The next in a series of essays by Charmain Ponnuthurai is on the subject of ‘gathering’. Charmain (Dammy) is the author of Midnight Feasts: An Anthology of Late-night Munchies, and founder of Larder which is all about giving the gift of cooking from scratch. Featuring excellent food writing and thoughtfully sourced hero ingredients that allow the recipient to discover their cooking creativity. She is also the founder of Crane cookware which the Charnwood team love and use in many of our shoots. When it comes to food, everything she touches turns to
gold delicious. Without further ado here is, Charmain Ponnuthurai on ‘gathering’…
“When we don’t examine the deeper assumptions behind why we gather, we end up skipping too quickly to replicating old, staid formats of gathering. And we forgo the possibility of creating something memorable, even transformative.” – From the Art of Gathering by Priya Parker
We are able to communicate in more ways than ever before, yet doctors across the UK report that loneliness pervades all social groups, and suggest finding the prescription for this may help to alleviate oversubscribed GP’s waiting rooms. Whilst the internet has granted us the flexibility of crossing geography and time zones, nothing can replace the moment that togetherness brings. Walking through Victoria Park at the end of the August bank holiday weekend with thoughts of the end of summer, I was stopped by hearing the cacophony of voices singing behind stadium gates on the last day of the annual East music festival. The feeling of being part of this festival gathering whilst only standing outside the gates made me consider a newly learnt concept of Polyphony. This phenomena is described in a passage in Merlin Sheldrake’s book Entangled Life. He refers to a recording by an American musicologist of the Aka people, in the Central African Republic where no one voice loses its identity, yet neither does it steal the show. “Although each voice is free to wander, their wanderings can’t be seen as separate from the others. There is no main voice. There is no lead tune. There is no central voice. Nonetheless a form Emerges.”
In our daily working lives and in the presentation to others of ‘what we do & who we are’, there is often the pitting against flex, showing ourselves to be more accomplished. However, striving for individuality we may risk losing the insight of the voice that speaks the quietest. Gathering occurs chiefly around food, music and art, prompting us out of our individual selves and enabling us to look up and into the wider world we inhabit. We just have to look at our feathered friends to understand the intelligence of gathering.
The most startling of all is that of the starling, “Each bird in a murmuration is a participant and leader within a complex and ever evolving system. Each has the power to shape the direction and shape the whole system with the power to create entirely new constellations”.
Arguably, what sets humans apart from the rest of the natural world is our self awareness, which has led to insularity and individualism. When we are able to exist in the moment without guile is in social groups; here we are able to release our sense of self and day to day preoccupations. In these groups we can be at one with nature, social animals thriving in the company of each other.
Perhaps at a fundamental level, we are able to realise when we gather, how much a part of nature we are. Whilst we like to separate our species in its uniqueness, we are like – and of course share genes with – all organisms with all living organisms. Have you ever noticed that despite the fact that a stove heats the entire room in which it sits, we as groups huddle near its flames, becoming even closer. As birds throng together in the sky, as penguins huddle close on the ice, as various species congregate at the same water source. The stove for humans brings us together, not only from the feeling of being closer to the heat for warmth but utilising the stove for cooking simultaneously. The intimacy and connection to this makes it feel like whatever food it delivers will be more delicious than one that could be cooked on with a regular kitchen stove. Perhaps it’s in the wonder in its role as heat provider and nourishment that holds our attention and brings a group together in a less perfunctory way than an induction hob. Being part of the cooking is not only in the sourcing, chopping and creating the dish itself but in actually collecting the logs, kindling and laying the fire.
A form of gathering at its simplest level is the family kitchen, which – however crowded it becomes – is always the core of the action in a home. It is always so bemusing and sometimes frustrating! How small children, even within wider spaces, stay close to adults and in this way they create a close group gentleness. The ultimate sense of gathering where we are not so focussed on our individual being but the shared touch and connection to the other. A more poignant example of gathering in and shared group experience is amidst the brutal hardship of war. In the beautiful book by Hubert Mingarelli, ‘Four Soldiers’, set in 1919 during the Russian Civil War, the soldiers set up camp together on The Romanian Front line. The book describes so poetically a sense of love between the men through steps such as making their temporary home. The glowing appreciation of working together and the shared joy. It talks of how they get through the harshest winter with the warmth from their togetherness eeking out food, enjoying the opportunity of strong tea, waiting, speaking and smoking. There is a deep reward often found in the darkest moments revealed to us a little like the murmurations in the unity of action, where there is no leader but shared movement and a hearing of all voices is where beauty is found.
“And let us consider one another in order to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching”
If you haven’t read Charmain Ponnuthurai’s piece on ‘storytelling’ click here – we highly recommend it!