The yoga of cake eating.

Posted on Feb 3, 2014



Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.  (Gertrude Stein)

Pose is a pose is a pose is a pose.

This is something that I got to thinking about while eating cake.

Let me explain.

Last weekend I baked a walnut torte.  The raw batter was yummy—fluffy with egg white and sugar.  That night after a big dinner with friends, the finished cake was appreciated for its moistness, and made fully and multi-layered indulgent by the slathering of whipped cream by some, and non-dairy rice whip  by others.  The next morning, consumed first thing and alone (no friends or whipped cream) it made a satisfying breakfast with black coffee.  (Abundant with eggs and nuts, it seemed a perfectly reasonable start to the day. )  Taking a bite in the afternoon, with tea, I noticed that the torte was collapsing in on itself, becoming denser, chewier.  That night my husband and I polished off the remains.  Without the pressure of our guests’ opinions, or the rest of the dinner to worry about, the experience had shifted again. The walnut flavor had blossomed, but it was becoming drier.

Just like anything, we can easily get a fixed idea about a cake.  First we hear “walnut torte” and decide, “I like it” or “I don’t like it.”  Already we’ve taken a step away from the experience.  And then of course, over time, the cake is actually a bunch of experiences.  The more that you pay attention, the richer they are.  We can notice that cake eating not only changes with the time of day, but in fact each bite is different—the crunchy edge, the softer center, and then our changing relation to the taste as we begin to feel satisfied.

Apparently, almost counter-intuitively, when Gertrude Stein wrote that Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose, she was intending to bring us back to the true experiencing of a rose, and away from the generalized way that we sometimes encounter the world, our vision made blurry by memory and preconception, the knife edge of the experience dulled by mindless repetition.  If, instead, we use our regular engagement with the world to practice increased awareness, then we might find that, as the Zen Buddhist masters remind us, words are just a finger pointing at the moon, and not the moon itself.

I’m guessing that if we tried to learn this lesson primarily through cake eating, we might not feel so great after a period of intense practice.  Surprisingly though, it would probably result in us eating less cake, but enjoying it more.   While this type of mindful awareness can be brought to every aspect of our lives, the physical practice of Asana (yoga poses), with a good teacher, not only will give us greater strength and flexibility, but can also be deeply illuminating.  By tuning in to our bodies with profound sensitivity, we find that (just like with cake) less is actually more.  We don’t have to do so much just to stand up straight, or to find the expansive energy of a warrior pose, or the surrender of a forward bend.  As we pay deeper and deeper attention, we can become increasingly refined in our way of engaging with the pose and with ourselves.  There is no more generic warrior pose, no fixed external image of how we must appear, instead the stance becomes a fluid manifestation of the changing nature of all experience.  

The moon begins to rise.