Last year, quite by accident, I discovered that corn symbolized happiness in my life.
I was at a writing workshop for the weekend, and one of the breakout sessions was given by a licensed hypnotherapist who spoke of using meditation to help the writer unleash material buried deep within.
After she spoke, she spent 30 minutes leading the roomful of writers in guided meditation. Sitting in a lecture hall on a college campus, I followed the instructions: I closed my eyes and began taking deep breaths, focusing on a color. As she spoke, I became relaxed, the conscious part of my brain still struggling for control, hoping I wouldn’t drool or snore, before giving way to my less-chatty subconscious.
At one point, probably about the time I was drooling, our guide asked us to pull up a memory – any memory – and begin to focus on it. My brain canvassed my life, scanning over a multitude of moments, people and places until I found myself as a child, in my pajamas, squatting next to the electric popcorn popper on the kitchen counter. My dad is there, both of us anxious to hear the first pop.
Deep in my mind, I had the details of the popcorn-making ritual safely filed away. My dad would be sitting on the couch and start singing the song, “da na, nanana, da nana na na na na na”
“Popcorn!” my sister or I would yell.
I focused on this memory. The way the popcorn sounded, slow pops, gaining speed until the crescendo – layers of multiple simultaneous pops pushing the lid off the popper and spilling fresh white puffed corn onto the counter. Dad knowing just when to unplug the popper. The unmistakable corn-rich aroma enhanced by the scent of butter melting in a saucepan on the stove. The enormous yellow plastic bowl, etched around the diameter with ears of corn, half-peeled. The hot buttery and salted popcorn filling the bowl, and all of us cozy on the couch sharing it.
As our meditation session ended, I was guided from the kitchen of my youth, back to the university classroom. With our memories sharpened, we were asked to begin writing immediately, recording everything we’d remembered. I set my pen in motion. Details of making popcorn with Dad poured out of me.
Suddenly, though, I found I was writing about last fall, driving cross-country with my kids. We were in the middle of Iowa, I was now describing the never-ending sea of cornfields stretching in every direction as far as the eye could see.
The excitement and invigoration I felt in Iowa came back as an epiphany. As I wrote, eyes stinging from the salt of my tears, I was neither happy nor sad, just overcome with the power of the marriage between memory and writing.
My pen raced across the paper:
Popcorn, field of dreams, if you build it they will come.
Could it be that one of the reasons I was so enchanted with Iowa and the long drives through her sea of corn was that I was symbolically making my way through potential batches of popcorn? Which in turn meant I was driving through happiness, budding dreams, and safety.
In Iowa, staying on a family farm, I felt centered, and content. Finding myself surrounded by corn in every direction was magical. Iowa, which many people might liken to Kansas, was my Oz.
The brain is powerful. I don’t claim to know how associations start, how some events stick with us and express themselves in various ways later in life. And I am not suggesting everyone meditate or write.
But going through the exercise emphasized for me as a as a mother, little things we do with our kids that don’t take a lot of time or money, should be done over and over. And over and over.
Our little rituals are like sticking kernels in the hot oil of our kids’ souls.