saturday night in the middle of a freak blizzard. I can only imagine what the drive down from New York State was like for them; I was driving my son and daughter home from a birthday party, and every muscle in my body was tense as I watched huge tree limbs snap all around us under the weight of the snow on the leaves that hadn't yet fallen. It still looks like a war zone around here, worse than when the hurricane hit. Lots of people still have no power, which means no heat (with temperatures outside below freezing) and no water (unless you're lucky enough to live in town, like we do).
It was pretty amazing to meet Tibetan Buddhist monks on tour, and their visit brought some useful perspective and calm to the county in the aftermath of the storm. They were down to earth (three of them actually went trick or treating with some kids in the neighborhood), and yet, somehow unearthly--both their chanting (which sent chills down my spine) and their air of calm acceptance made them feel different. They talked about a lot of things I've been thinking about recently anyway: that life is like a great ocean, and that the ups and downs are little ripples (even if they feel like tsunamis at the time); that you feel the most suffering when you spend the most time thinking about yourself and your inappropriate attachment to things that just go away or change anyway; that people can only give what they have, and that people who are suffering cannot give joy.
(This last one is the hardest for me to swallow. My conversation with one of the monks went something like this:
me: "So what about people who are malicious?"
monk: "They're not malicious to everyone. And they are suffering."
me: "But why be malicious to me, then?"
monk: "That's what they have to give."
me: "I'm not feeling very compassionate towards these people."
monk: *smiling* "No one said it was easy.")
Now I don't think that I'm going to become a Buddhist any time soon. In a perverse way, I think I enjoy the highs and lows of human existence. But I confess I've been feeling more than a little sorry for myself lately, hearing nothing but crickets from the resumes and cover letters I keep sending into the abyss, especially as we're turning the corner into winter (and I'd thought that by now I'd be re-employed), doing the endless loads of laundry and dishes (which I'd be doing anyway, but breaks in the monotony would be nice), cooking until late into the night only to get up at 5am and start the whole thing over again. And it would be wise of me to remember compassion, and appreciate simplicity (gee, isn't it nice to have heat and running water?), and be a little less cranky.
I volunteered to bring the monks a meal while they were staying with another family in town, and I made this soup, along with a lentil salad and homemade bread. It's the sort of soup that warms you body and soul, and makes you remember that the world is a fundamentally good place, and that just as the good things come and go, so do the power outages and the crappy days filled with laundry.
Pumpkin Apple Soup
(with thanks to Brown Eyed Baker for the original)
1 T. olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
½ t. kosher salt
6 c. vegetable stock
2/3 c. natural (no sugar added) applesauce
½ t. ground white pepper
½ t. ground sage
½ t. dried thyme
¼ t. ground nutmeg
2 (15-ounce) cans pumpkin (3 1/2 c.)
¼ c. brown sugar (or 2 T agave)
½ c. light cream (or half and half)
Heat a Dutch oven or large soup pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil and heat until it shimmers. Add the diced onion, apples and salt. Saute until onions are translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the vegetable stock, applesauce, white pepper, sage, thyme and nutmeg. Bring to a boil and cook until apples are very tender, about 5 more minutes.
Add the pumpkin and brown sugar and cook for 10 – 15 minutes over medium heat. Use an immersion blender to blend soup until it’s smooth. (You can also use a blender to blend the soup in batches.) Add the cream to the soup and heat through over very low heat. (You can add more cream or water, if desired, to thin out more.) Remove from heat and serve.