The Taste of Honey
My daughter didn’t get her first taste of sweets until she was almost a year old. My wife and I knew that once she tasted sweet it would change her relationship to food, so we figured that our daughter couldn’t crave what she didn’t know about. When the day came, we decided that to start her out with a small spoonful of honey. She had seen us put a little honey into our tea before, but until this day it didn’t register in her awareness what she was missing. When the spoon touched her mouth, her eyes widened as if she had discovered some great secret: This is the magic of experience. Someone can tell you about something; you can read and study about an idea, but you don’t really understand something until you personally experience it.
I’ve heard it said that if someone writes the word “honey” on a piece of paper and you try to eat the word, you will not get to enjoy the sweetness. This is true of everything that we study with our minds. We can read the words, we can try to understand them as a concept, but until we find ourselves in the middle of something, we really have no idea what it feels like. It is like someone who has never been next to the ocean going to the beach for the first time. Maybe they have read about the ocean, or seen it on television, but nothing can truly teach them the essence of the ocean except direct experience. They won’t know the ocean until they hear the crash of the waves, smell the distinct blend of salt and seaweed, or get moved around by the waves.. They won’t understand until they feel the sand and salt stick to their skin.
So often we think that we know something because we have studied it, or someone has explained it to us. But how can we know unless we have been immersed in it ourselves. One of the greatest gifts of this time of uncertainty is the opportunity to slow down enough to notice things, to experience things. When we are in “normal” times, most of us are moving so quickly from one thing to another that we give ourselves little opportunity to truly taste the sweetness of our lives. We don’t give ourselves permission to stop and smell the roses, or to notice the sharpness of the thorns. As this period of social isolation has dragged on, I have been amazed to notice how often I think that I should be doing more, learning more, accomplishing more. Though I can write lists and cross things off of them one by one, I am also being encouraged to taste each moment, even the ones that aren’t on a list. Having more time and space offers us greater opportunity to learn to be more present in each moment. I still have my list of things to do, but without the same urgency in my schedule, I get to notice how often my agenda is simply serving as a distraction. I get uncomfortable if I slow down enough to hear the chatter in my mind. I am constantly looking for a way out of the suffering that is born from trying to always be in control of my life. If I am on mission to check things off my list, I often miss the swirl in the clouds or the hummingbird that says hello through my window. The only way to truly and authentically “taste” something is to be with it in the moment completely. It requires that we give the moment our full attention.
Before the pandemic we all had so many reasons why we had to hurry off to be somewhere else that we didn’t notice the mysterious magic of being right where we are. Though many of use are still very busy worrying about what is next, caring for our families, or trying to stay afloat financially, in many ways we can find more time to be curious about what is right with us here in the moment. Never in my life have I been forced in this way to sit in each moment. There is nowhere else to go, less to get done. So I can sit and watch with all of my awareness how life is unfolding in the here and now. This is same place that life is always unfolding, the only place that life is truly alive. The future that we are usually positioning for, or the past that we are often trying to untangle or integrate are both just concepts in our mind. They are not alive like the present moment. You can remember something from yesterday, or imagine it in a tomorrow, but it isn’t that wide eyed discovery of a secret that can only happen in this very moment.
Like my daughter who didn’t notice the honey that we were putting in our tea until she tasted it herself, we are being encouraged to taste the honey ourselves and to understand its sweetness. We are being beckoned to put down the word scribbled on a piece of paper and enjoy the spoonful of golden sweetness that is this moment.