By Tyson Davis
When I was a kid, my grandmother used to cook for me, my mom and my brother all of the time.
We grew up poor. She would make a meal one night, we would have leftovers the next night, and then have “hash” and fried cornbread the third night. Hash was just a catch-all name for anything still left over from the original meal, all thrown into a pot and made into a thick stew.
That was our ritual.
My grandmother was one of those “just try it!” grandmothers. I think most of us had one. My grandmother would make all kinds of vegetables. She knew I only liked mashed potatoes, corn and green beans, but she would always make something other than one of those pre-approved items and we would go through another ritual:
I made broccoli. Don’t you want some?
No thanks. I don’t like broccoli.
Oh, you don’t know that. Just try it.
No thanks. I really think it’s yucky.
Oh, come on. I made it. Just try it!
*takes one bite and spits it out on to my plate* See, I told you. I don’t like broccoli!
She did this with all kinds of vegetables: the aforementioned broccoli, cabbage, lima beans, cauliflower, etc. I didn’t like any of them. I only liked mashed potatoes, corn and green beans. Don’t put any other shit on my plate!
Fast forward about 25 years or so.
This was when I considered myself a Zen Buddhist, but only a book Buddhist; I didn’t have any real meditation practice. However, I had decided I was going to be a vegetarian. I grew up on a farm and knew what the animals went through to get on our plates. It ain’t pretty. So, I gave up eating meat. Now I just had to figure out how I was going to survive on mashed potatoes, green beans and corn.
I figured out pretty quickly I couldn’t.
I remember the day like it was yesterday. I went to the store, bought a bag of frozen broccoli, went home, microwaved the whole bag, tried not to gag due to the literal garbage smell of the unholy microwaved vegetable, and sat down at the table. I had a fork in one hand and had the other hand prepared to hold my nose as I attempted to force feed myself the green pile of mush. No butter. No cheese. Not even any hot sauce. Just plain broccoli versus my will and palate. As the fork full of cabbage’s less attractive cousin got closer to my mouth, I could hear the voice of my grandmother saying “Just try it!” over and over in my head.
Eventually the fork made its way into my mouth, but not before a couple of false starts and light gags and body convulsions. But there it was. I was eating broccoli. I didn’t puke! It was actually not totally terrible. I could eat it. Now, I didn’t eat the whole bag, but I did manage to get four or five bites down. I considered that a great victory. My grandmother would have been proud.
After the shock wore off and my body got used to a healthy vegetable invading it, I really sat and wondered.
I had been telling myself for 20-plus years that I hated broccoli. I had believed this with all of my being. I knew I hated broccoli, but I just ate some and didn’t immediately throw up. So obviously I had been telling myself a lie all of these years. If I had been wrong about not liking broccoli, what else had I been fooling myself about? For some reason this really hit me.
I knew that Zen practice could help me with this. I decided to really start a practice—no more excuses. Shortly after I started sitting at home more often. I eventually made my way to the local Zen center. 10 years later, I’m still there. In those 10 years, I’ve realized I’ve believed a lot of things about myself—and others— that aren’t true.
This crypt I had lived in for the first several decades of my life wasn’t real. I could leave any time I wanted to. I just had to choose to.
Recently I had a friend message me sating that another guy dumped her. She’s 32 and single and miserable. When I asked her why this guy broke up with her, she said, “Because I’m not good enough.” My heart broke when I read those words. What a terrible crypt to be trapped in. I know her and know that she is more than good enough. She has so many great qualities to offer people. She’s in this dark tomb with no light and can’t see these qualities in herself. I stand outside the crypt and yell as loud as I can so she will hear me. No sound can penetrate them. The walls are thick. No hammer can break the walls from the outside. I take a seat and wait for her to realize she can walk out at any time on her own. I hope that happens for her soon.
You find yourself in a stone crypt. There are no windows, the door is locked from the outside. How will you get free?
I’m probably the worst vegetarian on the planet. I pretty much live off of pizza and french fries. Occasionally, I still eat broccoli. And I’ve been known nowadays to put spinach on my pizza. On a random day you might see me eating zucchini or lima beans. I still refuse to eat cauliflower. That’s one thing I keep in the crypt. Sorry Grandma, I won’t try that.
Tyson Davis is not a Zen teacher. In fact, his main practice is “don’t know.” So don’t take anything he writes as the proverbial gospel (or sutra as the case may be). He studied Buddhism for a decade or so before he began practicing Zen. He’s been practicing meditation and Zen for about 10 years now. He grew up on a farm, retired from farming at age 22 and moved to civilization. He has a wonderful fiancé and a French bulldog named Ombre.
Editor: Alicia Wozniak
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