Paying tender attention to your cucumber – a Valentine’s day invitation.

In the early days James once mentioned to me in a fleeting sentence that…

…. ‘when i could slice a cucumber…. then i would…grace.’

Both koans and cucumbers come in different shapes!

I can remember my thinking at the time…’Oh my goodness!…so i have all the grace of an elephant!’

Wrong thinking on many counts:

Firstly elephants are amazingly graceful in their movements…

Secondly James wasn’t really talking about physical gracefulness per se….

Thirdly it wasn’t a judgment about me…

…it was an invitation to see/be different.


That self-referential thought led to something helpful.

I watched myself slice a cucumber. Very quick…chop, chop chop… and swish the results into a bowl…onto the next thing… zip, zip

I could see the speed…grab the cucumber, grab the board and the knife and get the job done!
Speed and efficiency as priority plus the distraction of  unnecessary thinking (whether off-piste, pissed-off or bog-standard) precluded any real participation in, and enjoyment of, the process.

Yes, the slices were quite even, and no, i did not cut myself… but acting in this way i lost any sense of presence and also the offering of the cucumber…
Its texture, its ridges and asymmetry, its variegation in colour, its coolness, fresh scent, and glistening interior passed me by, as did the knife with its shiny blade, the balanced weight of the handle and its hardness, the arc of the knife as it moved through the air and the hand that was holding it…the warmth and the cool, the movement of the arm.
The way the slices pile up onto each other, then topple over…and the texture and warmth of the wooden board under the hand as the cucumber is slid off into the shining bowl…all these were lost to ‘goal–orientated chopping!”…
The  shape and weight of both the cucumber and the knife invite the hands into a different grips, but this and the relation of the activity to space…and everything else… just whizzed by me…

The task, for me, was something to be got out of the way as soon as possible…? in order to get on with something more important?… but if your practice is your life…exactly which bits, which moments, are unimportant?
If, as within samsara, the next moment is predicated on this one, surely this moment matters too…?

Remembering that it is ‘I’ (my little egoic thought–structure) who says this moment is ‘special’ or ‘rubbish’  could i move from this towards fully seeing each moment just it as it is?
It’s one thing to read about lack of inherent self-nature in phenomena, it’s another to directly experience the open ground of arisings, yet even then the tendency to impute has such a very long history behind it….

Rather than commenting on my deportment, I think James was positing the possibility of living a different kind of politeness, a politeness which is itself grace; gesturing towards an absolute welcome to each moment in its entirety. An appreciation completed if the moment is fully received…without prejudice.

A  soft attuned participation will surely come with that practice…rather than rushing through and pushing on…on to the next…and the next.   Each moment is entire; it is there just for you…as a revelation of the creativity of your mind.

Washing floors, opening doors,
taking the lid off the milk or cutting silk..
Present or absent? awake or asleep?
Noticing, noticing…the sense of separation… then remembering…the form and the senses are always ‘becoming’ together with everything…yet not becoming any ‘thing’ as such… within your unborn awareness.

If self and other come into being together a gentle enquiry could be appropriate….how friendly are you with the potato?….how tender towards your self?