During this holiday season, I’ve been cooking a lot more than usual. Many dishes call for onions. I’ve been laboring in the kitchen, chopping onions for about a month now, eyes tearing and stinging, their aroma burning the lining of my nose. I used to simply chop onions then toss them into whatever dish. Recently, I discovered that if I sauté the onions before adding them to a dish, they’re much sweeter and their flavors are really brought out. That bitter onion is transformed from something harsh and pungent into something sweet and delicate enhancing any dish.
I started doing some research about onions. When they’re sliced in the kitchen or bitten into by your garden critters, the onions release an enzyme which turns into a gas which then dissolves in the tears in your eye to produce a mild sulfuric acid! Suffice, to say, I put down the knife and move away from the onions with burning eyes. That is exactly what those onions want us to do. Their harshness is a defensive mechanism to preserve their survival in their current, bitter state.
…but I decide to do things differently. I stay with onions. I put them in a pan and stand there tearing a bit as their odors are released but soon the onions start to caramelize. As their pungent scent turns into something sweet, I start thinking about the transformative power of meditation. Awhile back, I was looking at the Buddhist precepts thinking “I could never do those things, never be those things.” But like the onions, I decide to “stay with” meditation and make allowances for myself when I am “harsh” or whatever “unpleasant” state I’m in and abandon the concept of “right” or “wrong” zazen. Whatever the state I’m in (anxious, stressed, angry, judgmental or checking the stick of incense every few minutes because I know it burns in exactly twenty-five minutes so I know how much time I have left to be sitting – hee, hee) I know that like the onions, this state will not only pass but is also the very thing I need to experience to then move past. (You can’t have beautiful golden caramelized onions without the tears.) So as I “cook” a bit longer, and stay with my “imperfect” zazen, I’m become a bit more generous in nature towards myself and consequently others, and a heck of a lot “sweeter”.