Woke up to a blanket of white and wondered if the spector of promised snow had indeed arrived. No, it was only a thick coating of frost crystals, but dreamlike all the same and quick to dissipate in the mid-winter sun. On account of the study retreat, I don’t get out all too much, but when I do, I’m always grateful when the days look like this. Lustrous and living and sparkling.
This is where I spent my time these days. Somewhere in between the 18 elements, the 22 governing faculties, and the 4 fruits of realization of the listeners, I notice I am learning things. Things that can seem technical beyond reason or frustrating for their lack of daily applicability, but which feel to me like scaffolding. A steady support through which I can build higher knowledge. The philosophy we are learning now is not the view we seek. In fact, it’s already been proven wrong. And while spending hours nitpicking details that one doesn’t even believe could seem ulcer-inducing, I am fortunate not to have found it so.
I’ve studied the skeleton of this system of knowledge before. And the last time I looked at it in any great detail, I was half-tempted to throw the book against a wall, find myself a nice cave in the Himalayas, and call it a day. But it seems enlightenment doesn’t work like that. At least not for most of us these days. From what I’ve seen, enlightenment in the modern day is more about the process of gaining enough knowledge that our wealth of preconceived misconceptions about reality undo themselves when we take them to the cushion and into daily life. This inevitably means serious nose-to-book time.
So we show up and listen and type hundreds of pages of notes, and reread transcripts, and puzzle through study groups, and pose questions. And somehow it all trickles in. And will continue to for years to come, I think. And in between, when the lists of what is the fruit of karmic ripening and what is not, what is the cause of karmic ripening and what is not, and what must be abandoned on this path and that path and actually not abandoned after all gets to be a bit too much, we do what we can to unwind our minds and keep going. A brain-drain doodle here, a shared cup of tea there, and birthday cake decked out in buttercream when the moment presents itself. These are mostly good days.
And this is a fully good cake. Made for a friend who happened to be present for the last birthday cake that came around: a yogurt-apple cake that just happened to be gluten-free. And when he heard that there was no flour, no butter, and not even an absurd amount of sugar involved, he pursed his lips and said, “That’s not cake.” Well it was, but it wasn’t an extravaganza of dietary exceptions. Which often of the best cake is.
So I made him a sturdy vanilla butter cake slathered with brown-sugar buttercream, which is 100% decadence and also the last thing you could accuse of not being cake. Mission accomplished. A dense, buttery cake with a fine, fluffy frosting supported by warm hints of vanilla and molasses makes for a proper winter birthday cake. If you have a similar sugar tolerance to me, I recommend small slices, but if you’re not sugar-sensitive, you do as you please and enjoy!