September 20, 2014

Musings on Peace, Quiet & Salad Buffets. ~ Emily Zambon


There are few things in life that fill me with as much delight as an oversized, delicious salad.

Sad, I know, but when I left my sunny home for England, I thought I was saying farewell to good salads for a month. Boy, was I wrong.

It turns out that one of the motherland’s best-kept secrets is its plenitude of delicious, organic, at times even decadent salads. And what’s more, they have salad buffets. Some have containers of single ingredients, condiments and dressings that can be used to create anything your heart desires. Others are colourful selections of pre-made dishes waiting to be crammed into a container and taken to a park for the perfect picnic for one.

Why am I ranting about salads and buffets and sporadic picnics? Well, one of the passions (neuroses) that I have been graced with in this life is food. Having suffered various mild to nasty digestive disorders for years, I have become rather vigilant about what I eat, for better or worse—usually a complicated mix of the two.

And one of the reasons I went to England was to participate in a silent meditation retreat for seven days. Predictably, a few months before the retreat began, I started to worry. What would the food be like? I would be confined in an all-girls boarding school, miles from anywhere, at the mercy of a catering company. And I wouldn’t be able to speak.

Way to stoke the neurotic flames of the anxious mind.

But there I was at the beginning of seven days of silence—seven days of surrender. To be honest, I did have a couple of bags of baby food and a jar of almond butter stashed in my bag for emergencies. But the moment of truth arrived the first day when I walked around the corner into the cafeteria holding my breath, barely peeking out of one eye, to find… a salad buffet.

I could have cried.

To cut the long story short, there were many valuable things that came out of that week of sitting in silence—with only my own thoughts to keep me company.

1. Eating in silence is a beautiful thing. The experience of eating becomes so much more alive and the feeling of presence leads to a greater assimilation of the food—both on a physical and emotional level.

2. Eating in silence with 350 people also eating in silence is magnificent. One of those rare experiences that is vastly different than any other. The wall of sound created by people’s conversation is replaced by the clinking of knives and forks, and the looks of thoughtful contemplation on the faces of fellow diners.

3. Letting go of the need to control whatever it is that we feel the need to control is better for us than we think. In my case, releasing my control over food was better than having what I thought I needed in the way I thought I needed it. Granted, even though there was a fantastic salad buffet, the food served at the retreat wasn’t always what I would have chosen for myself. However, because I didn’t have the option to choose—and had to surrender to that—I felt healthier and experienced less digestive symptoms than I remember feeling for years.

4. Sitting in meditation is perhaps one of the most understated and yet powerfully effecting activities we can do on a daily basis. It is my belief that many of our modern ailments and disorders, digestive or otherwise, come from an underlying sense of anxiety or stress. Meditation allows us to profoundly relax on a deep level, and the associated benefits include less tension in our bodies and thus, a smoother functioning digestive system.

5. I am incredibly fortunate to be able to take a week of my life to delve into the silence within, to meet my demons and shake their hands—and to begin to let go of my deep-seated need to control certain things and the anxiety that comes along with this.

6. Overwhelmingly, I felt sincere gratitude for the privilege of having food when I need it. Many in this world don’t. It’s profound how neurosis and anxiety is swept away by the humility that arises from this recognition.

My retreat came and went.

I did eat my stash of baby food and almond butter.

I did freak out a bit when I realised I’d eaten deep fried potatoes for breakfast.

And I did feel scared that when I was back out in the real world—and my sense of calm was scattered by the demands of daily life—I would lose my newfound sense of relaxation about eating.

But, there are some things that can’t be known. And I’m glad I can accept this a little bit more than I could before. Life’s like a salad buffet, right? Or something like that.


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Apprentice Editor: Melissa Horton / Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Flickr, Shawn Rossi

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Emily Zambon