What Food Teaches. When Artistry is in Your Blood. And Why Practice is Greater than Mastery.

I grew up with artistry in my blood — neither by lineage nor profession but a household culture that subtly reinforced the beauty, artistry and experience of food.

I was born in 1986 to a third-generation Italian-American attorney and a third generation Irish/Italian-American stenographer in Providence, Rhode Island.

And like many areas across our melting pot of a nation, so rich is it with ancestral connection, growing up in Rhode Island also meant growing up in a true “food revering” culture.

The love of food here is not one of compulsion or obsession but deep appreciation: one that, even today, still embodies the historical roots of perpetually impoverished and rights-devoid peoples who were deprived of chance and freedom for generations on end before, for my family, leaving their homes in Ireland and Italy to cross an ocean with dreams of promise.

Before their Atlantic voyages, food never served for indulgence: they could have never afforded it.

With what little they had, food embodied the essence of a human desire so fundamental that, in its preparation, provided experience so palpable that they could literally taste it: freedom.

The freedom to create.

The opportunity and self-determination embodied by food that presented a rare departure from old-world political, social and economic life: hand-made creation.

Food was artistry by one’s own making.

And each meal made presently dawned a new connection to an ancient past, and synthesized emotional comfort for loved ones, and cultivated real gratitude from what little was present.

Today, from meats and cheese cloths to the cut of pastas and what makes a great pizza pan, food is a topic of conversation so ordinary and commonplace in my home state that you’ll hear talk of menages of flavors, foods’ densities and the vivid memories each evokes from the drive-through of Dunkin Donuts to the white-clothed tables of Providence’s Federal Hill.

Growing up in my house, it was never enough to just cook or eat food — even when cooking for yourself.

Food was prepared with an almost religious zeal; ingredients laid out like a holy book upon the pulpit — and the process that ensued, organic alchemy. Every facet hand-crafted and perfected, then to be presented with its own artistic decor and style, practical in nature but visual artistry at its core.

Then and only then, you eat.

To prepare food was never a hassle or obligation, but the gift of a peace-bearing moment rich with presence and focus. Like gardening or painting, cooking was what brought you to “the here and now” and presented you with a continual source for savoring life right now and, ever so subtly, reinforced the value of experiential living.

Even today, ever member of my entire family gets involved with what is being cooked and how.

Every member makes a habit of congregating in the kitchen — in spite of the ample space in surrounding dining rooms or  living rooms — offering uninvited opinions and stories from experience on temperature control and timing, spatchula tactics to pan-flipping form and so much more.

You could call it intrusive. You might be justified in describing it as obsessive compulsive or outright co-dependent.

And yet, it’s no wonder why I’m still today so experience-obsessed as a writer and life-explorer.

How could I ever complain?

I’m healthily obsessed with every facet of the practice of artistry, but not artistry alone: every such “practice” that is an adventurous and never-ending cycle of experience that serves the self and others along the way: the endless endeavors into experiential living that bring presence and perspective; those moments and efforts that invoke true freedom, purpose and self-determination.

That’s because life itself is a never-ending practice.

It cannot be mastered.

It cannot be conquered.

Neither ruled nor controlled.

Even life’s greatest practitioners — great holy figures and transcendental teachers from history — are subject to its uncontrollable nature. To honor that is humbling; to honor that is to honor life’s untouchable beauty.

I grew up with artistry in my blood: both household and local cultures that gently taught me to make each journey their own reward — even those journeys no one else ever sees, even the journeys others don’t understand or even criticize you for.

Food taught me to treat each journey as an honor.

Every meal was a matter of honoring your body and honoring your tastes. Every effort was invested in its preparation was in honor of your guests, and to honor your family history, and to honor your reverence for the incredible bounty before you — in total and complete gratitude.

And to honor values like those in every one of your personal practices is simply a beautiful thing.

You can honor experiential living from your yoga mat and afternoon coffee conversations; from daily writing in your journal to weekly conference calls with work; from the creation of PDF workbooks for your blog to nature walks with a friend (or a good book) at Walden Pond.

Artistry. Experience. Nuance. Depth.

Honoring yourself, your life, the lives of those around you — in this moment.

Not because life can be conquered.

Or dominated.

Or mastered.

But because the never-ending practice of experiential living is the refined, artful taste that your palette demands.

With humility, honor and gratitude, I hope to teach and encourage the artistry of experience in many areas of my work and personal life. My goal has never been and never will be to become or masquerade as some sort of an expert:

Expertise is a crutch, and experience is the leg you walk upon.

I believe many beautiful things come from experiencing our journeys through the dedicated, heartfelt presence of practice.

As practitioners of life, we remind ourselves to stop wishing to masquerade as experts or know-it-all’s, and instead to exemplify the root of our values as lifelong lovers of learning, and experience, and personal growth and spiritual evolution.

From experiential living, we honor one another and we honor each of our own deepest personal values:

Gratitude. Contentment. Peace. Joy.

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Flickr photo credit: Context Travel

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