Last night my friend Diane and I went to Café Gratitude. The food is flawlessly raw and organic, and everything from the water to the check is brought to your table with an affirmation: You Are Divine, You Are Youthful, You Are Adoring.
Unfortunately, when You Are Hungry, it’s not so easy to hold adoration in mind — except as directed toward the nearest appetizer. We began with the “I Am Insightful” spring rolls. After that, I devoured a small pizza (I Am Passionate) while Diane chose a bowl of nut-creamed broccoli soup (I Am Thriving) and the house salad (I Am Satisfied). For dessert, we split a piece of “I Am Awakening” key lime pie and finished up with bowls of “I Am Awed” ginger tea.
The thing about the tea, though, was that the waitress — under contract to affirm us at every pass — set down the steaming bowls and said, as far as I could tell, “You Are Odd.”
Indeed. But surely no more strange than our surroundings, where a group of four diners at the next table were solemnly holding hands. They were playing the Café Gratitude board game. One of them read a game card to the others, intoning, “Appreciate the loving presence that surrounds you now.” Then they all closed their eyes.
Diane and I, neither of us lacking interest in psychology or spirit, nevertheless looked at each other sideways and appreciated another bite of pie, telling it, “You Are Fabulous.” Which it was.
Our check was accompanied by the question of the day: What is your greatest asset? What do you love most about yourself? We were encouraged to discuss this while fumbling with our debit cards and calculating the tip. Instead, Diane wondered aloud, “What is it about this place? I know I can be resistant, but . . . ”
Yeah . . . I’m a resister, too. It doesn’t matter that both Diane and I have, at various times in our lives, pursued “growth work” to utter exhaustion. Or that we’re both believers — in magic, heart, the sacred — call it God, if you will. Most everything but the food at Café Gratitude makes us squeamish. (And occasionally the food as well, because raw isn’t always easy on the gut.) As far as I can tell, it’s because what the restaurant’s founders call an “experiment in sacred commerce” has severed light from its more difficult but necessary twin. The shadow is missing. Never mind that the entire premise of Café Gratitude may seem outright silly to some. On a deeper level, most of us instinctively mistrust what isn’t whole.
Of course, giving the shadow its due could wreak serious havoc with a business model. Questions like “What is your greatest fear? Your deepest embarrassment? The place you’ve been made most tender by loss?” wouldn’t go down so well with an “I Am Eternally Sweet” raw chocolate shake.
It’s not that Café Gratitude is a bad idea. It’s fun to visit — like buying a ticket to a weird new ride at Disneyland, a colorful event in a theme park of well being. What’s more important, the food is great. But, like getting off the Matterhorn, there’s a sense of relief and stability every time I step away from the affirmation avalanche onto the solid ground of life — even if it’s a concrete sidewalk, even if the ground is dirty, messy, or muddy. Because true beauty is not born from any but that precious, troubled ground. And when I sit down at the table, any table, I want my shadow by my side.