The Useful Pot
We shape clay into a pot, but the place where it is empty is what makes it useful.
We hammer wood for a house, but it is the inner space that makes it livable.
— Tao Te Ching
I’ve been cooking my beans in a big fat clay pot that sits all day on the lowest possible flame on the back of my stove. Once in a while, a little burbly bubble pops up and breaks the surface and slowly, slowly the beans swell and grow creamy. They’re flavored with salt and olive oil and a little onion, maybe a bay leaf if I remember or a whole dried chili if that seems appropriate.
I like the solid, diligent, earthy nature of this pot of beans. How it doesn’t require much fuss and bother, no bam and slam or showing off. No cheeky attitude or high maintenance flimflam. Just an occasional stir or splash of water, the thick solid walls of the clay holding firm as the alchemy of heat and moisture and time work their magic inside.
This is a very old way of providing sustenance, this pot of beans. People have been keeping an eye on that quiet burble for a long time now and hopefully, if we do things right, will continue to do so well into the future. It’s a most satisfying and nourishing and comforting activity. I try to do this once a week, making up enough beans for the entire week ahead, and I highly recommend that you do, too.
If your life is structured such that you cannot be at home, keeping even the most occasional eye on a pot of beans, or if perhaps you find the whole notion a little too romantic, then a slow cooker will do. Or a regular pot, overnight in a very low oven. This practice of making up a pot of beans is not afraid of modern convenience and should not be avoided because of time or philosophy.
But still, I urge you to find something in your life that encourages less doing and more being, something that nourishes the rounded, receptive space within. All day long we deal with the outer shell of things, the constructed forms of schedules and outward appearances and the striving that comes with their maintenance. But remember that it’s the magic of the internal processes that ultimately makes life worthwhile, that softens us and makes us tender and available enough so that we can receive what we need. So that we can be sweet and steady, toothsome and useful. So that we can know fullness, and appreciate the emptiness that allows it and see them as one thing.
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I hope you enjoyed this encore Weekend Meditation, originally posted in January 2012. I will be posting these vintage posts every Sunday (with the occasional new post, if I can manage!) for the next several months while I focus on writing my first book.