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My Wooden Bowl: Container of Contentment?

A simple wooden bowl illustrates how containers matter as much as what goes in them

Getty/ Freestocker

“I was intrigued three decades ago when I learned that Mahatma Ghandi ate all of his food out of one bowl. I decided to emulate him, starting with a medium-sized very plain wooden bowl that someone had already given me as a gift.”

Half a lifetime ago, a series of dramatic events left me with few possessions. Lack of material items actually felt good. So it wasn’t difficult when I decided to give up my apartment and the remaining items to move into a yoga society for immersion in yoga, meditation, and my own writing.

How I loved my bare room! Meditation beads, relevant books, writing projects, and a few outfits were all that I needed.

Being a minimalist was never hard for me. The larger challenge had always been to navigate the material world—our culture’s cries for consumerism.

It's not that I didn’t appreciate fine things. But my specific tastes, be it food or aesthetics, weren’t always easy to find. I would rather do without than make do. Living this way was a template for simplicity. Only the essentials.

Fast forward half a lifetime, and I have managed to uphold that ideal, feeling even less interest in the material world. People who enter my home say, “It’s so free of clutter. So peaceful.”

I confess one collection, a seeming contradiction to my minimalist ideal. Almost 300 personal journals accumulated over half a century line the bookshelves in my bedroom. A woman I know burns hers at the end of each year. Another has shredded years of these personal writings. Mine continue to overflow on my shelves.

With this history of minimalism, except with words, I was intrigued three decades ago when I learned that Mahatma Ghandi ate all of his food out of one bowl. I decided to emulate him, starting with a medium-sized very plain wooden bowl that someone had already given me as a gift.

I would have chosen wood for a bowl anyway. Of all earth’s materials used for crafts, wood resonates with me the most. Author Scott Russell Sanders expressed my sentiments in The Force of Spirit when he said, “We can see in the patterns of wood the swirls of the clouds, the ripples in a creek, the tumult of a waterfall, the strata in a rock, the tracings of creatures along a mud bank. … The same current of wildness flows through us, as we are reminded by surrounding ourselves with beautiful, patient wood.”

While not able to eat all of my vegan meals from this bowl, I used it for dinner. Breakfast smoothie and lunch soup would not have done well in this container. It served me for many years until a crack required I find a successor.

“There it is!” I gushed to my husband when I spied the oval-shaped bamboo bowl with an outside coating of forest green. Over the years, I have become attached to this container, like one does to a favorite pillow for sleeping. I do take my pillow on trips, when possible. So far, my bowl has stayed behind.

“You’ve had that a very long time,” my husband recently said as I finished the last morsel of my meal, laying the bowl bare before us. Indeed, there were some splits in the wood around the rim. Compared to the upper area, the bottom was rough from years of my fork scraping it.

The oval shape, light wood, and soothing green outside are not the only things that make this hard to part with. I purchased the treasure in my hometown of Philadelphia, where I no longer live. The restaurant was my favorite, with the added bonus of an adjoining crafts store. On some level, this bowl produces echoes of my cherished Philadelphia roots.

I’m not sure if or when the time will come for a third bowl in the lineage. The only certainty is that eating my dinner from a wooden bowl will forever connect me to a lifetime’s commitment of simplicity, the importance of ritual in my daily life, and honoring those who have inspired me.

Food for thought: It’s easy to overlook the importance of containers and focus on what’s inside of them. Are there any containers, literal or metaphorical, in your life that need to be reevaluated

Keep reading: “Creating Calm from the Outside In

About the Author

Joan Leof has written a memoir titled Fatal If Swallowed: Reclaiming Creativity and Hope Along the Uncharted Path. A...

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