When I was a child I loathed the bitter foods that our cook served up several times each week. Karela, also known as bitter gourd. Tittori—a variety of bitter lentil. Methi bhaji, a particularly mouth-puckering species of spinach.
Bitter foods had their place in my family’s cuisine, along with all the other flavours—sweet, salty, sour, spicy, astringent and more.
As I sullenly pushed the bitter food of the day around on my plate, reluctantly chewed and swallowed, I was swallowing essential lessons about bitterness. Bitterness is one of the flavours of life, as inevitable as sweet or sour, salty or hot.
It just is.
Bitterness comes, flooding your senses with its own particular texture; then, it fades. It doesn’t hang around unless you pretend it isn’t there, in which case it will linger until it receives the acknowledgement it deserves.
Why are we so afraid of bitterness? Like all tastes, it has its virtues. In my culture, bitter foods are considered cleansing, good for the liver and other organs. They are high in antioxidants, packed with essential nutrients.
Think about it this way…
Bitterness accumulates throughout the day, as ubiquitous — and often as fleeting and insignificant — as particles of dust. A disappointment. A delay. A complication. A small betrayal. The shredding of a dream. A taste of failure, or of success that attracts envy and dissension. Bitterness is a response to experiences and events that flow over the stream-bed of your everyday.
Left untended, at the end of a week or a month. a year or maybe decades of being ignored, these particles of bitterness coalesce into a wall that shuts out enthusiasm and joy, creativity and power, along with bitterness. A wall that’s more arduous to dismantle than to build.
Feel your feelings as they arise; let them move through you freely, and you’ll begin each day less encumbered by the detritus of the day before. You’ll be more luminously yourself, bitter and sweet, salty and sour — your own unique blend of flavours that make up your evolving personhood.
So savour the bile, folks, it’s good for you. It’ll help you either digest or eliminate what you’ve swallowed.