Yesterday, I spent a stupid, astonishing number of hours standing in my kitchen. I stood there, apron-less, so completely present that I didn't leave a stain. I learned to bruise lemongrass, to make a bhun, then added flavors in layers like the organdy folds of a dress, shadow and light. I minced garlic and ginger, cracked open cans of coconut milk and squeezed a lime. I discovered that brown rice could be made to taste like a dessert without the use of sugar. Ah! To live where there are coconuts.
Also, I made ghee and put it up.
The butter melted and began to boil. I stirred and blew the surface to see if it was clear. It wasn't clear. Not forever. Somehow, this was not matter of patience but of presence, so I waited and I stirred. I watched and blew.
I was forced to stay in the kitchen and watch until, finally, it changed. I strained off the liquid and Mike helped me drain it into jars. For a total investment of five dollars and an hour or so of my afternoon, I had produced what looked like temple oil. I am manifestly hoping that this clarified butter will free me from my lactose-intolerant dependence on margarine. We will see.
There's something about that clarification that stayed with me. I have been spinning it in small cycles in my head. I acquire knowledge like Thai red curry, layer after layer, creating new flavors from the small facts that went in. It takes time and patience and must be done at the right heat. The flavors must be balanced or the bitter spice of ginger wins the day. I read the same book four times, at each pass learning something new. I add in layers, I fold in comfort, relevance and truth. In the end, I have forgotten the recipe, but the taste is something of the world.
The work I do on my soul, though, is like making ghee. I add everything to the pot and increase the heat. If there is too much heat, I'll burn. If the temperature is gentle enough, if it is safe, I bubble with the discomfort of altering slowly into who I want to be. I continue, past all patience, to be unclear. Blowing the froth, I remain clouded this time and the next, unending. Until suddenly, I'm not. Then, for a time, I am holy. I am liquid gold. My inspiration can be burned in celebration, the memory of clarity holds true. Inspiration is made to be used and I do. I use it until it the jar is empty and it is time to make more ghee. This is predictable and painful. It is how it has always been. It is also what brings me joy.
I too often approach others who are making ghee as if they are making curry, and I offer them galangal, kaffir lime leaves and advice on how to work the spoon. What they need, I think, is someone to stand by them and watch as they gently transform into something they never were, someone to make sure the heat is not too high, to blow the bubbles and to offer encouraging thoughts.
The work of transformation is hard and sacred. It helps to have a friend.