Alchemy was derided for its aim to transmute base metal into gold. But the contributions of alchemy were real, in that it gave birth to the modern science of chemistry. More profoundly, alchemists also sought the elixir or eternal life…and this has manifested itself in some of the greatest cuisines of the world.
Great food is not about the pursuit of good taste, but rather sustenance, where flavour is simply an enhancement. The basis of Ayurvedic cooking is centred on the philosophy that food should nourish the body and the spirit, and that each food has different properties and each body has different needs. Knowing your body and knowing the Ayurvedic principles are considered essential to maintaining balance in the body and in life.
Chinese culinary tradition is similarly conceived, and equally complex. Flavour is a vehicle to carry nutrition to different parts of the body. And few culinary traditions could be as concerned with balance as Japanese. Positively zen in every way, with no detail left out of a desire to create perfect harmony. The essence of Presence, but here, on the plate. Contemplating it brings you right in with it. This harmony between what you see, smell, and taste is a reflection of how harmony is quite possibly the most important aspect of existence. Zen.
Yin yang in Chinese cooking and philosophy is also all about balance and harmony. In Chinese culinary thought, nutrition is not just about digestion, but about the transformation of energy. Alchemy. But energy and substance are partners, just as with yin and yang: you need energy (qi) to digest and metabolize food and to provide essence, and you need essence to produce qi. A circle of life. Transformation. Alchemy.
Chinese medicine relates the Five Tastes (salty, sour, bitter, sweet, and spicy) to the give energies (hot, cold, dry, damp, windy), and also to the five colours, the five tones of the pentatonic scale, and the five major organ systems of the body.
In this line of thinking, craving a certain taste can mean the organ associated with that taste needs energy. Preposterous? Not on your life. Just ask any woman who has ever been pregnant about whether she had food cravings or not [separately, I would not that those food cravings are often revisited upon the child as it grows up].
Key message? Learn to listen to your body. Crave sugar? It means the energy of your spleen and stomach is weak. To ease sugar cravings, eat yellow-orange foods like sweet potatoes and squash, because yellow-orange is the colour associated with this organ system and sweetness.
A perennial craving is a sign of an imbalance that calls for herbal or acupuncture or other interventions. All foods affect our body systems. Understanding how to read this, knowing how the foods play out, and feeling our bodies as we eat, is vital to our wellness.
Handling foods for body energy and healing*
|Spicy||Spicy foods nourish the lungs and large intestines. Onions, garlic, ginger, radish, horseradish, and hot peppers are spicy foods. Pressure cooking and the Japanese braising method called kinpira (making a julienne of root vegetables and sautéing them as matchsticks before adding a touch of liquid to finish cooking). Spicy foods favour light cooking.|
|Sweet||Sweet foods nourish the spleen and stomach. They include grains, millet, squash, onions, honey, beets, and sweet fruits. Steaming, boiling or nishimi (a Japanese macrobiotic cooking method involving slow and low cooking) are good ways to cook sweet foods.|
|Sour||Sour foods nourish the liver and gallbladder. These include tomatoes, barley, vinegar, poultry, tart apples and quince, grapefruit. Pickling is an ideal preparation method for these foods, as is steaming and a light sauté.|
|Bitter||Bitter foods nourish the heart and small intestine. Kale, lettuce, spinach, dandelion, sorrel, cress, rocket, endive, collard and beet greens. Some of these lend themselves to being eaten raw, juicing, blanching, or sautéing.|
|Salty||Salty foods nourish the kidneys and bladder. These include fish, eggs, seaweed, and soy sauce. Salt alkalizes the food it is cooked with, which aids digestion, but generally these foods should be eaten in moderation.|
Individual food items may have multiple action:
- Kale will nourish the heart because it is bitter, will nourish the liver because it is green, will nourish the bones because of its mineral content
- Apples and red peppers nourish the heart and small intestine because they are red. Apples also nourish the spleen from their sweetness, and nourish the kidneys when baked
- White foods like white onion, tofu, and radish nourish the lungs and large intestine, and radish also nourish the liver for their sharpness
Reverence for this magic is hard not to feel. My strongest love language is to cook for people I care about. This is homage, but it is also sustenance, and mealtimes are the times of connection and sharing and the feeling of home. This, for me, is an essential part of life—and one which would literally suck the life from me were I not able to express it. And in response, the body becomes the ultimate alchemist. But that is the physical world. What about the spiritual and emotional world? We certainly digest joy when eating in good company.
My therapist has introduced the word alchemized to me. By this she means being a harmonic whole. That is her goal for me. What does she mean? That all parts of me meld and happily co-exist. That means on a practical level, the letting go of shame, it means embracing my nature as non-binary and not worrying about what it means, but to just feel it and accept it. She calls this the third spirit. It means being present. Comfortable in my skin. Accepting of self.
And what process brings this about? Not long ago I posted that what we find erotic is our innermost self telling us what we need. Mistress has told me that the importance of play in D/s is that it opens doors. Just as with food cravings, the erotic is an itch that needs to be scratched. And to listen to these needs is important for our health and survival. But just as a constant craving might signal a dietary imbalance, could constantly revisiting a particular fetish or fantasy not signal that we are stuck? Perhaps so.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately in relation to my deep-seated desire to submit. I don’t know if I felt this way since I was born. This isn’t like being non-binary, which I know is my essence, and has always been so. In that sense, I do not think of myself as submissive. It is not who I am in the same way as my gender. I believe instead that submission has evolved in me over time in response to my struggle to accept myself, to just be, and to be happy with me.
This would explain a lot. Submission becomes a gateway to experience acceptance, the feeling of unconditional love. It would also explain my particular brand of submission, an admixture of slavery, pet, little space and a desire to experience the exchange of unconditional love. It also explains why my particular version of sexuality is happiest when there’s no sex! Innocence. Submission is total innocence.
I wrote about how this formula broke down at birth and in my early years in my relationship with my mother. She tried. And as long as she lived, the unique power of parental approval could kick in and feed this need. [I’ve never had any emotional bond with my father, so in that sense, his approval was not meaningful to me]. But when she died, I had this overwhelming feeling of being alone, that I had lost the approver. What it felt like was literally having the roof of my house torn off. I felt exposed. About this same time, my interest in D/s resurfaced (I say resurfaced, but it was always there, just not acute), not as some low-level kink, but as an existential necessity.
The things that turned me on changed too. I lost all interest in humiliation and degradation, lost all interest in shame, and began to think of the emotional and spiritual motivations of my attraction to D/s. I will write someday about my fraught journey to my first meeting with a Domme, and feel a depth of gratitude to the universe for leading me to her. And yes, I did cross the Valley of Death to find her.
I don’t think that anyone in my life ever, no family member, no GF, not even my spouse, or any of my many therapists, has pushed, coaxed, cajoled or seduced me towards healing in this way, and has done so without agenda as has Mistress. This is how trust thrives, and it grows inside of me like a jungle, and the more it grows, the healthier the dynamic becomes. So when I think of what we can do to answer the spiritual, emotional, and erotic cravings any of us feel, I look to these:
- Spirituality: acceptance of wonder greater than the self;
- Mindfulness: being present and conscious of now;
- Wellness: looking after the body through diet and exercise;
- Levity: bringing a sense of play into everything we do.
And so it is, with every discovery, with every step forward, I feel lighter and lighter, happier and happier, and more and more able to love. You know the expression, “how can you love someone else before you learn to love yourself.” I am not advocating self-absorption—egads, no! But what about the idea of being present within the love and acceptance you give yourself? For me, the act of love is the essence of life itself. It is also when I feel most present, when I feel love for someone else, and when I am able to express it. And as I feel love more and more strongly inside of me, I find I am energized spiritually, sexually, and creatively.
This is alchemy, just spiritual alchemy.
In my case, it has been submission that has opened this door. And everyone has a door and needs to open theirs. What’s your door and how are you opening it?
* Some of the content for this post was adapted from an article which appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of the magazine Taste Asia.