Sometimes, I don’t even try to lightly toast a marshmallow. Sometimes, I put it right in the flames. I wait for the thing to combust. Once the fire has taken over the whole thing, I blow it out. I ended up with a blackened and crunchy skin on the thing. Within? Within, it is basically the same as it was before.
A burned marshmallow is not a bad thing. This is part of why I do it.
Also, I am a guy. I like to set things on fire.
Also, I can be pretty much assured that I will get this right. There is no disappointment involved: I set out to burn a marshmallow, I achieved the burning of a marshmallow.
But other times? Other times I decide I will invest the time and the effort in getting it just right.
I maintain a rotisserie-style rotation. I angle it just in the right place, the uppermost tips of the flames just barely caressing the sweet. I watch it in the flickering fire light so very careful.
And this, in some ways, is the biggest challenge. It is an exercise in controlling my greed. Because sometimes it starts to look pretty good, beginning to show some light tan. The tan darkens up, takes over the thing. If all is well, even the top of the marshmallow darkens. Inside, it is becoming something transformed. The sugar softens and warms. Alton Brown could probably provide a nerdy and fascinating explanation of the chemistry that is happening. All I know is that it gets good, and then a little better… and sometimes
Suddenly, it is not good any more. There really is no browning of a marshmallow. It pretty much goes from tan… to black. It goes from divine to just o.k. It does it in the blink of the eye.
The trick is that there are stages of divine. And pushing too hard, trying to get it just perfect… That ruins it.
There could be a mind-map that describes the perfect marshmallow. Here, there are 2 kingdoms: “Roasted” and “Burned.” A great marshmallow is found by leaving the capital of roasted, with it’s comfort and civilization. It is found by heading down the dirt road toward burned. And the closer you get to that border? The better it is. But the moment you step over the dividing line, the very second you pass by the “Welcome to” sign… it is too late.
Meditative/contemplative prayer is that way for me. The mind map I am thinking about now, it features three kingdoms. They all border each other in a “Y” shape. The kingdoms are “Ordinary Prayer” and “Sleep” and “Thinking.”
The closer I get, in prayer, to the borders of those other 2 place: sleep and thinking, the better it is. But the moment I slide over the border, it is suddenly nothing like it was. It was not nearly the thing it had been.
This process is very much like roasting a marshmallow. It is as much art as science, as much under my control as out of my hands. To whatever extent I can control it, there is an element of greed there, of knowing I can push too far, and ruin it by trying to make it better.
As I write these words, I am wrestling with them. Because there is a way in which this isn’t quite right. I mean, I know it isn’t quite right in that there is a sense that it isn’t accurate. But I also think it isn’t quite morally right.
Because it shouldn’t be about the feelings I get. The only problem is that pretty much everything we do is about the feelings we get. There are all these warnings, across spiritual traditions. They warn us about not going after the feelings or other benefits of our spiritual practices: we should be doing them for their own sake.
But I am left wondering: Is that a thing? Do people do things just for their own sake? I am not sure. I know that I like connecting with the creator of the universe.
And also, I like marshmallows.