Dining in the Dark

How was your Halloween? Scary, frightening or fun? Most of us are going to say fun, including myself, but it was also an adventure because I dined in the dark. No, that doesn’t mean that there was a power outage, or a forgotten electric bill, this was a very constructed experience lead by a good friend of mine, Kerry Ward, who is an adventure trainer.  This was not a “eating Big Macs with the lights out” kind of experience, but a posh, gourmet dining experience that was preceded by other “adventures.”

I love learning in two ways. The obvious one for me is by being told a story. The next way I like to learn is by doing it myself. Then it becomes my story. This is experiential learning, and whenever I can, I try to use this to teach others.  It might even be fun. But, sometimes you do things to expand your horizons and perceptions and get yourself out of your humdrumness. This is essential for writers and artists so they can tap that creative side that likes playfulness, where all rules go out the window.

The first part of our Halloween evening was a masked storytelling.  We were instructed to wear masks and dress in black. I preferred to remain anonymous and give myself a mask name, but most people gave their real name and told a personal story of something that frightened them and could be described as an adventure.

In the past, I have hosted ghost story sessions on Halloween, where we told our scary stories with nothing but Jack O’ lanterns lighting the room.  The stories were so spooky that they sometimes really freaked people out, but this night’s  storytelling was with the lights on and more about our experiences with adrenaline rushes, from near-drownings to being held up at gunpoint, from wild animals to black ice car slides. The scares of our lives. We were then asked to think about our future adventure.

So, that was all very nice and safe.  Myself and my 30 masked companions were now ready to sit down and have a gourmet meal brought to us, even if it was in the dark. That’s what we expected.  But like our real-life stories that is not exactly what we had signed up for. The plot thickens.

We were sent out on a bogus scavenger hunt to a hotel two blocks away. The package we received at the concierge was a bag of blindfolds. Oh! I thought to myself, I guess our dining is going to happen at this hotel. Wrong-o. We were taken back outside and blindfolded and put in a conga-line formation, with only our leader at the head of the line being fully sighted.

The adventure began as the blind lead the blind through our downtown waterfront spaces, across crosswalks, into car parks, up stairs and through lobbies.

“Slow down!” “Stairs!”Door” “Incline, going down.”

This was an exercise in communication, trust, teamwork and using your other senses that we would need later for the main event. But for now, we shuffled along, and by the honks we received from traffic, our human chain-gang of blindfolded diners made quite an unusual sight. But, hey, it’s Halloween. (Never mind that Kerry does this all year round). In any case, we arrived at our destination completely disoriented. Still blindfolded and now in a blacker darkness than outside. We were lead to our chairs to sit down at round banquet tables. Long before we got there, the smell of food was all around us and we had now built an appetite.

Unlike my expectations, where I thought that each course would be delivered as it was ready, as in traditional dining, here we were told that a three course meal with all utensils and accoutrements had already been laid out in front of us. We were allowed to eat it anyway we wanted to.

Once again, communication and teamwork was essential.

“Found a scallop at ten o’clock!”

“Beware the shot glass on the left.”

“Hurray, we’ve got ribs!” “Yippee, we’ve got chicken to the left!” “Oh joy, we’ve found chocolate on the right!” “Oh, oh, we’ve got liver.”

“I’ve got the butter, who’s found the bread?”

“I’ve got the bread and I’ll pass it clockwise, and you can follow it clockwise with the butter.”

Then there was the guess work, as in “what was that creamy stuff, next to the crunchy stuff?” It was both a collective detective experience and a primitive fumbling, yet sensual exploration. Some people admitted that they went to fingers pretty early, but I tried to stick to the knife and fork as much as I could, but the way I ate would have made my mother turn over in her grave. Thank God no one could see us in the dark.

For once the talk was completely about our experience in the moment, no polite dinner conversations. But, there was plenty of laughter and funny comments. It was to the point that I didn’t want to take the blindfold off when asked to at the end of the meal and they gradually brought the lights up.

Now this is where the dead chicken meets the road. What were we actually eating?  The chef and sous chef came out to show us the absolutely elegantly plated dishes that we had demolished like a bunch of vikings. The visual was totally lost on us, obviously, but did we guess our flavours right…

At first, I knew it was a taste I hated, and I had to go way back in my memory banks for the last time I ate it, because I have been studiously avoiding it for decades. Liver. Other than that, I actually knew surprisingly little for sure. I had no idea I had downed a quail egg with my fingers, for example, and that thing we thought was chicken… sweetbreads.  What are sweetbreads? Someone told me it was calf gonads! OMG! But I Googled it later and it is the thymus gland or pancreas of a young calf or lamb. As my vegan friends retch, I am only glad it wasn’t what my dining companion originally suggested. But there were also wonderful things like muscles in gaspacho, olive brioche, a yummy ravioli, bacon and scallops, chocolate mousse, orange ganache, as well as standards like lovely mashed potatoes, green beans and rolls with butter (served clockwise).

I think the chef really enjoyed challenging us and seeing our reactions at his reveal. Partly sadistic perhaps, but more out of curiosity I think. He really thought about textures as well as taste for us. Personally, I was amazed at how my sense of taste was not what I thought it was. We marvelled at how pretty the meal was that we had destroyed so unconsciously. We applauded him and his sous chef for the wonderful job.

So we sat with our dining table and dissected the adventure of the meal all over again, and all our crazy manoeuvers. Like when I took a scallop from a woman who was not able to eat shellfish (she had been pre-warned), and then later I thought how weird it was to negotiate that in the dark having never even seen her face, and having a scallop passed to me by hand. Rules out the window. And that was the true adventure of the evening, not how we interact with food, but how we interact with people. Isn’t that most of our adventure in life, in fact?

I love my ghost stories, but I would not have missed this scary Halloween adventure for all the scallops in the world. If you get a chance, try it!

Bucket Lists, Tango #5, Eat Pray Love

I loved the book Eat Pray Love, and it is with anticipation that I will be seeing the movie this Friday night.  But, what is it about this experience of Elizabeth Gilbert‘s that has all of us so intrigued?  What are we thirsty for?  Not all of us identify ourselves as spiritual seekers, but many of us are seeking a way to “be” in this life with grace and happiness. Let me ponder this and try to connect some dots.

The term bucket list is not new, but has found a new trend of popularity of late .  One could say my taking tango lessons is a bucket list kind of adventure, or maybe it won’t qualify until I am dancing in Buenos Aires with people who really know the tango.  One could also call it a pastime.  An interesting word pastime.  Essentially, pastimes can be anything we do in life, voluntarily, to chew up time.  Living with Jim, I discovered a critical difference in our thinking.  When we are on vacation, or just when thinking of our own mortality, we come from two different places.  When I have limited time, I say, “I have limited time so I want to fill it with as many things to experience as possible.”  Jim says, “I have limited time so I want to do as little as possible so time slows down [or feels like it does].” Jim has a point; perception is reality.  So we both come from different points of view and we do take a little from each others philosophies. Sometimes we must be strongly “encouraged” to, but we do enrich each others lives this way.  Neither is wrong, neither is right. 

Even Gilbert, who had a profound inner journey of beingness, was also travelling to three different countries experiencing all the people and differences in culture while this was happening.  Another new and perhaps appropriate mantra for our busy world is that we are human beings, not human doings.  It is a good reminder, yet I would also argue that part of human nature is to do.  It seems we want to balance these inner and outer worlds of being and doing.  And when it is really balanced we choose only quality ways of doing, as grand or as humble as they may be, and only quality ways of being, as quiet or as interconnected as they may be.  But what are those quality ways?  Aye, there’s the rub. But, perhaps we are doing more of those quality ways than we want to perceive, simply because of the grass is always greener phenomenon.  Listen to this story that Jim and I enjoy. 

A businessman was visiting a small village by the sea in Mexico and watching the fisherman. The businessman complimented one fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied only a little while. The businessman then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The businessman then asked him how he lived. The Mexican fisherman said, “I fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, drink wine and play guitar with my amigos.”

The businessman said, “But my friend you are missing a great opportunity here, I am a Harvard MBA and I could help you. If you spend more time fishing, with the proceeds you could buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats; eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the processor and eventually open your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would be running an expanded enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But señor, how long will this all take?”

To which the businessman replied, “15-20 years.”

And the fisherman asked, “What would it get me at the end of that time?”

“Oh, that’s the best part,” the businessman smiled with glee,”you will be able to go fishing, spend more time with your wife and kids and do fun things with your friends!”

Ah yes, the old keep it simple idea. Elektra and I were not together for our tango lesson #5 this week because she couldn’t make it, and darn I missed her. So there is doing, being and then sharing. But what I experience every time I return from Mexico is marvelling at how much “stuff” I own for no reason.  I seem to be addicted to this stuff which is not even “being” or “doing,”or “sharing,” it is “acquiring.” and “having.” Our pursuit, my friends, is not the pursuit of stuff, it is the pursuit of happiness and that is what I call thrival. It is why I write, why I teach, learn and coach. Because I love to do it.  Maximize the quality doings (tango to traveling), take an attitude that is healthy towards just being in life (sleeping, eating, working and loving), take care of your health (work-outs and fun-outs), and the big topper, share good company (love and be loved by your friends and lovers).

If you want to balance being, doing and sharing, why not plan to come with me and Jim to Mexico for my Writing Retreats in Winter – go to my site: http://www.survivaltothrival.com to find out how.

Why Are Stories So Important to Us?

Stories are important to us because, whether they are fiction or non-fiction, we use them to make meaning of our lives.  We have often been told how powerful it is for individuals to write down their goals.  And those that do have a much higher chance of accomplishing those goals.  I would suggest that a story is more powerful than a list of goals because it has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  It has a step-by-step flow to it, just as life itself does. All stories have obstacles or challenges and either triumphs or defeats. If there are defeats, there are often morals or learning that can be extracted.

When we write our own stories we create our own mythologies.  These are very powerful.  If the story you have is that you never catch any breaks, indeed, you are much more likely to attract that in your life, and, everyone else will also think of you as the unlucky one.  However, if even in your defeats, you find lessons that help you go forward, or opportunities for change, you will more likely create a life that takes advantage of those opportunities or puts those lessons to good use; a life that others can admire.

As a listener or reader of a story, we are much more likely to feel what we describe as inspiration. People do not feel inspired when given a list of tasks or goals, or told what to do.  They need a story to go with the goals, something that takes them into the future.  And, they want to know about stories from the past because they need the reassurance that others have experienced the same set-backs yet have triumphed.

I have spent a lifetime studying and using stories.  Whether I use them in a speech to inspire, demonstrate, or entertain, or in a conversation one-on-one, I find it is the stories that people remember, retell and use to take the next step forward.  They are the harbingers of the Aha!  I frequently use stories in my work as a coach and trainer, as well as in my writing.  Whether I am helping others find inspiration in their own stories, or are retelling my own, they have tremendous value and power. If you want an example of one of my true teaching stories that helps writers go beyond their blocks, please click this link below and scroll down to the example of a teaching story: Click here for example of a Teaching Storyon my Coaching page, halfway down.