A clay bowl in your hands.
Touch the earth as you take your food.
Eat with friends, sensing the horizon.
Today, I walked to campus under the shade of burning red maples, and entered a bustling cafeteria sheltering a clay bowl. It made my hands look incredibly small. I circled from station to station choosing only food that would give me pleasure. Some honeydew and cantaloupe; scrambled eggs and black beans. A little sriracha for good measure. I held the earth in one hand, while delicately arranging my selections. I did not want overlap; I wanted to enjoy each flavor. I wandered in to the seating area, where small blue place-mats were arranged across two tables, and I took my seat at a sunny corner. With the ring of a bell, we began eating in silence among friends. The conversations of the room flowed around us in one mass, and we were invited to think of the horizon and our ancestors; to make eating an artful and aesthetic experience. The sunlight played with my food, highlighting hidden textures and caverns in my eggs and making my fruit glow in luminescent green and orange. I thought about the way that my mother used to make breakfast for me on weekend mornings, and how her mother probably made breakfast for her. I wish I had slowed down to enjoy them at the time now that I am far away. I thought about the sweetness of cantaloupe and honeydew, thanking each soft piece while apologizing to those that were still hard and unripe. Taken too soon. With another subtle ring of the bell, conversation flowed and we compared thoughts and stories. We took three deep breaths, and started the day.
I wrote the above anecdote shortly after eating mindfully with behavioral artist Marcus Young, who has been in residence this week living in the Groot Gallery as part of the St. Olaf Artist Series. His work, Life All Along: Instructions for Living at a Small Liberal Arts College or Someplace Similarly Wonderful, encourages participation in the activities that make up our daily life. During a community time discussion, he explained, “We are all artists creating this masterpiece called our life.” He asked if we ever really wondered if this is all that life is; if all the daily practices add up to what we think life should be. Marcus encourages spontaneity. Students have not only been “eating mindfully” in the cafeteria, but they have been dancing to their own rhythm in the quad, noticing the ringing of the bells and the dancing of pale blue fabric between the autumn leaves. They have also meditated in the gallery and performed Yoko Ono’s cut piece once a day in various locations. In various ways they have followed the instructions of Life All Along to dance foolishly, to eat mindfully, to cut revealingly, to ring regularly, to live artfully, to be quietly, and to live plainly. Small, subtle disruptions in campus routines.
It has been refreshing. The conversations that have followed have been reflective and insightful: students spoke with me about the inability to slow down in our lives and about our tendency to fill every silence and every gap with a new activity or responsibility. There seemed to be a real desire to press the pause button on routine to enjoy food or company or dance or music. A will to collaborate. A wish to live authentically.
And speaking of spontaneity… Just as I was writing this post music professor Therees Hibbard and her talented students decided to conduct class in the Groot Gallery, where Marcus has been living, and their sounds just came alive throughout our entire building. A happening of sorts, and a change from the routine, but it truly warms the soul. Students stopped in their tracks to listen and faculty emerged from their offices, and it was a real treat to see Therees in her element surrounded by her students. A really beautiful day at St. Olaf.