I was fretting this morning. Peeling the thin paper skin off a garlic clove with my fingers has become difficult. Over the years, I’d relapsed into using a small paring knife. On occasion, I would imitate a technique that I’ve seen on TV: lay the garlic on a board, take the flat side of a knife, and smash the thing like I’m in macho hell. Sure, it works; brute strength often works. But brute strength can also be painful (in this case, to the wrists). Smashing through things, even garlic, is not an easy way to live. Fortunately, I use voice activated software to write; and just as fortunately, this morning, I remembered a garlic peeling technique I first learned about 20 years ago.
My answer to the moment’s issue is found in the wisdom of a small, roundish woman with an oddly crooked smile and a slow, rocking walk. Her name was Indu. I liked her a lot because she was a bit eccentric and could set folks’ hair on fire by using a spectacularly powerful word: “no.”
I loved her for that. If it appeared that someone was threatening her serenity and easy way of doing things, she would smite them with “no.”
During those years, I was spending hours in the kitchen of an ashram that I dearly love. Will everything that I got from that time ever fill all the pages I want to write? I don’t know.
But about the kitchen. It was not only the company of the other folks in the kitchen; it was the quiet experience of being in the present moment while I chopped vegetables, mixed cereals, washed dishes, and, yes, peeled garlic. I would be 100% focused on the task at hand. I was conscious of nothing else around me; nothing distracted me. I was never bored. Rarely, have I had this experience of contentment in my day jobs.
But back to Indu. She was not a particularly graceful woman; I am guessing that at the time she was probably near 70. But she walked with this ultra slow gait, her plump arms swaying like feathers. I never saw Indu hurrying to get anywhere. In her jeans and print, colored tops, she would sit at the front of the hall where the morning chant was held and focus on what was before her. And while I can’t speak for other people, she always had a smile for me.
I’d always thought that the garlic press was the best invention since sliced bread, but Indu had a little trick up her sleeve that even surpassed that little invention, and in learning how to easily slip garlic cloves from their thin covers, I got a glimpse of life’s most important lesson: it really doesn’t have to be that hard.
Slipping the skins off garlic
Take a jar and fill it with water; stuff that baby with garlic cloves. Let it sit for a day or let it sit for two to three hours; the result is the same when it comes time to slip the skins off. End of recipe.
Blessings to you, Indu. There is so much to be gained in small, focused, quiet activity. Sitting at a table in the comfortable presence of other folks and slipping the skins off of clove after pearly clove of garlic was a beautiful way to pass the mornings. It was like repeating a mantra, clove after clove after clove. This morning as I turned my attention to garlic smashing, I realized that I had forgotten the healing power of Indu’s method of garlic peeling: make it easy.
It has been about 15 years since Indu passed on, but her guidance remains: Make it easy. What’s the hurry? Have patience, it’s getting done. Focus on being in this moment.
After all. Life has enough challenges.