Perla Servan-Schreiber: natural benevolence

- through Henry Oudin

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A great female press journalist, Perla met her great love at forty-two, Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber, with whom she would run the magazine Psychologies. A few years later, they founded together the magazine Clés. Since then, she has published several cookbooks. From this practice, she drew a pragmatic philosophy that she shares in her works. At seventy-five, she bursts with a joy of life and a radiance that surprises. His simple words come from afar, from his love for existence and beings. Meeting with a woman who has not converted to Buddhism, but who emits its radiance through a benevolence pegged to the body.

What prompted you to do silent retreats with Arnaud Desjardins in his monastery?

When I was exhausted, my friend Marc de Smedt suggested that I go to the ashram ofArnaud Desjardins in Hauteville, Ardèche. A place cut off from the world where one lives in silence. I was delighted with this experience; Every day you come across people you know nothing about. It is the inverse symmetry of our life. Many people in pain came there, it was not my case. I was just exhausted and this silence filled me. I enjoyed this stay so much that I went there every year until Arnaud's death.

For you, is suffering an "awakener" to another reality?

Even though I haven't felt it in my own life path, I observe that suffering is an awakener. Especially in the face of illness, especially cancer. I see and hear profound transformations in people's lives after cancer. Maybe when we touch on the reality of death, when it becomes possible, we learn to savor the blue sky, the flowers with shimmering colors, the benevolence of certain people around us. The prism through which we looked at life changes. This was not my case, because I already had this look before having cancer.

Are your ten minutes of daily silence related to your experience with Arnaud Desjardins?

I meditated before. My husband was meditating. For me, it was an oddity. One day, however, I sat next to him and meditated. It's a moment when I take the time to put myself in a posture that I try to hold as best as possible. It is both strong and flexible. I like uprightness, beings who hold themselves straight, without being stiff. Everyone has a position in life. This is what holds us, binds us and allows us to start from the center of ourselves. I don't expect anything else from meditation.

Your way of cooking approaches what Master Dogen taught. Do you experience this feeling of realizing a little of the spirit of the route by rolling up your sleeves?

The instructions of a Zen cook by Dogen is my bedside book. For me, the kitchen is a meditation. It allows me to refocus instantly by focusing on one thing. I always cook for someone. Cooking on your own, as many men and women do, must be very difficult. Two sentences have a deep resonance in my life. That of Dôgen: "The function of chef or manager, whatever the field of activity, including that of cook, requires three qualities: joie de vivre, benevolence and greatness of spirit". And that of Swami Prajnanpad: “To live is the joyful acceptance of reality”.

What teachings of Swami Prajnanpad resonate the most in your life?

I discovered his work thanks to Arnaud Desjardins. When he met this master, he left everything to stay with him for eight years. These were very hard years, but they changed his life. What I have discovered most powerfully about this master comes from the philosopher André Comte-Sponville in his essay On the other side of despair which I recommend to everyone. Nevertheless, for me, the lesson that remains the strongest and that now lies at the heart of my life is this joyful acceptance of reality of which Prajnanpad speaks. My existence is based on these three pillars: acceptance, joy and reality.

Does this joyful acceptance of reality help you to live this notion of impermanence so essential in Buddhism and which you seem to embrace easily from the height of your seventy-five years?

I have this grace of not being at all afraid of death nor of any questioning about it. So I have a very special relationship with time. I have the notion of time since I have run companies, but like my Moroccan origins, I let time flow. In Morocco, you could spend five hours having tea, you went to the hammam for a whole day.

“To love a person is to love what we perceive as positive in them, but also to accept what is negative in each of us. »

I don't think about what will happen tomorrow. Every day can be the last. Aging is not a problem for me. If I had cosmetic surgery, it was not to stay young, but to keep the joy on my face by blurring the wrinkles of great sadness. My body has changed, but I'm dealing with it. I age happily.

What helps you make life more beautiful?

I have installed daily rituals in my life that help me reach a form of transcendence. I do them consciously. We are very scattered in our lives, whereas, whatever our age, our social situation, our way of life, we need to find moments of regular activity that we offer ourselves. Through cooking, I create links, not just recipes. Touching vegetables and fruits is a way of relating to the earth and the living. Transforming them and then sharing them so that the beings around me are happy, that's great. I know of nothing that gives me greater joy.

Do these ten minutes of daily meditation help you to touch on this transcendence of which you speak?

Mystery has a fundamental place in my life. I ran with my husband for years Psychologies magazine, I followed a psychoanalysis for ten years, so trying to understand occupied me for many years. Then I realized that what was essential to my life, that is to say to love, was for me a total mystery. I love this mystery. I can't say why I love someone and I'm glad I can't say it. To love a person is to love what we perceive as positive in them, but also to accept what is negative in each of us.

Benevolence seems to be at the heart of your life. It is also an essential value in Buddhism. How do you put it into practice in your life?

From morning to night, my main concern is to do good to those around me. I am on Earth to help, to love, to make people laugh, to cook for others. I will be nothing without the others.

Could this desire to do good be the secret of your joie de vivre?

I had the chance to see my mother always happy to share and give, even if she didn't have the life she would have liked to have. Whatever happened, she gave joy with her laughter and her cakes. This joie de vivre comes from my genes and my determination to reveal the most beautiful part of myself. Develop listening skills, try to temper judgment and say “yes” first. Eliminate everything that interferes with a joy of living.

What message do you like to convey?

Each of us is much richer in joy than we think. Everyone can develop this inherent joy in being. Perhaps more difficult alone. But when we're cooking, we're never alone

photo of author

Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

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