I lost my brother Paul on October 3rd, 2016 to a drug overdose. The decisions he made throughout his life could have taken him nowhere else. Like me, he had opportunities to change, but he refused. Like me, things would get better for a time, but he would sabotage his own happiness to continue down a path that he would have called righteous, but was just foolish.
For several months after Paul’s death, I was confronted with situation after situation where my arrogance and recalcitrance shone through everything I did. At work, where I am training to become a chef, I accidentally cut myself over and over again, but glossed over these incidents every time. Rohini told me again and again that she knew why I persisted in cutting myself, but I didn’t want to hear it. I believed I knew better than everyone. That arrogance only got me into more trouble. Arrogance was the ground of all of my interactions, and I was always confronted by this reality.
It ultimately took cutting myself fairly severely, instead of the onion I was supposed to be chopping, before I was willing to even begin learning my lesson. In class with Rohini, I was finally willing to surrender to the fact that I would never figure out on my own why I had been cutting myself and asked why. Rohini revealed to me that I had no awareness of my own physical body, and that my tendency had been dissociating from the experience I was having, thinking that I was “one with everything.” She also made clear that I had no foundational knife skills.
At the time, it drove me crazy that Rohini knew why I was cutting myself and would not tell me why. Only recently did Rohini explain to me that this was how she was able to get me to reflect. My desire to be right was greater than my desire to learn. So if Rohini knew something I did not, I had to know so that I could be right. I questioned and questioned, and although I could not find an answer, without realizing it I began the process of learning. Instead of being driven crazy, I was driven conscious.
To learn, I had to experientially revisit this ten-second event over and over, and finally realize I had not been cutting the onion the way I was taught, a way that was safe, a way that has been done for centuries. I had believed I was above learning basic knife skills. I needed to learn how to use a knife, and not only use it correctly, but respect it for what it was. I had to cultivate an awareness when using a blade. Every time I picked up a knife, I had to recognize what was in my hand and where my hands were, and apply what I had learned to use the knife in the proper way.
It was not until Rohini told me that I had a respect for knives that I knew internally the truth of her words. It was a shock to me to see that I had learned. In that moment, I felt relieved, and I recognized that Rohini was making me aware of something that I knew, but could not fully grasp. She knew with complete certainty where I was.
That experience helped me start to be a learner. I had to know that I did not know. And now I have to keep learning. Every time I pick up my chef’s knife is an opportunity to be conscious and learn. It is also an opportunity to numb and be reckless. Just because I have grasped the lesson once does not mean a moment of unconscious action or arrogance won’t allow me to slip. The learning has to be constant. I still have to be conscious every time I pick up a knife, or else there are very real consequences.
Learning has become an active process for me, and even writing this blog is part of it. When a challenge or opportunity presents itself, I have to choose to be involved. And I have learned that mere physical participation can be unhelpful and even dangerous if I am not truly present for it. I have to remain vigilant in all situations. There are things I still fear about the process of learning – messing up, being wrong, or falling back to where I was before – yet this fear becomes miniscule when I recognize how my life has changed. I can see now that nothing we experience is a “nothing event.” It can be a cookie, a car, a jalapeño, a roll of paper towels, or an onion that reveals to us everything about how we act, how we think, and what our true motivations are.
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