And on the other hand...

Click here for The Yin Side where the other half of me holds forth!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Attention, Patience and Tradition

I was making panir (or paneer) last night and realized it's been a year almost since I first talked about this meditative cheesemaking exercise -- bringing a gallon of chilled milk just to a full boil without scorching or boiling over requires considerable attention and patience. It took me a long time last night but I didn't want to rush because that's what will cause the scorching. Gently stirring the pot feels like qigong, and the warm smell and consistency of steaming milk is comforting on a cool rainy night. After almost an hour of tending the pot, I added the lemon juice, and voila, it curdled perfectly. No scorching. So, tomorrow I will probably do spinach and panir. Not tonight though, I have my traditional Chinese painting class, another exercise in attention and patience.

I am making some small progress in this technique: in each painting, I accomplish one brush stroke or a tinted leaf that is almost right. Practice is required and it is the only creative thing I have ever done where copying is expected. (It is after all, Chinese.) This is hard: very often my first attempts at something are the best because they are concentrated but spontaneous; it is the duplication that is hard. When I used to play the piano, the first sight reading of a piece was often the best I ever did; the practice and perfection part was harder (boring really), and I never was very good at memorizing anything. And spontaneous "modern" sort of dancing is fun as well, without the difficulties of the precise choreography and perfection that qigong or t'ai chi demand. I should learn to apply my editing mentality when I do all these things.

I think we don't spend enough time in quiet attentive acts anymore. I finished Carpenter's old book on China, which ends with a discussion about Port Arthur, the bloody site of Russian/Japanese hostilities in Manchuria. He concludes the book:

"To day [~1925] Port Arthur is only a symbol of the tragic outcome of the clash between two great forces of the Far East. Its downfall marked the end of a chapter in the history of the struggle for supremacy in eastern Asia, and the next one is still unwritten. For me it marks the end of these travels, and I must leave it to others to tell the story of what is to come."
This kind of writing and commentary comes out of patient attention, and it makes me a little sad to realize he died not long after. And reading the book requires a little patience; it has a slowness of pace (and an early-20th-century American point-of-view) that suggests cozy evenings by a fire, cuddled under a lap robe, no TV, less radio, a book to pick up after you put down the evening paper. It's a quiet leisure that we have to consciously create today, with so much competing for our attention. Reading it was like stirring hot milk.


sybil law said...

I think that's exactly why I like making things from scratch and complicated meals - the old fashioned way, and requiring all my time and attention.
Great post!

The Superfluous Blogger said...

aaah. you see, i never cook very well because i can not *just* pay attention to the cooking task-at-hand. i should try. just as soon as i finish these other items, which i will do simultaneously. ..