1902 THE TURKEY PRINCIPLE

This is a story that has many variations depending on the culture it is recounted in – the Irish one goes like this:

One Christmas a young girl noticed that her mom was cutting the turkey in half before putting it in the oven to cook for dinner. She had seen her mom do this every Christmas but had never asked her why. So this time she asked and her mom replied, I don’t know why but it’s what my mom always did and she taught me everything I know about cooking. Why don’t you ask your Granny?

Half a turkey is better than none

So the young girl ran into the sitting room and said, Granny why do you cut the turkey in half before cooking it? Her grandmother replied, I don’t know. That’s just the way my mom always cooked it. Why don’t you ask her? So, undeterred, the girl telephoned her great grandmother, who was living in a nursing home and was just getting ready to be collected. She asked her the same question – why did you cut the turkey in half before cooking it? Her great grandmother laughed and said, “Ooh you gave me a fright, I thought your Daddy was ringing to say he couldn’t collect me.” Once she’d got her breath back, her great grandmother explained,

“When I was first married we had a very small oven, and a full turkey didn’t fit in the oven so I just got into the habit of cutting the turkey in half. Later on we got a bigger oven but funny enough I never changed my habit”

So it goes – as Kurt Vonnegut would say.

The little girl ran into the kitchen to explain the origins of the half turkey to her mother, thinking she would find it funny. But instead her mom got rather cross and upset and said that it didn’t matter why, it was a family tradition and that was how she was going to cook the turkey.

I’m always reminded of this story when i attend a meditation class and we are all encouraged to sit cross-legged on a cushion or low stool in the floor. Now stiff and inflexible legs and ankles is one Olympic sport i would surely bring gold home in if only i could persuade the organizers of the merits of such a competition.

First in the inflexible leg and ankle competition

And as i sit on a chair in solitary splendour and embarrassment, i think, “They didn’t have chairs back in the day – that’s why they meditated cross-legged on the floor – not because chairs provide an impediment to meditation and not because the floor encourages the flow”, but i never say it out loud for fear of getting the same reaction as the little girl.

Of course it wasn’t just monks and meditators who sat cross-legged on the floor, it was the position of choice of tailors too back in the not too distance past. In fact, it is known as sitting tailor style and, as physiotherapists will confirm, a long muscle that begins on the outside of the thigh and crosses to the inside is known as the Sartorius muscle, or colloquially as the tailor’s muscle. It is the muscle which controls the movement of the thigh to sit cross-legged and appears to be another inflexible muscle i own. The word Sartorius is Latin for tailor which suggests that this method of sitting and sewing goes back a long way – perhaps also to pre-chair days.


National Library of Ireland showing tailors hard at work in an establishment called Hearne’s, in Waterford. Taken in 1907.

And so it goes – how much of our lives are habits which evolved when circumstances were different?

Sometimes its not just my legs which are inflexible.

Stay flexible my friends.

Namaste

Footnote – a day later:

It struck me today why my mind was fixated with change and the resistance to it. We live in a world where change is the norm and greater changes will have to be made ever more quickly if we are going to leave any remnants of a livable planet to the next generations. In Dublin, Ireland we are discussing changes in transport – better public transport and more dedicated and safer cycling transport – essential changes – but many prefer the status quo and politicians, by the nature of their job specification, generally find difficult decisions difficult and brave decisions something for someone else to do.

I don’t ask that we accept change but rather that we examine it, assess it and if confirming that it is needed for the health of our people and planet then EMBRACE IT.

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