Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I've noticed an unsettling thing about the world. No matter where you go, everyone ignores the speed limits.

I guess they aren't ignored, strictly speaking. After all, one must know how fast they're allowed to go in order to go faster than that particular figure.

Buzzing around on the back roads through the rolling, curving hinterlands of rural New Zealand, it occurred to me to wonder why the buzz of "fast" superimposed itself over the sensual delight of sliding through the landscape in the warm summertime air. I couldn't stop it, though -- couldn't turn off the compulsion to mash on the gas and feel the growl of metal, air and fire coming through my foot.

Fast is like sugar. Fast is like alcohol. Fast is like music, played so loud that it unbearably tickles your eardrums before bursting them. Fast is so, so good -- but you always need more. And more isn't always better.

I've always been so damned bad at slowing down. I like warp-speed movement -- warp-speed satisfaction -- warp-speed change. This makes me an abominable meditator...but an Olympic-caliber transformation artist.

I'm done transforming. I want to cultivate a better crop of slowness for the next chapter.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

kitchen witch

While the powdery New Zealand rain dusts the lawn outside, I'm learning to cream butter and sugar with my hands. You laugh when I call it "percussive dairy massage," pulling and twisting and feeling the cat's-tongue roughness of the mixture as it enters and leaves my fists.

I've always loved to bake, but I'd always been sensually subtracted from this part of the process, letting my stand mixer churn mechanically through the dough. Now, I'm literally up to my elbows in meltingly soft sweetness -- there are fifty guests to feed tonight, and everyone's going to want a handful of lavender-and-rosepetal shortbread hearts.

This kitchen rings with happiness. I believe this to be so because Anusara, the chef, is beyond description.

She's the MorrĂ­gan, all fire and birth and mystery. She has borne no less than eight children. She could easily be my mother, in fact, but she could just as easily be my sister. She is of the forest, and the wind, and the moon, and all of these speak to her in languages the rest of us have forgotten. She never comes out and says that she practices magick, in as many words, because it doesn't need the saying; if you're with her, you're eating what she has made for you, and so you're deep in her magick already.

To say Anusara is a cook is like saying Guernica is a poster. I've never been so transported by food in my life. What she does is deeply spiritual, and profound, and molecular. Without Anusara in the kitchen, it's a very nice and well-appointed industrial kitchen; with her, it's a temple.

I've rolled and plied a hundred shortbread hearts from this boulder of swooningly scented dough and baked them to blondeness in the oven. Inexplicably, I find myself weaving an open-centered tower of cookies in the middle of a wide, flat charger. When I've finished, I look up -- and there she is, waiting with a fistful of roses for the edible vase. She's smiling a secret smile; I'm sure she compelled me to build it for her. We laugh.

As I watch Anusara float around the shortbreads, fluttering lavender petals and icing sugar over the cookies and the roses like a tiny snowfall, I think about how lucky we are to share this space with her -- and how much I have yet to learn about food, power, wisdom and womanhood.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


In the Maori language, "Mana" means power.

There's something in the earth at the Mana Retreat Centre in Coromandel -- something that makes you not want to wear shoes; to feel every root as it passes underfoot.

The young chef, brought in to pinch-hit for the Druid goddess that usually mans Mana's beautiful old kitchen, hitchhiked from town to get here for her first shift. As we chopped a mountain of leeks, she mentioned to me that the carful of Maori fishermen that picked her up had something peculiar to say about this land. You see, there's a Maori burial ground here. It's not far from the peak of the mountain that crowns at the top of Mana's twisting network of bush trails. The Maori don't come here. It's too holy. It's too powerful. They look up through their eyebrows at the people that do.

Damn right, it's powerful. When we're bouldering at the mountaintop, I can almost feel a heartbeat through the rock under my hands.

We didn't come here for magic. We came for the generous work-trade room and board, for the (more than ample) vegetarian cookery, to learn how to coax armloads of vegetables from pristine soil, for the promise of beauty in the photos on Mana's ancient website. I wanted the physical and spiritual space to expand my yoga practice.

We got magic.

We got tarot cards so incisive that it stings to read them aloud. We got a forest that listens, and watches, and whispers. We got a tidal estuary that breathes sunshine. We got a hilltop sanctuary that erases time when you sing inside it. We got a psychic belltower. We got a space so full of nymphs, spirits, gods and ancestors that they almost crowd the space.

The Maori were right. Being here is to take a risk -- the risk that living in a space this charged, day in and day out, will change the very root of you.

I'll embrace that risk.