Esteemed Reader: Choose Your World | July 2021 | Esteemed Reader | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

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Esteemed Reader: Choose Your World | July 2021

Beef Koobideh made on a grill, served with a Persian style basmati rice. - MATTHEW MENDOZA CC 2.0

Why can’t I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart?

—Hank Williams

We were preparing a meal, my teenage sons and I. The three of us worked together to prepare koobideh, a spiced ground lamb kebab served with grilled vegetables on a small mountain of yellow, saffron-infused rice. Our work was harmonious and positive, cutting vegetables, grating onions, shaping and grilling kebabs, each working in response to the living pattern of the moment.

A Persian dervish shared the manner of preparing the dish a decade before the boys were born. Since then, the occasions of koobideh’s appearance on our table have been special, even sacred, events arising from the shared life of the family. The dish’s abundant presentation and synergy of flavors verges on the psychotropic and transcendental.

The boys and I prepared the meal for a gathering in honor of their grandparents and some others. During a period of lockdowns last year, the younger envisaged a studio in which to work at art and music, to explore and create with guitar and violin, paint, wood, and words. The elders were inspired by his vision and, possessing the requisite skills, organized to run electric lines, build insulated walls, and install windows and workbenches. After a period of intense effort, the group—spanning three generations—completed the studio and the boy moved in to work and live in his creative garden.

We greeted our guests with warmth, hors d’oeuvres, and glasses of dry, effervescent Cava. Though some were skeptical of the dish, unusual for the American palate, an atmosphere of enjoyment surrounded the meal.

Remarkable to me was the harmonious manner in which we worked throughout the process of preparing, serving, and enjoying this meal. It had the quality of a sacred feast in large part because not one iota of negativity entered the atmosphere. By some grace, all were able to maintain fixity in a world that is simple, good, and imbued with a quality of gratitude and presence.

Though I observed in myself the temptation to impatience or doubt, I could see these impulses with enough clarity to desist from entertaining them. It was in these moments that I understood something about choice. I saw that real choice is between levels of being, between the world that I choose to inhabit. When I wish for fixity in presence, I can and will be present and obedient to the unfolding pattern of the moment. I can choose to inhabit a more rarefied sphere.

Paradise and hell are not elsewhere. Both are right here. When I am hooked by fear, resentment, anger, disdain, the endless list of contracted states, I am in hell. Pure and simple. With work at the kind of watchful presence that grows out of meditation, I am presented with the possibility of a choice, a real choice that cannot be premeditated or retroactive but can only be made with observation in the moment of action.

The choice to live in the paradise of gratitude and understanding is in front of each of us all the time. Though we can prepare for the moment of choice, the result is not something developed. It is already always present in the corresponding world.

In this sense, the Sufi litany of the attributes of the Insan-i-Kamil, the “perfected person” is already present within each human being:

SHE is without doubts, without self-love, SHE does not have impatience, nor does SHE grab at things. In HER the Higher Sacred Impulses are always present and it is with these that she manifests.

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