Delaying Gratification

hot dogs on grill

It’s the day after the 4th of July and my wife and I just ate a picnic supper at home: her delicious homemade coleslaw, corn on the cob, and uncured beef hot dogs, cooked on our new outdoor grill. Though the food itself was great, cooking the dogs on the new grill was actually the most gratifying part of the meal for me.

We purchased the grill on the evening before the 4th with hopes of breaking it in for the big holiday. I’d finally hauled our 20-year-old workhorse Weber to the local dump during our spring cleaning. We’d seen a friend’s nifty new, compact, table-top gas grill and agreed that was the way that we aging down-sizers wanted to go.

After shopping around online for a week, we finally decided to buy one at a local big-box sporting and camping goods store. The one we liked had a heavy foldup base and was bigger than we originally had in mind. A young employee was happy to cart the bulky 50-pound box to our car. We left it in the car overnight so that I could assemble it in the morning in time for our annual 4th of July cookout.

I have to say that assembling objects is not my strong suit. I had to psych myself for the task the next morning. Before leaving for a long hike with a friend, my wife encouraged me to be patient and read the instructions carefully.

I followed her advice and carefully unboxed the grill, removing loads of styrofoam and cardboard packing materials. Detailed instructions with pictures were included and I carefully inventoried all the parts. Most of the assemblage involved the fold-up base, and I got through all that with only minor hitches. Within an hour, I had a standing grill that I could wheel from the garage to the back patio. I read the instructions for connecting a small liquid-propane canister to a regulator and then to the grill itself.

The morning was hot and humid, and I had broken into a healthy sweat by this point. I was looking forward to test-firing the grill and covering it with a tarp before returning to barbecue burgers for our evening meal. Before doing so, the instructions recommended one last step: removing the grill’s top to make sure that the gas lines (“venturi tubes”) from the regulator terminated right at the burners. This involved removing 6 small metal screws and I considered skipping the step. But the instructions said that this step was especially important when the grill had been transported, which I had just done. I bit the bullet and carefully, patiently removed each of the 6 screws and pulled the top off. Inspecting the “venturi tubes”, everything seemed in order and I replaced the top. It was a tight, metal-on-metal fit and the two pieces had to be perfectly aligned so that all 6 screw-holes lined up. It took some concentration to complete this re-attachment, but I finally succeeded.

The time had finally come to test the grill!  I turned the gas valve to “HIGH”, waited 4 seconds as instructed, then pressed the red igniter button repeatedly. I could see little sparks coming from the electronic igniter, but the burners failed to light. I stopped and tried again a number of times. I even tried with a long butane lighter. Still nothing. At this point, it had started to thunder and raindrops began falling. Reluctantly, I decided to cover the grill up with a tarp and try again later. I was genuinely perplexed and discouraged. I reviewed the instructions and felt that I had done everything correctly, including the last check of the gas lines. I was now tired and sweaty so wisely decided to give it up and take a shower.

It rained torrentially for much of that afternoon but started clearing in the evening. As supper time approached, I went out to try lighting the grill again but the results were the same. We ended up cooking our burgers on the kitchen stove.

This afternoon I decided to take one more shot at lighting the grill before calling the company for assistance. I painstakingly removed the 6 screws and opened the top to inspect more carefully. The venturi tubes still looked correctly aligned, but I did notice that the propane-regulator connection to the grill looked like it wasn’t fully tightened — there were treads showing. The instructions had warned against overtightening here. But I decided to turn the connection tighter until it was genuinely “hand-tight”.

Sure enough, after carefully re-aligning and screwing in the grill-top again, the grill lit right up. I let it burn at maximum heat for 15 minutes to burn off the excess oils as directed. Then I got those hot dogs and cooked them to perfection. As I took them off the grill, the term “delayed gratification” came to mind.

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I remembered reading about “delayed gratification” from my investigations into childhood attachment theory. Early attachment psychologists like John Bowlby had noticed that one of the common characteristics among happy, organically maturing children is their resilience when encountering obstacles. These children registered some level of disappointment and frustration when their needs were initially unmet, but didn’t devolve into tantrums nor defeated resignation as other less happily parented children did. Instead, the healthier children bounced back from their frustrations, secure in knowing that things would right themselves eventually.

I had recently attended a Takatina session where I had dealt with this theme. Takatina is a form of group rhythmic creation in dance movement, clapping, and chanting. My friend Marcus Sims had trained for many years learning to lead these sophisticated rhythmic experiences and I’ve learned a lot from participating in the sessions. A major theme of last week’s session was about “letting go” of our false needs to always control our reality. Learning how to move and chant and clap in synchrony and harmony with others requires a kind of “focused emptiness.” You have to stay very present and aware, yet “let go” to the rhythm at the same time.

A Takatina session is hard to describe, but involves learning to coordinate some dance steps with well-defined rhythmic clapping and chanting. Everyone makes “mistakes” in the process but the idea is to keep on going, correcting yourself by coming back into harmony and rhythm with the leader and the group as a whole. In the last session, I found myself able for the first time to hold down the dance steps and clapping for long periods. I really enjoy the chanting and in the past my joining the chanting had meant giving up on the clapping. My nervous system went to “tilt”. This time I decided to stay more with the clapping, chanting only at those times when I felt secure in the rhythm. For some brief intervals, I was actually able to bring my dancing, clapping and chanting together at the same time. It felt very satisfying.

What I’m learning in Takatina is to delay the gratification of mastery by slowly building on my improving capacity to stay present in focused emptiness. Within this context, my “mistakes” are just neutral occurrences that I seek to correct without any sense of shame, or self-blame, or undo discouragement.

At the end of each Takatina session, we lay down in silence to rest but also to integrate what we have learned. Marcus’ mantra is that we do Takatina as we do the rest of our lives. When we can enter into the rhythm of our own lives, we live in a zone of inter-connection, purpose, and creativity. Our shortcomings and mistakes become simply grist for the mill. We may hit places of challenge that are not easily dealt with, yet our growing resilience allows us to learn from each mistake, without shame or blame, and carry on.

I believe that my work with Takatina has increased an inner sense of resilience that allows me to delay gratification more readily. I remember times in the not too distant past when incidents like the problematic grill would have sent me into a tizzy for days, cursing the manufacturer and my own incompetence, making myself miserable and spreading the misery to everyone in my orbit. By simply pausing, breathing, relaxing, and trusting, I was able to salvage a satisfying holiday for me and my life partner.

John Bayerl, 7/5/2019

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