The Big Summer Potluck – Giving Vs. Getting

Big Summer Potluck #3

I’ve attended more than my share of food blogging events over the past five years.  I’m a veteran of icy cold air conditioned conference rooms, Power Point presentations about stats and SEO, and hallways filled with anxious participants who fear being irrelevant. I’m no stranger to food conference agendas, food vendor giveaway frenzies, the anxious shaking of hands, and camera/gear/gadget/logo/design/fashion/friend envy.

But at the Big Summer Potluck–a third annual gathering for new and veteran food writers, photographers, and recipe developers put on by my good friend Maggy (Three Many Cooks), her mother Pam, and the lovely Erika (Ivory Hut)–everything is different. The focus is on small and intimate. The food is simple and made by people you know (or will know) over the course of the weekend. Speakers like Joy (Joy the Baker, Molly O’Neil (Cook n’ Scribble, and myself shared about what matters most in our hearts. Great food making demos from Marissa (Food in Jars) & Max Hansen offered attendees insights into invaluable techniques for canning and curing they can use at home.

Rather than focusing on technology or new frontiers of financial success, the retreat’s themes were on sharing, vulnerability, honest work, and mindfulness. The location itself–at Silver Buttons Farm and the Anderson’s secluded home in the Pennsylvania woods–invited frank discussion and forging of friendships.

Silver Button Farms Buck's County Food Blogging retreat

Thanks to the masterful work of the team behind The Big Summer Potluck, attendees felt safe enough to get honest. We opened up about the things that scared us and mattered to us most. We got still. We put away our cameras, stowed our iPhones, and spent time listening to each other, rather than running off to the next thing. We shared personal issues and realized we weren’t all alone.

Mindfulness in a Digital Age

The theme of this year’s gathering was mindfulness, honesty, and inspiration. As a group we spoke about the importance of spending more time being in the moment and less time steeping in fear of falling behind. We shared about secret resentments, jealousy of success or pretty pictures, and the drive we shared to stay busy on order to stay current and relevant.

The way most of us talk to each other at conferences, we are given a message that implies that we all may be seriously late for some big destination. If only we got a little more busy, update our gear, get to know the right people, and work a little bit harder, we will get there.

The problem is, the more we do, it seems like the less time we have.

During my talk on Mindfulness in the Digital Age, I shared about how early on in my blogging career, I lost myself in the constant stream of social media and self-imposed goals. In the early days of my blog, I immersed myself in the Twitter feed, Facebook updates, and online chatter. I busied myself with lighting, textured backgrounds, props, and photographing the food I made, rather than enjoying a meal. The old me focused on shrinking down insights to 140 characters, rather than sharing the broad strokes or little important points with my husband. I ate meals for content, not nourishment. I skimmed words, buzzed past difficult feelings, and rushed from one work assignment to another. In my former life, I rushed from place to place, rather than appreciate where I was in the moment.

But after two years of keeping my life fully submerged in social media, I began to discover I was losing my grip on what matters most. I wasn’t living a present, conscious life.

It took me almost losing everything that was near and dear to me to realize that I was so busy DOING, that I wasn’t present to who I was BEING.

Waking Up

Over the past year I’ve written around the serious stuff that’s happened that’s happened in my life these past few years. Rather than get too specific, I’ve spoken about what I’ve learned and how applying mindfulness has made a difference in helping me get back on track.

The writing process has given me the opportunity to apply something of a slow reveal, but honestly, the quiet pacing has also allowed me to guard myself from criticism or over indulgent ramblings. I’ve taken my time and minimized the details, for fear of hurting the innocent or scaring people away.

When Maggie asked me to share about Mindfulness in the Digital Age, I knew that I couldn’t just talk in generalities. I needed to illustrate my point with personal anecdotes. I needed to open up.

I stepped up to the microphone with a simple wish: be present and be vulnerable.

Doing vs Being

When we lose connection to the present moment, we lose sight of what’s important. For me, it took several years of full immersion in blogging, a drive to succeed, and an obsessive love of social media to lose sight of my relationship with my husband, myself, and my loved ones. I was driven by self-serving motives, selfish thinking, and unconscious behaviors.

I shared with the room full of social media peers how just before I lit the match to everything in my life and walked away, I stopped to take a look at what I was doing. I slowed down enough to breathe, to observe, and to get conscious.

When we slow down, we become more aware of the big picture stuff. We find access to inner wisdom that leads us to creative solutions and insights that can improve our personal lives and lighten our work load. Through mindfulness we can stop and see the wreckage we’ve caused and find ways to heal them. The more time we spend being conscious and aware, the more we begin to see that we have plenty of time to do what’s important.

In the silence that remained after I walked away from the microphone, I was afraid I had allowed myself to be too open and vulnerable.

Practicing mindfulness in the Digital Age

How does one practice mindfulness and still stay current in the digital age? The answer is pretty simple: a little bit at a time.

Three ways to get present:

STEP ONE: BREATHING:

Before turning on your computer say to yourself silently as you breathe in: “Now I am breathing in.” When you breathe out, say silently to yourself:  “Now I am breathing out.” Do this for a couple of reps and then turn on your machine and get to work. A little check in such as this is a perfect way to introduce yourself to the concept of mindfulness.

STEP TWO: SENSE PERCEPTION
Try perceiving things like a child, in which everything is miraculous.  Don’t analyze what you’re doing, just simply perceive. No need for interpretation or writing up a blog post in your mind. Just feel the awe and wonder of someone doing something for the very first time.

Mindfulness assignment: Eat a tangerine one segment at a time

If you can not eat a single segment of a tangerine you can not be present for eating the entire tangerine. Try eating a single piece of fruit with clarity of a child-like mind. Eat as if you’ve never eaten this fruit before. Breathe gently. Deeply. Take hold of your breath if your mind strays.

How many meals have stopped you cold in the moment? Have you ever eaten one single bite of something so overwhelmingly good you had to stop? That’s mindfulness.

Have you ever been so completely present to a moment of eating it became more than just a simple bite, it became an experience? Eating mindfully will give you the space for new ideas and will offer you a new perspective on the food you’re eating.

STEP THREE: BECOME AWARE

Become aware that the only time you can experience is now is an important one. There is no future. You can not be present in the past. This is all there is.
We can not do something now to get somewhere in the future. We must simply be here now.

Mindfulness assignment: Mindfulness while doing dishes
Do you wash dishes to get to the next thing after your kitchen is clean? Have you ever hand washed dishes, only to discover they are some how still somewhat dirty? Try looking at washing dishes as an opportunity to become mindful. Be present to washing each plate, each knife, each cup.

How to practice mindfulness in simple, do-able ways

  • When the phone rings, take a deep breath in and a deep breath out before you answer.
  • Become aware of your breathing when you walk. How many steps can you take while you breathe in? How many steps do you take while you breathe out?
  • Take your time peeling an orange.  Observe the spray of zest. The scent of the skin. The juice of each segment as you pull the orange apart. Enjoy every detail of the fruit as if it were your first or last orange of your life.
  • Meditate for 10 minutes at the beginning of the day. Listen to a guided meditation.
  • Practice mindful breathing in a quiet place. By just turning off your phone, closing your eyes, and breathing in and out for a few minutes you can start to mine a better understanding of mindfulness.

36 comments

  1. susan

    amen, sista! so true, Brooke. I so resonate with every word your wrote on this page. Thank you for validating my feelings, sharing your insight, and for being so utterly honest! xxx

  2. Lucy Lean

    [exhales loudly] thank you for stating the obvious and for sharing so openly – we all need to spend a little more time being present and a little less time running in the hamster wheel of social media and blogging. Xxx

  3. merry jennifer

    And again, thank you for everything you said at Big Summer Potluck and here, in this space. Having the chance to hear your words, to speak with you (and your sweet husband) later…they were highlights of my experience at BSP. I hope we get to see each other again. Soon.

    ps – Ever in Florida? Open invitation to my house.

  4. Betty Ann @Mango_Queen

    Brooke, this is so beautiful! I’m so touched that you were so sweet and kind to me afterwards when I briefly told you about my own “AHA” moments, how my blog evolved, inspired by my sons and the family home cooking. Thanks for these valuable lessons. They are precious & timeless :-)

  5. Carla

    Thank you for your inspiration and words at BSP3! A lot of what you have said really got me thinking. I can’t remember the last time I baked something without planning on blogging it. I need to do that more often – less stress on getting it to look right ;) I’m still thinking about where I’m going to be in 30 days because honestly? I don’t know. Looks like I need to practice mindfulness more often. Perhaps if I can get the words out, I will take you up on your offer to email it.

    Again, thank you. I don’t think I can thank you enough.

  6. Chef Dennis

    Brooke,

    thank you so much for speaking at the BSP , you really got me thinking again….. you made me ask myself some hard questions for me, but ones I needed to answer. I am too guilty of not living in the present and that has to change.

    I truly enjoyed speaking with you and your husband, and I look forward to seeing you again.

    Dennis

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  8. kelly

    I bookmarked this page so I could come back to it when I’m feeling rushed to dive in over my head and swim against the tide of social media, doubt, anxiety, comparisons and inadequacy. I can’t thank you enough for your honesty, openness, vulnerability, and for being present. I gained a lot from the weekend, but your words–both during your talk and afterwards at Pam’s house–have given me so much to reflect upon and I was (am) thankful to have been present (both physically and intentionally) to hear them.

  9. thyme (sarah)

    I wasn’t at this retreat but I really enjoyed your words. They hit home tonight as I am about to go to a family reunion (not sure if I’m looking forward to it). I am going to practice “mindfulness” while I am there and I am already convinced it will help me to deal with some of the frustrations of certain personalities. Thank you for your words, advice, and beautiful way with advice.

  10. Winnie

    Brooke: I love this post, and I so enjoyed listening to your talk and speaking with you last weekend. I’ve been practicing being present in all aspects of my life for the past few months and it’s been pretty amazing…I spend a lot less time on social media but I don’t miss it one bit. I don’t think anyone misses me, either ;)

  11. Lea Ann (Cooking on The Ranch)

    I’m here because I read Chef Dennis’s Blog and he linked to yours. Really good post. I guess I feel lucky that I have a demanding full time job and a birdwatching hobby that I share with my husband. Even though my food blog posts automatically go to the social media sites, I simply don’t have time to get sucked in to being obsessed with them. I do sometimes have to remember to cook for the pleasure of us enjoying a meal rather than to cook for my blog. I’m glad I read this, as I’m attending my first food blogging conference in a couple of weeks. Your post will most certainly keep me “grounded”. Thanks so much for that.

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  13. Margaret

    Hi Brooke, it was such a pleasure to meet you at the potluck, and to hear you talk about being mindful. It’s a great reminder for me that I need to practice living in the present moment more than ever. Thank you for taking the time to listen and tell me your story during our one on one. Meeting you was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend.

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  15. Kimby

    Hi! I’m visiting from Chef Dennis’ blog and I’m so thankful he provided the link. The concepts you’ve illustrated here (and also in your post about Mindfulness in the Digital Age) are a way of living that encourage “life” — not just the next blog post. I agree; life’s too short. Entirely fulfilling perspectives and excellent writing! Thank you.

  16. Bethany Parry

    Brooke, I really enjoyed this post. That conference sounds so inspiring and uplifting. There is nothing more important than learning to stop and smell the coffee, especially in a high-paced life we live in with messages bombarding us from every direction. Thank you for sharing!

    Bethany Parry

  17. carrian

    Amen. You have no idea how much I believe in this. Where was I? Gosh, I would have given anything to have been there. Maybe another time. This one, this one is more my type of conference/event

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  19. Kathy @ The Experimental Gourmand

    Brooke –

    It was wonderful to meet you and your husband at Big Summer Potluck this past weekend! Your words and advice have really struck a chord with me as I embark on another phase in my personal and professional life. I’m really looking forward at putting these concepts into practice and to seeing where they take me.

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  21. Courtney

    Brooke, thank you so much for the wonderful inspiration you gave to me at BSP and with this post. Your talk truly hit home with me, and I regret I didn’t get the chance to tell you that in person. What you said about developing a vision has been weighing heavily on my mind, and you can expect an email from me soon. :)

  22. Emily @ Random Recycling

    What a lovely, honest post. Thank you for sharing this with those of us that couldn’t hear you at BSP. I love how real this is, especially as I sit at another conference and it’s the other end of the spectrum.

  23. Roxana | Roxana's Home Baking

    This was the first year I heard about the Big Summer Potluck (maybe because I don’t keep up with social media hahaha) but after reading this post I regret even more not coming since it wasn’t that far from the house.
    I’m not a social media addict, and don’t think I’ll ever be, but I have days when I browse tastespotting/foodgawker/pinterest for more than I should.
    I’ll save this post and every time I’ll feel a little lost and overwhelmed will come back to read it and remind myself to live

  24. Sally

    Brooke, I’ve been meaning to write to you, so thank you for this lovely post. It was wonderful to reconnect with you on ‘different level!’ I am so happy for you and the changes you have made in your life and the new path you have chosen. It’s funny, I brought my camera with me, but right away made a conscious decision (before I knew the theme!) not to take photos or even write about the weekend, so I am really grateful to all those who did. It made it even easier for me to just relax into the whole experience with no particular agenda. One of the highlights was hearing your story. It is no accident that the lovely Andersons hosted an event with a different perspective from most blogging forums. Perhaps that is why so many people keep coming back. Everyone wants and needs support for channeling their energies into what is important to them , even if it goes against the tide of the social media frenzy and counting (stressing about) page views. No wonder your message was so well received. Thanks again for keeping things honest and real. Wishing you a wonderful year, until we meet again! XXOO

  25. lisa | with style and grace

    I’ve been meaning to comment right after you posted this! It was truly just a highlight meeting you and then hearing you speak, just took it to a whole other level. I’ve made a lot of changes over the years and then this pregnancy brought even more [changes] so this all resonated with me, but also inspired me. Thank you for speaking from the heart and being the person you are. So much love to you!

  26. Isabelle @ Crumb

    Brooke, I can’t thank you enough for your amazing, honest, inspiring talk at BSP. It forced me to take a long hard look at some of the feelings and worries that had been bubbling below the surface for many months and that I’d been avoiding for far too long. I feel like you’ve not only helped us to find the way to being better bloggers, but to being better human beings.
    Thank you for helping to remind us of the things that matter, like finding joy in ice-cold slices of watermelon. :)

  27. Ilke

    Thank you for this wonderful post. I am sorry that I missed such a great get-together (not saying a conference at all). I went to BlogHer Food Conference in 2011 and was so overwhelmed that I promised myself not to go to any huge conferences anymore. It felt like everyone had a script and an elevator speech about their blog, and it was not about really getting to know anyone, more about how many people you can meet in X minutes type of race. I had to walk outside many times to catch my breath.
    I made the same mistake about being absorbed in what I do and not live, and completely ignore my relationship with my husband when I first started my engineering career in consulting, worked day and night, weekends and holidays to shine among all the male engineers and to succeed in good ol’ boys club type environment. After two years of such hectic schedule, it took several painful “discussions” to set me straight and turn my attention to what is important in reality. That is why I am trying to “take it easy” in terms of blogging, since it is a hobby. I am determined not to take it over my life, I already have a full time job and can not do more than one post a week eventhough some bloggers told me that it will be very hard to get my name out there without 3 or more posts a week. I said so be it, thank you for the advice and I will do what is best for me, not for my SEO or Google ratings.
    It takes one deep fear of losing something/someone really important to know what is best for your life.

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