If you read the title of this post and went, “What?”, I’m right there with you. Or at least I was before I studied with Little Bear and Red Feather, the former Native American and the latter his white wife who adopted native ways.
I learned about Little Bear through other teachers. Everybody said he was quite knowledgeable and powerful. Everybody said he was an incredible teacher. And everybody said he was difficult, opinionated, irascible, and definitely wouldn’t take on a BDWG (“Big Dumb White Guy”) as a student.
So, of course, I had to study with him.
It took about five years of asking. I made it a point to go where I knew he’d be and just sat patiently, watching as he danced or talked with others, not getting in his way, just letting him know I was interested. I showed him honor (I asked Red Feather, who was much more forthcoming, what his favorite tobacco was and bought him a tin of it, for example. I made him some Regalia, things like that).
It went from him saying “No” to him telling me what he charged to teach.
I couldn’t afford it. By a long shot.
Then one day he said, “Can you wash dishes?”
“Can you wash dishes?”
Of course I can wash dishes.
“Then meet me …” and he gave me directions and a time. “You wash dishes and maybe we’ll talk about me teaching you.”
ALL RIGHT! I WAS IN!
Yeah, right. I’d never seen so many dishes, pots, and pans in my life. Never! And I’d learned to cook for fleets up north!
We’d meet in training facilities, VFW posts, places like that. He’d teach 10, 20, 30 and more people in the meeting rooms, in the hall, sometimes outside on the grass or under the trees, and part of his teaching would involve feeding them. I would listen at the door or leave the kitchen door or window open so I could hear him while I washed.
It was great stuff.
And when he was done and everybody was gone, it would be him, Red Feather, and me in the kitchen. He and I would wash dishes, Red Feather would sit in a corner and knit. Usually in a rocker.
And the things he taught me, my hands deep in soapy, oily, stinging hot water…things about moving through time, moving through fields of space like walking through fields of ripening grain, feeling the betwixt and between of stars and galaxies like seeds and pollens through your fingers, listening to my hands in the water, feeling the different energies that people had left on their plates, glasses, and cups, feeling the energies left in the pots and pans and forks and spoons and knives and ladles, …
Wouldn’t it have been easier to use paper plates and plastic knives, forks, and spoons? Paper cups, maybe?
“Yes, but then what would you learn?”
And each time we met he would quiz me on what I’d learned the last time, how much I practiced, what else did I want to learn, what was going on in my life, what personal troubles was I having that were blocking me from practicing further, stuff like that.
Sometimes Red Feather, rocking in a corner, listening and knitting, would chuckle or laugh out loud at something he or I said. Sometimes she nodded. Once in a while, she’d comment and I never knew if she was correcting him or me.
Then one day he said, “Do you ever wonder who uses all these pots and pans?”
Well, I hadn’t really thought about it. I assumed it was him.
“Tell me more.”
Study and you’ll learn “Tell me more.” is one of the most powerful incantations around,
The energy in the pots and pans was different from the rest. Much more confident, much quieter, almost like a purring, a waiting. Definitely much more powerful.
He shoved his hand in the water and grabbed mine. For an 80yr old guy he had a grip that could bring tears to your eyes.
“Is it my energy?”
Hmm…well…umm…no…now that I’m paying attention. It’s not yours. It’s…womanish?
“Excellent. Do you know how to cook?”
Well, yeah. I’d learned to cook from my family, in my travels, yeah, I knew how to cook. Maybe. A little.
“Good. Time for you to learn how to cook and my wife’s a very good cook.”
He dried his hands, picked up a magazine, and walked towards Red Feather’s rocker. She put down her knitting, stood up, and walked over to me. He sat down and my new lessons with a new teacher started.
She taught me how to sense the “rightness” and “wrongness” of things, meaning “right” and “wrong” in the sense of what is good for you and what’s not as good for you. What things to eat to do what to your body, stuff like that.
And mostly she taught me to pay attention to what I do for others, such as cooking, preparing meals.
Long ago I was interviewed for a podcast. The interviewer learned that I love making pizza for friends and asked what the secret was to making great pizza. Easy. You have to care about the people you’re cooking for. Love them, the pizza will be great. Don’t care about them, the pizza will be just like any other pizza.
“No, what’s the secret?” She didn’t understand. Caring about the people you’re feeding wasn’t good enough. That couldn’t have been the secret. Okay, then do x, y, z and you’ll get a decent pizza.
But that “caring about the people you’re feeding” is part of the secret. It’s almost all of the secret. You’re doing lots more than giving them food. You’re teaching them how to be.
Now, depending on the student and depending on the lessons required, we teach what we call “The Pizza Meditation”.
It’s not about making pizza (although that’s what you do and it always tastes great), it’s about being aware of the yeast rising from rooms or even miles away, from smelling the dough (we make pizza from scratch, the shells and everything) even though you’re nowhere near it, from listening to it rise and hearing it tell you it’s ready for kneading, to putting on the toppings and tasting them through your fingers so you’ll know how much of this and how much of that and what tastes go with other tastes in ways delicious and unexpected (ever had a feta chicken pizza? Yumm!), to listening to the pies bake and hearing them call you when they’re done and thanking everything on them as you eat and taste and savor and feel all the energy and love and caring the cook’s put into them so you can enjoy them.
It’s a day-long meditation, from first proofing (of the yeast) to enjoying the pies hot from the oven, and the entire meditation is about expanding your awareness and sensory perception.
And the things you learn about energies and foods and people (you always ask the students to help you. That’s something Red Feather insisted on, no matter what you were making. That way they can learn and you can learn from them)!
So that’s The Pizza Meditation.
Maybe, just maybe, depending on what we’re learning and where we’re studying, we can meditate together someday.
I’m thrilled you found meaning in this piece. A great joy for me in my writing is learning people benefit from it, so thank you.
You write “I sense that you bring this pizza meditation to many aspects of your life.” More correctly, I work to bring The Pizza Meditation to many aspects of my life. I’m a work in progress and far from finished.
Stay warm, well, and safe,
This resonates very very strongly for me. I have a wonderful person to share it with–my nephew. He both makes pizza and teaches others to make pizza. It’s an important part of his job as assistant manager of a gourmet pizzeria. I sense that you bring this pizza meditation to many aspects of your life. Thanks for sharing, and thanks for caring!