Weekend Meditation

Weekend Meditation: Simplicity, Work, and Enjoyment

published Jan 22, 2012
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“My secret for long life is simplicity, work, and enjoyment.” — Maia Helles

I’m quite taken by the short video (above) by Julia Warr which had been showing up on the internets this week. It features Maia Helles, a 95 year-old ballet dancer/teacher whom Julia met on an airplane a few years ago.

The scenes of Maia watering her garden and doing her exercise routine (which she has been doing for over 60 years) are very inspiring. But my favorite moments are of her tying on her apron and cooking what I assume to be her lunch. Greens and yellows, we hear her say as she dishes up delicious looking plates of Delicata squash and cooked greens. We see her table beautifully and simply set, a bright orange pot hanging on her wall, the translucent cloth that covers her kitchen door fluttering in the breeze. She fusses and primps a little in the kitchen mirror, fixing and fluffing her hair.

When we think of growing old, I imagine most of us wouldn’t mind being like Maia: active, engaged, independent, and, dare I say it, beautiful. And how can we achieve this? We’re fortunate that Maia is generous as well as wise and flexible, for she shares her secret for her long life at the end of the film. “Simplicity, work, and enjoyment” she tells us.

Although I have a long way to go before I’m 95, I’m thinking that I might take a page from Maia’s book and see if I can’t begin right now to build my life around simplicity, work, and enjoyment. It’s somewhat that way already (although I could really use more of her stretching routine) but I feel I want to bring it in even further. Make more of a habit of it, so it becomes instinctual and built in.

So I put on my apron and pick up the Delicata squash that’s been sitting on the counter for a week now. I slice it up and roast it in the oven with a few fat cloves of garlic. Meanwhile I sauté some Tuscan kale with a little red onion and put it, still bright and chewy, into a salad bowl. When the squash is done, I add it to the kale, squish in the softened garlic and toss it with a little lemon juice and shards of parmesan. A heel of bread and a glass of wine and there it is: simplicity, work, and enjoyment disguised as dinner. It might seem a little more complicated than Maia’s Yellows and Greens, but for me it’s quite a simple dish, taking only 20 minutes or so to get on the table.

After dinner, the cleaning up and the putting away brings more enjoyment and I realize that while Maia’s philosophy is in part about approach and attitude, it’s only when we physical enact it that it really begins to take hold. We can think about things, we can discuss them and write about them, but it’s in the doing that we complete our understanding and experience. That’s where an idea becomes an outward expression of our inner workings, a (hopefully) good, life-long habit.

Simplicity, work, and enjoyment. Leaving the kitchen, I pass by the mirror in the hall and stop to fluff my hair. I wonder if this will be the year I might start to wear red lipstick. Yellows and greens and reds. Starting now, today, to build the life that I want to grow old in. Lively, engaged and beautiful. May it be so for everyone.