Recently, on a gray November Saturday, I went on a “Drala Hike” in the Columbia Gorge with a nice bunch of people from the Shambhala Center. Drala is a Tibetan word that literally means “victory over enemies”, but in the Buddhist spiritual context, we are talking about conquering our internal obstacles. The hike leader put it in context. Drala for us was about mindfully tuning our senses to fully appreciate the natural delights of the two mile hike to Waclella falls. We were after the magic of Nature. And magical it was! We hiked silently through a green, watery wonderland along the waterfall-fed stream. We stopped to listen to the rushing water, to take in the thick electric green of the mosses on the limbs of the big-leaf maples, still holding on to the last of their golden leaves, to smell the wet earth covered in fresh leaf-humus and to taste the sweetness of the moist fall air. The sun made brief appearances, lighting up a patch of the walls along the canyon here and there, with the mist rising from the warmth of the fleeting sun and adding to the drama. When we reached the falls, everyone stopped to gaze at the rain-swollen stream plunging into a pool with a giant roar and spraying the air with a thick mist. No one said anything, but we could all tell that everyone was feeling the magic – the magic of being silent, yet together, the magic of doing nothing, but allowing the richness of the natural world to wash over us. On the way back, nature threw in a little bonus drala by showering us with pea-sized hail.
The Drala hike was a success. I am glad I went. I also met some great people and made some new friends.
Later, as my mind drifted to thoughts of food, it struck me that a lot of the spiritual sustenance I get from my foodie life is really coming from the same place as what uplifted me on the Drala hike. The delight I feel when strolling through my neighborhood farmers market, looking at the seasonal produce of the week, or feeling like a kid in a candy store wandering through a market in Thailand or a Mercado in Mexico, or the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul, is not unlike the magic I experience in my adventures in nature. The sensory delights of buying food in a market, prepping and cooking a meal and then finally eating it are best appreciated when taken in with mindfulness. Just as a hiker in a hurry to get to the end of the trail, or busy talking to a companion about some other time and place, is likely to miss many of the threads in the rich tapestry of nature, so is one in a hurry to fill the belly and move on to the next thing likely to miss the many delights of the culinary world. We eat every day and food brings us beauty, sustenance and health. Food also brings us together. A bunch of cooks engrossed in making a meal together and enjoying the result is not unlike our band of Drala hikers delighting in a nature walk. We can practice mindfulness in many aspects of our relationship with food. We can be mindful about what we buy, where we shop, how often we shop, what we cook, how we cook, what nourishes our body, what harms our body, what tastes good, what pleases our visual palate, and so on. We can be mindful about the many and wondrous pleasures of working with food – the smell of autumn chanterelles still clinging to the forest floor, the sound of the knife slicing through a crisp apple, the zzh-zzh-zzh of a lamb shank braising in olive oil and wine, the texture of a raw oyster slipping effortlessly into the mouth, the aroma of fresh ground spices, the undeniable feeling of uplift from a choice morsel meeting the taste buds. And with that mindfulness, the magic, the drala of food is available to all of us, every day, just as the drala of nature awaits outside our front doors.