12. Marmalade and other Worldly Desires
Being a novice meditator,
I tend to get bored without variety.
This morning I awoke feeling hungry -- that "hollow-stomach" feeling. In keeping with my practice of mindfulness I note its presence and let it go. It didn't let go of me, however. After finishing my sitting meditation I hurry to the kitchen and instead of reaching into the refrigerator for an orange, I find myself hunting through the kitchen cabinets in search of just the right thing that will satisfy this hunger. I spot a jar of marmalade that had been given to me for Christmas. Marmalade, how perfect, not so far from a fresh orange. A nice piece of toast with marmalade, and a cup of tea. Yes, that would really hit the spot.
By habit, I hold the small jar of marmalade in my hand and focus on it in the same way I meditate on my orange every morning during my practice of mindfulness. A lovely jar, square and squat, but rather delicate. It's one of those fancy glass gift jars, with a little yellow ribbon around it's neck and a golden lid. Although the jar is small, it is quite heavy in my hand. As I move the jar from side to side, I can see tiny specks of orange rind floating on a thick burnt-orange sea. What extraordinary color and texture this mixture has. I wonder what's in it?
The label on the front of the jar informs me that this marmalade has armaretto in it. The label seems to be announcing this fact proudly rather than as a warning, so I conclude that marmalade with armaretto is a good thing. The label on the back is even more informative. Not only does it provide me with nutritional facts and the warning "keep this product refrigerated after opening," it also provides me with serving suggestions. The suggestion that appeals to me most this morning is "Spread on toast." The one that tells me that I can use the marmalade as "a filling for petit fours" does not seem particularly useful to me right now.
I learn too from studying the label that this little jar of marmalade is a "Product of Scotland." This information does not permit me to indulge any neo-colonial fantasy I might have of citrus groves spreading mile after mile beneath blue, sunny skies, tended to by bronzed, smiling fruit pickers, who lovingly pluck the fruit for my breakfast. No, instead, "Product of Scotland" evokes images of hunched factory workers in gray woolies and Wellington boots, bone cold and shivering in the damp air, doing what we British know best - keeping a stiff upper lip. If it wasn't the Brits who coined the term "if life hands you a lemon, make lemonade" it should have been, or in this case "if life doesn't hand you a fresh orange, eat marmalade." I examine the list of ingredients provided on the label. Far down on the list, below the words 'refined sugar' and 'artificial coloring,' I find the words 'thin cut Seville oranges.' I put down the jar and reach in the refrigerator for an orange.
I look at the orange. It stares blankly back at me, telling me absolutely nothing about itself. It doesn't tell me why it will be good for me to eat it. It provides me with absolutely no information as to what percentage of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C it contains, or if I should refrigerate it. There's not even a single suggestion on its rind as to how to prepare it and how to eat it. For all it cares, I can try to shove the whole thing, rind and all, in my mouth in one single motion, or I can squeeze its content into a glass, or I can peel it and separate it into segments, or I can cut it in half and suck on it noisily as I did when I was a kid. I could even try my best to spread it on toast or to use it as a filling for petit fours, for all it cares. No, this orange isn't telling me one darn thing. Perhaps it doesn't even know any of this stuff itself. Unforthcoming and ignorant. Doesn't even know it's an orange, I'll bet. I look at the orange. I look at the jar of marmalade. I look back at the orange. I put the jar of marmalade back in the cupboard.