Don’t tell the professor but I almost fall asleep during every one of her contemplative practice videos. For me, closing my eyes while talking to me in a slow rhythmic tone is the express elevator to dreamland. While falling asleep would no doubt bring much mental relief from my busy day, I found that contemplative practice assignments also have a very different benefit, mental stimulation.
The contemplative assignment I chose was the one where we had to have a raisin in our hand while we were watching the video. Raisins were a food I ate when I was a child, and for whatever reason, fell out of favor as an adult to more highly processed snack foods later in life. The idea was that something as simple as the raisin had to go through a complex process to get to the consumer, a process that involves many steps, many people, many resources. The video we watched showed workers and machines, harvesting and processing grapes into raisins, which reminded me of the television shows, Mister Rogers and Sesame Street where they showed the viewers how things were made. Sometimes I think I should eat simpler foods, ones that have fewer chemicals or haven’t been extensively processed. The contemplative practice made me think that even a simple food like a raisin, has its’ own complexity to it before arriving at my house.
But is simpler always better? For me, the most important part of contemplative practice are the questions that float to the top of the jumbled mess of thoughts, and the idea that simpler is better should be challenged. Thinking about how raisins were made prompted me to do research after the exercise was completed. I always thought that golden raisins were made from green grapes, and brown raisins were made from purple grapes. Did you know that golden raisins are made from the same type of grapes as regular brown raisins? I didn’t. Apparently regular raisins are simply dried on a sheet of paper, while golden raisins are dehydrated using a machine, and mixed with sulfur dioxide. So does that mean that simple brown raisins are better than golden raisins? I’m not so sure. Sulfur dioxide has antioxidant properties, something that isn’t printed on the food labels by the way. Looking at the labels of regular raisins and golden raisins shows nearly identical nutritional information. So is simpler better? In the same way, if I think about all the processes that have touched that raisin before it arrived at my house, I think simpler may not be better. What if only one farmer grew the grapes, harvested them, dried them, put them in a basket and walked from California to Seattle. I might have some pretty old raisins that I probably wouldn’t want to eat, and he would charge me a lot of money for the time and trouble. For me contemplative practice means letting my mind tell me what it wants to. It doesn’t give me answers, but instead gives me questions, and sometimes that’s more valuable to me than the answer. Maybe even more valuable than sleep.