Over the past month, my waffle vending business has brought me a pile of wealth. The crumpled dollar notes that land in the hand-tailored pockets of my white apron as customers stop by, attracted by the fragrance of fresh waffles, are of course a welcome pocket money, but I am referring to a different kind of wealth. Three markets have passed, and I have been able to exchange my waffles against:
- a karuna massage
- a bunch of bananas and two heads of lettuce
- an energy/ body healing session
- heaps of great conversation
- many new acquaintances
- an acro-yoga class
- a sachet of raw ulu powder
- a postcard sized art print showing a shark eating a snapper while being groomed by three little cleaner fish: ‘Life from Life’.
The title of this postcard that is now gracing my desk, motivating me as I write, is in fact a great summary of what I want to say about the Saturday market.
In this world most of us blog readers and writers inhabit, we are used to buying things with money, and selling things for money. I am not about to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of money here, but fact is that when selling low-priced goods, the money we receive from somebody does not tell us much about the buyer’s personality. Of course the transaction can become more personal as the waffle bakes and conversation starts to flow. We may also deduce certain aspects of the buyer’s personality from their choice of product. People who buy waffles like a nice leisurely breakfast. They appreciate sensual pleasure. They like it sweet, warm, and fluffy - or sometimes crunchy. Some of them like to chat, some prefer to walk. My personal market research has already taught me to distinguish wheat-free sugar-free waffle buyers from classic waffle buyers based on their looks in 90% of cases.
But back to the point: compared to exchanging a product against money, trading a product for another product or service feels much closer to actually communicating with somebody. While I specialize in entertainment (Captain Ladle), making things sweet, warm, and fluffy for people (waffles), and promoting the localvore mentality (toppings made with fruit grown on Bellyacres), other market vendors specialize in healing (massages/ energy healing), providing food (bananas, lettuce), or making the world more beautiful (art). By trading products and services at the market, we get a glimpse of each other’s personalities. We give a piece of ourselves to somebody else and in turn receive a piece of them. Let me quote one of my favorite sources - Wikipedia, a website based on the free trade of knowledge - on the history of trade: ‘Trade originated with the start of communication in prehistoric times’.
I am the last person to reject the achievements of the modern world - I have composed odes to modern drugs for saving my life, and sung hymns of gratefulness to the simple pleasure of sitting on a clean heated toilet seat as blizzards were howling cacophonies of frost outside. But this back-to-the-roots experience of trading one thing for another instead of relying on money for every single transaction of goods and services has been a very charming experience for me.
While I am full of appreciation for the wonders of modern civilization, I believe it is still an asset to know about our human beginnings. It can remind us of some things that are easy to forget leading the life we lead. In many ways, we have improved life, in others we have digressed from what is important. Innovative efforts and inventions represent genuine human needs and longings, but in a world dominated by such a high degree of specialization, a world in which people are so used to buying things for money that they cannot understand, let alone make, most of the objects they use in their daily lives (Can you make a pen? A kitchen knife? Cornflakes? Do you know how a computer works?), experiencing the intrinsic nature of trade is a welcome reminder that in order to thrive, we need to communicate. We need to make an effort and fulfill our innate mission to make whatever we happen to have access to available to our fellow human beings. If it wasn’t for others, would you have the house you live in? The clothes you’re wearing? The food you’re eating?
The S.P.A.C.E. market is the epitome of an important principle that can help us lead more fulfilling lives and help others do the same. People in Puna are great at this. Classes (yoga, fitness, juggling, circus arts etc.) are offered free of charge - small donations suggested at most. People are interested most of all in your presence. In your energy. In sharing. In creating a scene and making something happen. In Hawaii, they call this ‘Aloha Spirit’.
Carrying a couple of waffles over to the energy healing table, I take in their aroma and realize: these are just another form of energy. Food is a form of energy. Massage is a form of energy. Money is a form of energy. In Japanese, energy is called 気 ki. It has another connotation connected with the basic power of life, similar to the Hawaiian ‘ha’ (essence/breath of life), which, according to folk etymology, is exchanged in the greeting ‘aloha’ (alo = presence/ front/ face). Ki is the energy we learn to use and control in aikido. Ki is the energy we exchange with our partner during practice. Ki is the power we try to channel with the single purpose of creating harmony. This is what my master Katsuyuki Shimamoto has to say about the subject:
‘The Japanese word 和不同 wafudō, written with the characters ‘harmony’, ‘not’, and ‘same’ expresses that harmony does not equal sameness. On the contrary, for the concept of harmony to exist, it takes multiple factors, multiple forces, multiple notes. When we try to create harmony with our partner, we do not try to become the same person. We respect each other, including all our differences, and try to complement each other in the most harmonious way, bringing out each other’s best.
Let me give you an example of harmony. In Japan, we have a type of dish called ‘和え物’ (aemono), written with the characters for ‘harmony’ and ‘thing’. Aemono usually combines two ingredients. Often, one of the ingredients alone would not taste good: it may be too bitter, too oily, or too dry. But combined with the other, its best flavors are brought to the fore, while its negative components exert a positive influence upon the first ingredient and bring out its most delicious flavors. If you eat a plain waffle, it is usually too dry. If you eat only butter, it is too oily. But when you spread butter on a warm waffle, the waffle sucks up the oiliness of the butter, the butter moistens the dryness of the waffle, and the result is perfect harmony.*
So how can we create harmony? Remember that what goes around comes around. You need to focus on what you send out. Whatever exchange you engage in, both you and your partner should enjoy it. Being the host, it is your task to create a pleasant, harmonious setting for you and your partner to converse in. When inviting your partner into your sphere, focus your efforts on inviting and sustaining a sincere, fruitful and harmonious conversation. Communicate from the heart.
Every encounter should be a pleasant exchange.’
And this, I believe, is the beauty of the Saturday market. This is exactly what we do. Trade. Communication. Aloha spirit. Exchange of ki. We bring our individual flavors together to enrich each other’s lives and create harmony.
Helping spread Katsuyuki Shimamoto’s message in Europe and absorbing more of it myself over the next two weeks, I will have all the more energy to share with you the next time I get to enjoy the harmonious flavor concoction of the Saturday market. Thank you for trading.
*slightly altered by the editor due to the unfamiliar examples from Japanese cuisine used in the original ;)