Did you ever feel in the zone while cooking? If so, you were experiencing the zen of cooking! But for many of us, even when we make the time, finding the energy to cook everyday is difficult, because when we have just done a day’s work, the idea of having to stand in the kitchen doing more ‘work’, is not that attractive.
If this resonates with you, then see if you can turn your
time in the kitchen into something which nourishes you and restores your
energy, rather than drains you. Cooking can be very therapeutic, if you
do it in the right way. It may not always be possible, but if you can,
on difficult days, have your partner look after the children while you
cook. Close the kitchen door and tell your family not to disturb you.
Forget multi-tasking and allow yourself to concentrate solely on just
one thing, the task of cooking a meal. I find it helps to create a nice
ambience for yourself. Remember a happy cook is a good cook!
Sometimes I like the ambience of silence, when I am feeling bruised and sore from the noise of the world. But you don’t need silence to feel the zen of cooking. Sometimes, I want to hear music to help me relax and find the calm place within me, like the Bach cantatas, Verdi’s requiem, Satie, or my CD of funky Buddhist mantras. Othertimes, I want the lazy, sunny, good-time feel of Congolese rhumba, which makes me feel happy, or when I’m feeling upbeat, some African, or South Seas music, some A3, some early Van, or the late, great Dr. Simone, or on Sunday mornings, when I’m doing the roast, perhaps because of the slow rhythm and reflective nature of the day, I often find myself playing Peader O’Riada and the Cúl Aodha Choir, singing the fabulous Gaelic mass written by Peader’s father, Seán. Having your cooking music on tap is another way of equipping your kitchen for a pleasant cooking experience.
Creating your psychic cooking space is as important as your physical one. During a difficult time in my life, when Fortune’s slings and arrows were coming at me hard and all was disorder, trauma and upheaval, I used cooking-time as ‘time out’ for myself. I came to really look forward to that slot in my day when I could put to one side, all the problems I was dealing with, turn off the ‘worry switch’ and just cook. I became so engrossed in what I was doing that I forgot everything else. I became calm and focused and my mind rested. I was experiencing the zen of cooking.
Any activity can become a meditation, be it archery, motor-cycle maintenance, calligraphy, flower-arranging, walking by the sea, sitting cross-legged repeating a mantra……so why not cooking? If you are a stressed-out working mother, I doubt you have much time for walking by the sea, calligraphy, or cross-legged meditation. But cooking is something you have to do each day and if you can use that time to feed your spirit and rest your mind, you will be multiplying the benefits you reap from your kitchen labours.
So when the world beyond your kitchen is in chaos, you can create a zen-filled oasis, where chaos does not reign. In the kitchen, we can create harmony, order, wellness, the antithesis of everything in our lives that stresses and exhausts us. Instead of chaos, we can make an oasis of creativity. Kitchen-time can become me-time, during which we nourish and repair our spirits, as we cook and regroup our energies for the next battle we have to fight. Just as eating home-cooked food can be a ritual that grounds our children, we can make the cooking of it a ritual that grounds us.
Understanding that we can experience the zen of cooking is like a self-fulfilling prophesy—the more we are aware of this possibility, the more it works this way. When we are resentful about having to cook and allow the stresses of the day leak into our cooking time, we become even more depleted. When we throw a ring around our cooking time, and think of it as sacred time, we ‘enter the zone’ and it becomes a special ritual that we can look forward to every day.
This is a well-known zen meditation, adapted for all you wonderful cooks, who need a nice bit of calm at the end of your busy day! This lovely ritual can help you pay attention to what you are doing while you prepare your food for cooking, so that your mind stops behaving like the monkey in the tree, jumping from branch to branch. It is also an exercise in gratitude and cosmic connectedness.
Now if you will allow me, let me lead you through this lovely zen meditation, using the example of chopping a carrot:
As you chop the carrot, really focus on the carrot and become fully aware of it. Notice its startling colour, its texture, the smell and feel and of it.
As you begin to peel it, think about all the people and things that brought that carrot to you. Think about the shop where you bought it, the person who stacked the carrot shelf, the delivery man who brought it to the shop, the worker who pulled it out of the earth, the farmer who cultivated the field and planted the seed and watered and tended the crop.
Think about the soil that nourished the seed, the rain that fell, the sun that warmed the land, the moon that shone, the seasons that changed, the earth that turned on its axis and travelled its orbit. And the cosmos, which orders and supports everything…..
All of this, nothing less than the mystery of life itself, had to occur, so that you could have a carrot in front of you today! Now do you appreciate that humble carrot?
And now, your work of chopping the carrot and using it to cook a meal for your children makes YOU another link in the cosmic chain, part of the cosmic purpose, part of the order of all things. And YOU become part of what others can feel gratitude for when they eat the meal you have prepared with that same carrot.