The drive to my Thursday evening yoga class takes about twenty minutes along a mostly dimly lit country highway. After a day of being with N., of sounds and bright colors, of introducing and repeating words and phrases and sentences, the darkness and stillness is both welcome and overwhelming. I don't listen to the radio or to a CD. I don't make any phone calls. It's twenty minutes of my week when everything else is stripped away, and I'm left with nothing but my raw self. I've always thought it's a good preparation for class, which starts with a mantra, and with setting intentions for our practice.
Last week my teacher gave us a mantra that she said she wouldn't translate for us. She told us to think about the thing that we consider our highest truth, whatever that might be for us, and to imagine ourselves in the presence of that truth. And if we didn't have something like that, to ask that it be revealed to us, that we be ready to receive something that we might call grace. The mantra was this: om namo bhagavate narayani namo stutey. The closest translation I could cobble together was "Om (the vibration of the universe), the Personality of Godhead, I offer my respectful obeisances unto you; Exposer of Consciousness, I bow to you." I can sort of see why she didn't translate, because imagining yourself in the presence of your highest truth, asking for understanding, feels a lot more powerful and humbling than those slightly pompous sounding tongue-tripping words.
When I asked myself what my highest truth was, I found that I didn't have a quick and easy answer. God? Not exactly ... at least not in the way I usually think about God. Love? Not quite. There was something even deeper, even more pervasive than either of those concepts, that I couldn't put my finger on. Whatever it was, it saw me, without everything I usually hide behind, and it made me feel both small and honored at the same time.
After class, the mantra stuck with me. My world is so full of noise, of all kinds, and though I love a lot of it, sometimes my ears and eyes are too open, and my heart is too closed. Sometimes I need to walk away from the Facebook and Twitter streams and shut down my computer. I need to stand in the presence of my highest truth. Why do I resist this?
I love Mary Oliver's poetry for its starkness, for its ability to bring me back to what is nearly primal, to strip away all of the lenses that distort the world. Her poems remind us that the ordinary world is suffused with extraordinary wonder, and she demands that we look at it, and leave ourselves open to grace. As I stirred the last ingredients into risotto for dinner this week, I remembered this one, and wanted to share it with you. As you are picking up your spoon, take a moment to strip away everything else that complicates your world, fill your hands with mud, and stand in the presence of your highest truth.
It grew in the black mud.
It grew under the tiger's orange paws.
Its stems thicker than candles, and as straight.
Its leaves like the feathers of egrets, but green.
The grains cresting, wanting to burst.
Oh, blood of the tiger.
I don't want you to just sit at the table.
I don't want you just to eat, and be content.
I want you to walk into the fields
Where the water is shining, and the rice has risen.
I want you to stand there, far from the white tablecloth.
I want you to fill your hands with mud, like a blessing.
This doesn't come out quite as creamy as regular risotto, but it's a good stand-in when stirring simply isn't an option. Adapted from A Year of Slow Cooking.
1/4 cup olive oil
2 shallots -- peeled and minced
1 1/4 cups Arborio rice -- uncooked
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon salt
3 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 to 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese -- preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano
whatever else you like in your risotto: steamed vegetables, cooked chicken, etc.
Heat the oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat and sauté the shallots until they have softened. Scrape them into the slow cooker.
Toss the rice in the insert to coat it with the oil. Stir in the wine, broth and salt. Cover and cook on HIGH for about 2 hours or until all the liquid is absorbed. Just before serving, stir in the cheese. Then stir in anything else you might like to have in your risotto.