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A Bouillabaisse Life
by Stewart Blackburn

A dear friend of mine made a truly delicious bouillabaisse the other day. Besides thoroughly enjoying it, I thought as I ate it, "What a great metaphor for manifesting the life we want this is." So I offer you a hearty serving of these culinarily inspired thoughts.

Bouillabaisse is one of the great seafood stews of the world. Like the Tuscan cacciucco, the Spanish zarzuela, the Portuguese caldeirada, the Greek kakavia, the Flemish waterzooi, and the San Franciscan cioppino, the bouillabaisse of Marseille was originally made from whatever was in the fisherman's net that day. There are style differences, of course, in each of the different stews, but they all begin with what is present at the moment.

In bouillabaisse, one starts with a basic fish soup that is thick and fully flavored without garniture. This soupe de poisson is much like the bank of beliefs that we all carry that underlie everything we do. It's so easy to forget that the reality that we experience is our own person reality, a little different from anyone else's. And that reality is determined by the rules of reality that we have adopted.

Each of us has put together a broth with what we're thinking, what we're feeling, and what we desire. It's a unique broth that forms the base of everything in our lives. We may want to add some things to, or take some things away from, our lives, but we still have to reckon with this fundamental soup of ideas and feelings that we call the subconscious.

If we believe that we are unworthy or defective, then whatever else we put into the mix will still be flavored with that belief. There is no way to overcome tainted or rotting values. Fortunately, we get to make our stew fresh each day. Yesterday's meal doesn't have to have anything to do with what we make today.

When we can recognize that we are sweet and delicious just as we are, then whatever else we include will only enhance that sweetness. Sometimes this only takes a bit of faith or trust that we really do belong here in our own irreplaceable way. Sometimes, we need some outside sweetness, like sautéed onions or carrots, to help us reveal our true nature. Or maybe we need a little sourness, like lemon or lime, to highlight what is so special about us.

Understanding that base is key to a great final product. Savoring the end result is, of course, what we are after. But, in the course of creating this masterpiece, it is savoring, or simply enjoying what we have already, that allows all the pieces to come together harmoniously. If we are constantly tasting this broth with an eye to what's wrong with it, we will never relax enough to feel the enormous pleasure in what we have brought into being. It is that tongue, always looking for even better tastes and pleasures, that seeks out and finds the very best in life. It is consciously staying as happy as we can and keeping our vibration as high as possible that makes the very best broth!

Bouillabaisse is famous for its wide variety of seafood that gets added to it. The mussels, clams, lobster, chunks of various fish, and shrimp all add a richness to the stew the way our interests, our humor, our personal rituals, our relationships, and our living spaces do. These are the more obvious delights in our lives and the ones that deserve much of our attention. We are wise to seek out these delicacies and enjoy them, while keeping in mind that we do enjoy them in the context of the background broth. We want to balance the flavors so that the overall experience is not compromised. This is the cook's art, to make sure everything stays in harmony. Perhaps some garlic or fennel or parsley is in order. Perhaps the judicious addition of some salt would help. But the key focus here is on how we appreciate the totality of this mix in the long run.

Some of us, myself included, feel a little uncomfortable if life is too easy. In order to feel more vital, we add a little risk to our personal soup. Bouillabaisse is no different. A true bouillabaisse is served with a spicy, garlicky mayonnaise-type sauce called a rouille. This piquant sauce has no coyness or timidity. It jumps up and says, "Look at me! I am alive and ready to live the fullest I can." It takes the exquisite flavors of the base and the excitement of the added catches of the day to a new sublime level of pleasure. It transforms the merely great to fabled heights of delight.

So I would encourage you, my dear fellow seeker of cosmic wonders, to consider making a bouillabaisse of your life. The fire is there, all the ingredients are there, the pots and pans are there. All you need to do is to supply the ambition, the derring-do, and the willingness to perhaps make a mistake or two as you perfect your own personal recipe.

I wish you well in all this. Bon appetit!

Copyright 2018 Stewart Blackburn

Stewart Blackburn is the author of The Skills of Pleasure: Crafting the Life You Want. His website is:; email:

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