Thanksgiving is explicitly a holiday of gratitude, of giving thanks for what we have. But for many (myself included) it is also a holiday of indulgence: in both eating and drinking. Given that our blog is called “Fields of Indulgence: World Travel & Spiritual Living”, perhaps we should examine the seeming contradiction of the ideas of “indulgence” and “spiritual living”.
What is “indulgence” truly? Is it the greedy pursuit of sensual pleasure in excess of one’s needs? Is it giving yourself a little extra treat at the end of the day because you “deserve” it? These may capture the shadow of the idea, but they omit a key point: that to truly indulge one most do so fully and wholeheartedly - a task that is not always so easy. To indulge is to merge with the activity you are performing so that there is no separation between you and it.
What is ironic is that when we finally get onto vacation
or around the Thanksgiving table, we realize that we are often not really able to indulge. We may find ourselves stressed by family though we don’t understand why, anxious about how fast our vacation is going by, or feeling guilty for eating or drinking too much.
Piazza di Maggiore in Bologna
Neda and I planned an impromptu trip to San Miniato, Italy for the Annual White Truffle Festival being held there this weekend. We flew into Bologna on Monday the 21st (after the plane was dramatically diverted from our original destination of Forli when the pilot tried to land and realized he couldn’t see the runway through the fog!) and have been “practicing indulgence” in this gastronomic paradise ever since.
We’ve wondered the streets of Bologna, taking in its architectural wonders while also taking in copious amounts of homemade pasta, salty-sweet gelato, and the region’s varied wines. We have gone out into the countryside of Modena to see local craftsmen preparing parmesan cheese and to see how small families produce limited batches of “Balsamic Vinegar di Modena” (only to then taste the vinegar with Ricotta that was freshly made an hour before at the Parmesan factory!). We saw how the famous proscuitto di parmais meticulously cured and dry aged, resulting in thin slices of buttery salt meat. Finally, on Thanksgiving itself, we sampled the region’s wild game with dishes of wild boar and rabbit.
What has been interesting is that even while we have been practicing indulgence, we have noticed that we still find ourselves worrying about the money we are spending, about whether we are seeing enough, and other generalized anxieties that arise from traveling. These anxieties take us out of the present moment and into our own heads - alienating us from the experience lying right before us. It is at these times that we realize how truly challenging indulging can be. For to truly indulge, you must leave your baggage at the door so that you can be intimate with this present moment and fully experience it. And learning to leave our baggage behind, even for just a few moments, is a constant spiritual practice.
Thanksgiving Dinner in Modena
So when you find yourself in an indulgent situation this holiday season and the inevitable distractions between you and moment creep in - – give yourself a mental break and allow yourself to connect to the experience. Really allow yourself to taste that piece of pumpkin pie without hurrying through to the next thing or thinking about something else as your eating it. If you have a friend, partner, or family member who can help gently and non-defensively point out when they see you disconnected from the moment and caught in unproductive thought patterns, even better. In this way your indulgences and your free time can become a spiritual practice for yourself and your family instead of just a license to excess.
It’s time for Neda and I to continue working with this practice as we head to San Miniato to sample the sensuous and savory white truffles! Check out some highlights of this leg of the trip (with captions) in the slideshow below or see them all on snapfish here
. Ciao from Italy!