Traversing the Wormhole of the “Culinary Underbelly”: An Exploration of the Magician

In his book, Kitchen Confidential, chef/author/travelogue god Anthony Bourdain reveals in shocking detail the twenty-five years he spent as a chef and cook in the “culinary underbelly” of the restaurant industry. As one would expect, there are palatable tales: his incomparable dining experience at The French Laundry, for one. But Kitchen Confidential is not a book about food. It is a look into Bourdain’s hero’s journey, a catalogue of his descent into drugs and obscurity and his re-emergence as the head chef of the respected Les Halles restaurant. And as much as I enjoyed his painstakingly crafted descriptions of 15 course tasting menus (I worked for the inimitable Marc Vetri for a time, and by the grace of his conjuring hands was able to dine on food of similar quality), his book ranks among my favorites for the inclusion of a single chapter: “The Wilderness Years”. In these pages, Bourdain admits to seeking out the highest paying gig so he could feed whatever habit he was gripped by at the time. His decline is mirrored by the descending quality of the restaurants in which he works and by the slow extinguishment of his passion for food, ending in a shitty diner and a shittier walk-up apartment and the feeling that there must be more to life than feeding the beast of desire and addiction.

For Bourdain, there was more. Much more. And it was because of a simple shift in his decade-skewed paradigm: he began to believe. To believe that more was possible for him. To believe that he could “choose life”, as Rents of Trainspotting so aptly put it. To believe that life was a choice, and not a tide that tugs us in and out at its whim. The moment he acquired this belief, he changed his direction. He became The Magician incarnate.

When I first read “The Wilderness Years”, I recognized them as my own. I’d been toiling away as a server for the better part of five years, buckling beneath the pressure of short term deadlines and trays heaping with entrees of varying quality. The pressure was enough to break anyone’s spirit and sanity, but we found ways to cope: cigarettes, booze, and drugs, namely. At the end of a body-warping shift, we’d shed our uniforms in cold, dark hallways and emerge in the trendy street clothes our tips bought us and beeline it to the nearest watering hole. When I worked at Amis, that bar was Dirty Frank’s, a dive that’s somehow stayed a dive despite the press it’s gotten over the years. We drank pickle-backs: shots of whiskey followed by shots of pickle-juice. And we drank beers on top of that, but by the end of the night, no one was quite sure what or how much we had consumed. Sometimes the evening ended in someone’s apartment amidst a haze of pot smoke. Other times, it ended with a drunken stumble down 13th Street and a sloppily hailed cab. I’d picked up right where I’d left off in Edinburgh, but this time, I had no straight, studious days to balance me out. Somehow I always got home, but it wasn’t always pretty; one night I walked halfway across the city with sleet slicing at my face because I simply couldn’t function well enough to tell the cab driver where I needed to go. The map was in my blood by that point, so I trudged on, knowing that I’d find my way to my doorstep.

One night, I couldn’t find my way home. The path I walked had deviated so far from the map of my mind that I traveled the streets like a shadow. I wasn’t plagued by darkness; I was darkness. And in that moment of pure and utter nothingness, the world was a microscopic point and an infinitesimal expanse all at once. When the ego is stripped down to its bare essentials, identity is precarious, but possibility is endless. It is from this fiery pit that the phoenix emerges, that The Magician is born.

The Magician is the embodiment of possibility, of new life that has found its agency. When we distance ourselves from our persona, we are no longer governed by it; the expectations we have of ourselves drift away, allowing our true gifts and talents to work through us and manifest in the world. We begin to believe in ourselves, in the primordial concoction of air, fire, earth, and water that dictates the true nature of our souls. Because The Magician has all of the tools at his disposal, he can shape the world as he sees fit. And before he could make use of those tools, he first had to crack through the crust of reality.

A month after I became a free agent, I left the restaurant industry. I look back on the years I spent there with mixed emotions, but I feel that I was fated to make that deviation. Without debasing myself so, I may never have shed enough ego to realize how free we truly are, how our view of the universe shifts the universe and shifts us.  Though my departure happened three years ago, I feel as if I’m finally discovering the usefulness of the Magician’s tools, and with any luck, I’ll wield them with as much power and confidence as that glorious archetype.

Much Love,

Jessi

 

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The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth

Last night, I signed up for the World Tarot Exchange. It was right before I went to bed, so I was too tired to censor myself the way that I normally do. In the field where I was meant to type my question, I wrote this:

“I’ve been putting all of my efforts and energy into becoming a self-actualized person. I have a tendency to distance myself from people, partially because I’m uncomfortable with conflict and intimacy, and partially because I’m afraid that I will fail them, or that they will judge me and abandon me. I know that this is a complex of my own making, or at least of my own perpetuation. I feel that it is the largest obstacle that I have in transitioning from a “caged bird” to a “free bird”. Given that, here’s my question: what can I do to overcome this wariness and distrust of others? How can I truly open my heart and be the integrated, compassionate person that I so strongly desire to be?”

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The question poured out of me organically—I edited nothing, changed nothing, and clicked “submit” without a second thought (and it’s more than I can say for this post). I realized that everything I had confessed, vulnerable and incriminating as it was, was true, and that there was value in that truth.

In fact, I realized that truth is the only thing that holds value.

I went into my room and stared at my face in the mirror. I looked into the reflection of my eyes and my pulse began to quicken; it was almost as if I was afraid to look at myself, to try and see myself objectively. The longer I gazed, the more disturbed I became, and the more accountable I became to myself. Myself looked at me accusatorily—what have you been doing to me? it seemed to ask. Why do you deny me with overwrought thoughts and carefully constructed delusions? Who do you think you are to put me in a cage? What gives you the right?

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Nothing, was all I could think in response.

There are many facets to who each of us are, and we fulfill many roles in the delicate web of our lives. How are we to face the constant challenges of life if we can barely face ourselves? How can we expect to be anything but confused if we refuse to see the truth?

The call to honesty is the deepest call that anyone can answer. I know that I haven’t answered it, but that I will not find peace until I do.

The Osho Zen Tarot arrived in my mailbox two days ago, and since then, I’ve been deeply haunted by its imagery. I’m drawn most powerfully to the suit of clouds and the strikingly negative portrait it paints of the machinations of Mind. This faculty has given us the ability to realize our mortality and to perceive ourselves the way that others perceive us. It has also given us the ability to imagine different lives for ourselves, and for many reasons, this is both miraculous and devastating. We have the ability to captain our own ship, to choose life or, as Rents of Trainspotting so aptly put it, to choose “not to choose life”. It is the latter choice that ultimately damns us, that perpetuates the cycle of pain and suffering we seem inescapably drawn to. We are on the brink of an enormous shift in consciousness, one that promises to release us from this cycle, but in order to transition we must undertake the most difficult challenge that’s ever been presented to us. Living in truth, I believe, is the hardest thing that we could ever do. It’s not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure. I have yet to meet anyone who resides in this space, and if I were to apply the scientific method, I’d have to conclude that it’s impossible to do so.

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But I don’t believe it’s impossible. If I’m wrong, I still believe that it’s something worth striving for, if not for the self, than for the fate of Consciousness at large. The Osho Zen addresses this conundrum unabashedly, and promises that the truth already exists whether we acknowledge it or not.

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There are many things that I deem subpar about this post. I could go back and revise it a hundred times and still be unsatisfied. Even so, I think it humbly attempts to answer, at least in part, the call to truth that I feel in my soul, and so I’m offering it to you. I hope that it may, in some small way, help you to shake off your shackles and walk through the invisible walls of your prison. I hope, in some small way, that connecting with you may help me walk through the walls of mine, so we can all be free of “fear, doubt, and disbelief”.  I wish all of us freedom from mind.

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