Can you name one item possessed by almost every human being on the planet? Something that bridges all cultural, ethnic, racial and socioeconomic divides?
I speak of the humble bowl.
Archeologically and historically speaking, the bowl is one of the oldest artifacts (or fragments thereof) continually unearthed at digs. Here in New Mexico, and at nearby Four Corners (NM, AZ, CO and UT), Ancient Puebloans, sometimes generically referred to as the Anasazi, were making and using clay bowls as early as 800 BC. Sherds of this pottery can still be found while exploring their abandoned villages. I remember the thrill of bending over to pick up a tiny piece of a black pinch-coiled pot at Homolovi State Park in Arizona, knowing that the maker’s finger-prints were merging with mine, if only for a brief moment.
I start with this perspective so as to ground us all in the profundity of a simple vessel we use every day. A ceramic bowl is one of the most perfect examples of beauty, simplicity and utility I know of. Its form allows for unlimited creative expression, yet must always conform to a specific shape to fulfill its destiny.
I’m in love with bowls.
For as much as I’m an advocate of simplicity, and the elimination of excessive possessions, I make an exception for bowls. They are endlessly useful, and the plainest small white bowl fills me with a feeling of calm, reverential joy. This might be the closest thing to a rational explanation for my addiction.
They are endlessly useful, and the plainest small white bowl fills me with a feeling of calm, reverential joy.
Consider this : drinking tea, or coffee, out of a small bowl as the Japanese and French do, brings our attention to the experience in a way that escapes us when using a mug, which frees our other hand to turn pages of the newspaper or pet the dog. Holding a bowl with the fingertips of both hands is by nature reverential, focused, balanced. In the winter, our hands are instantly warmed while we anticipate the imminent enjoyment of its contents.
The common bowl also figures prominently in Buddhist lore and practice. The begging bowl is one of the simplest but most important things in the daily life of Buddhist monks. It is primarily a practice object, used as a container in which to collect alms (either money or food) from lay supporters. It is a symbol of the Buddha’s teachings on non-attachment. Here’s a delicious recipe for Spicy Sweet Potatos and Chickpeas even he would be pleased to receive in his bowl.
Alas, my bowls only serve to enhance my attachment to the material world. I collect mostly white bowls in all shapes and sizes, and use them many times during the day. The tiny ones are helpful when baking, for teaspoons of nutmeg, sugar or vanilla, and of course larger ones are perfect for serving all kinds of foods. But stacked there in rows, at the ready, my bowls comfort me with their abundance and visual appeal, and I enjoy finding ways to include them in my everyday life.
For example, I love and appreciate good soap, especially when served up in a beautiful bowl. A new bar of white soap in a simple white bowl is sublime. And combining two of them, joined by a saucer, yields a simple, elegant way to display foraged greenery. In the warmer months, I love a pretty cutting of nasturtium leaves and flowers secured in the bottom of the bowl with a small iron “frog”. A hand-full of pebbles will do nicely as well. I love succulents year ’round, and in the Winter, this is all we get here in Taos.
Are you getting turned-on by the idea of bowls by now? Perhaps you’re ready for a bit of bowl-porn. Search Google for Japanese bowls, or white bowls, or whatever describes your taste, then click on “images”. Enjoy!
The search begins.
Here are some of my favorite local sources for picking-up a variety of wonderful bowls, depending on your taste and budget. Something interesting can always be discovered at the various Habitat For Humanity Re-Stores, here in Taos, Santa Fe and almost every major city. Great prices, terrific cause. In Santa Fe, another good cause, Kitchen Angels, can be supported by shopping at their fabulous kitchen re-sale boutique, Kitchenality. This small but treasure-packed space is thoughtfully curated with a variety of well-priced vintage and modern cookware. In Taos, our fave thrift shop, Pieces, has a huge home furnishings section, and I’ve picked up some real treasures there. More contemporary and up-scale tastes can be satisfied at Taos Clay in Taos, and Array in Santa Fe. Both contain beautiful, hand-made pottery bowls, some ethereally simple, some more earthly rustic.
What do YOU see when you look inside an empty bowl?