February 19, 2015

Sweet & Sour Meatballs: A Yogic Teaching.

Marjan Lazarevski/Flickr

Will comes into the kitchen to find me up to my elbows in a mash of chopped onions, ground beef, breadcrumbs and egg.

On the stove, a sauce of brown sugar, ketchup, white vinegar and tamari melts into smooth hot sweet syrup. “Sweet and sour meatballs!” I say happily. “Thought I’d try something new.”

He makes a sheepish face and says, “Sorry. Can’t do it.”

Something about a memory of being forced to sit at the table in front of a plate of sweet and sour meatballs until they were all eaten.

Now, 40-some years later, Will just…can’t. Even dipping the spoon into the bubbling sauce and taking a tiny taste causes a recoiling and a retreat to the next room.

Me, I have no beef with meatballs. What bothers me is when people reject the food I lovingly prepare for them.

My initial response? Forget that. No way. That’s crazy. F*** him. He can make his own damn dinner.

The common denominator here is the reaction: we encounter an idea or a thing that we find repulsive; that doesn’t make sense to us; that goes against our dearly held belief systems; that links us to a memory of being in an unpleasant emotional state.

In this moment of reacting to his reaction, in preparing to push him away and dismiss him because really? You can’t? I prepared this food with love, and you’re going to let some childhood memory strong-arm you into rejecting it?…I see that we are doing exactly the same thing.

This much, I know: tastes and aromas are potent inducers of memory. A flavor can unlock an emotional firestorm when linked with a past experience of helplessness and rage. A scent can bring tears when it recalls a lost loved one or an ancestral home we’ll never visit again. A situation that recalls something scary from early childhood can bring up fear as strong as the one we felt when we were a third the height we are today.

And I know that the so-called “negative emotions”—fear, anger, sadness, regret, shame, disgust, grief—that can come up in those moments, people tend to translate as a big, fat no.

No. I can’t. Forget it. F*** this. I’m outta here. That makes me sick to my stomach. I feel like throwing up. My head hurts just looking at that. It makes me feel like a cold hand is wrapped around my spine.

As all of these emotions threaten our precarious human equilibrium, we either flee or fight them.

Fleeing gives relief until the next encounter with that thing that makes us uncomfortable.

Fighting—arguing for what we think is right in endless exchanges in online comment threads, for example—helps us feel powerful again. Those tough emotions bring our weakest underbellies to the fore. Girding and guarding with a good argument, where we can walk away, shaking our heads about how right we are and how wrong the other guy is? That buries the tender belly and raises up our more fortified parts.

I decide instead of running, I’ll stay.

I take a breath. I notice the anger that surges up through all the gaps between my bones and all the fibers of my muscles, far out of proportion to the situation. I notice my longing to give him what-for, to shut him down, to blow him off. I stay open, and I keep reminding myself to be curious about the whole circumstance.

And miraculously, I feel the reactive, f***-you, I’m-so-over-this “no” dissolving. I check in: is there a soft, yielding, grounded no here? Do I still want to reject him for refusing to eat what I’m cooking? Is there an “I see you, I hear you, I’m open and investigating my own response to this, and you can make your own dinner” no? The kind that dissolves gently up and out of the gut, a calm knowing, not the one that starts in the ass muscles, the arms, the clenching fists and jaw?


I remember that we’re all doing the best we can, and that this might not be the day for Will to tackle his meatball aversion.

I diffuse from aggravation to affection and empathy.

I throw some meatballs into another kind of sauce, made especially for him.



Why Empathy Will Always Be Our Saving Grace.


Author: Melissa Lowenstein
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Marjan Lazarevski/Flickr

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Melissa Lowenstein  |  Contribution: 1,120