Photograph by Joshua Bedford. Courtesy of Unsplash.com
I‘ve been retreating off and on for three decades. Every retreat has a schedule that retreatants are encouraged to follow, although no one takes attendance and keeps track of what you are doing. For all of the retreats I’ve done I’ve followed the schedule pretty much. Sitting meditation. Walking meditation. Guided meditation. Sitting meditation. Lunch break. More sitting meditation and walking meditation. Dinner break. A dharma talk in the evening. Do the daily chore I signed up for, which could be washing dishes, wiping down tables, or ringing the bell to announce the next sitting meditation.
Baking cookies has never been one of the chore options.
On the first day of this four-day silent retreat, a few hours in, I spotted an open two-hour time segment in the schedule. There were no teachings or guided meditations to attend. I was a bit restless, as is often the case for me at the start of a retreat. That two-hour interval seemed like sufficient time to get some cookies made. I did feel a little guilty; perhaps I should have been meditating or walking mindfully during that time interval.
Even though I used the same recipe I’ve been following for decades, I baked the cookies in a way that I have never baked them before. I baked mindfully, meaning there was no background radio or music. No news. I gave my full attention and presence to measuring the flour and sugar, blending the butter and sugars together, cracking the egg into the butter/sugar mixture, and whipping up the batter.
Every retreat has a specific focus. On this retreat we were learning about the four dimensions of wellbeing and healthy relating, those being: befriending/lovingkindness (also called Metta in the Pali language), compassion, joy, and equanimity. The first morning we had learned about Metta. With Metta practice you direct your attention and heart-centered energies to wishing for health and safety, calmness and happiness for yourself. You may also send those good wishes to friends and family. And you can continue outward to the cashier in the grocery store or your local librarian. You may send Metta to your dog or the frogs in your pond.
Typical Metta phrases that you repeat silently to yourself are: May I be well. May I be safe. May I be free from suffering. May my sons be well. May the birds in my garden be safe and nourished.
Back to the cookies. Cookies I am baking on retreat. Cookies that are being baked while I am practicing loving kindness/Metta. As I was mixing the batter it came to me:
May the cow that gave the milk to make the butter, be well and safe.
May all cows be safe and well.
May the chicken who laid the egg be well. May all chickens be well and safe.
May the farmers who grew the wheat to make the flour be well.
May the workers in Africa who harvested the cocoa beans to make the chocolate, may they all be well and safe.
May the workers who worked in the factories to make the bowls, spoons and measuring cups, baking sheet I was using, may they all be well and safe.
Baking in that manner, with that kind of energy, acknowledging all those people and creatures who made it possible for me, living on a small island in British Columbia, to bake my cookies, was a revelation. I’ve been baking since I was twelve years old; I’m now seventy-four. I have baked chocolate chip cookies countless times, as well as rhubarb pies, chocolate cakes, bran muffins, sugar cookies, and many other sweets. But to bake with Metta was totally new. And so life affirming.
During a retreat everyone is assigned to a small group meeting with one of the teachers who are guiding the retreat. Retreatants may speak of concerns or difficulties they are having with sitting or walking meditation. They may speak about their anxiety, depression, or trauma. Some people share insights or ways in which they are finding the retreat helpful and meaningful. I was hesitant in my group of ten women to share my baking experience when others were talking of compassion fatigue in their work, a partner who had died, or a partner who was struggling with cancer. I wasn’t having a problem as such. However, it’s expected that everyone check in with the teacher, so toward the end of the session I spoke up. I was a little embarrassed at the outset but as I described how I had brought Metta into my baking I could see the delight from the group members.
In sending Metta to all those creatures and humans I had had a profound moment of interconnectedness. There was no discrimination, despair, or hatred. There was hopefulness, kindness, and connection, for all beings, near and far.
Lynda’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
(To be made with Metta)
Set oven to 350 degrees
1 cup white flour
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
½ cup white sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
1/3 cup butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips
1 tsp. orange zest (optional)
- Cream butter with sugars, add vanilla, then egg. Beat well
- Add 1 cup chocolate chips and mix
- Add part 1 ingredients to part 2 and mix
- Drop tablespoon size of dough on lightly greased cookie sheet. Can also use parchment paper
- Bake for 10-12 minutes
Makes 2-3 dozen cookies. Recipe also works well if doubled.