In 2003, I experienced the third recurrence of breast cancer and was now stage 4. By that point we were running through chemo drugs and radiation limits and this would be the fifth chemo to be tried. Each one had its own unpleasant side affect, the most common being hair loss. This next one was no different and along with the hair loss was the loss of taste. As a foodie, as a scratch cook, this was harder for me to deal with than the hair loss. For a full year I could not taste anything.
As difficult and challenging as it is to experience cancer, that’s not what this writing is about…after all I’m still here…taste buds and all. I want to share one of the many teachings I received during this time.
One day I had come home from school and went into the kitchen to prepare dinner…a dinner I would’t be able to taste. As I stood at the counter peeling a carrot, something I had done thousands of times…I stopped. Tears rose. For me it wasn’t just about the dish, how it would look, how it would taste…it was the sound of the carrot peeler, the cool texture of the carrot in my hand, the garden smell, the color change from dark skin to bright orange. There was something more than final dish…something more personal and connected.
It was the process.
From age 16 on I loved working with food, yes, how it tasted but also how it felt in my hands, how different foods came together to create something new and wonderful…how I slowly learned to go from recipes to experimenting, to learning what complemented each other, enhanced each other, ways to be in relationship with and honor food.
Perhaps it was said best by my nephew when he was four years old. He was up to his elbows in his salad and my sister said, “What are you doing?” He replied, “If you’re afraid to touch your food you’ll never be a good cook.” She said, “You learned that from Aunt Mary Jo didn’t you?” Yes…
I’m not afraid to touch my food. I love how smells fill the kitchen, how working with fresh ingredients deepens my connection to the earth, how I can express my respect for animals and plants. Standing in the kitchen in that moment, carrot in hand, I knew an underlying truth…I love my time spent with the gifts of the earth. There may be other planets, other galaxies where life is incredible…but oh how earth pulled out all the stops on nourishing us with her diversity and bounty.
If we only have our eyes on the goal, the final result…then we miss what may be the most important experience…the intimacy of relationship when we are writing, drawing, painting, carpentry, gardening, sewing, cooking…stepping into a dream…the moment that we are connected to the whole, a participant in the miracle of our human life.
(Image: Peeling a Carrot by takitakos)
Mary Jo Heyen is a certified Natural Dreamwork Practitioner working with clients in person, phone or Skype. Learn more about her work with dreams at www.maryjoheyen.com.