Meditation: Cooking with Calm and Tranquility
Meditation refers to “a broad variety of practices that includes techniques designed to promote relaxation, build internal energy and develop compassion, patience, generosity, forgiveness and love.”
As a proud citizen of the city of Brotherly Love, I have to say, the hustle and bustle of moving around the cramped city of Philadelphia leaves me no time for meditation, even with all its benefits. While it serves as an effective way to clear the mind and ease health issues, such as high blood pressure, depression and anxiety, I do not have the time or energy to sit in a room surrounded by the sounds of nature and listen to my breathing. With my mind always racing over a million things that need to be done, meditation in the typical sense seems far from achievable. So I’ve turned to cooking instead.
After doing some research on meditation, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is not just about counting breaths and sitting in silence; rather it can be applied and practiced through daily activities in our lives.
The Grandmother Mind
When meditating through cooking, do so with the mindset of a grandmother. When I think of my childhood and past holidays, my mind directly channels in memories spent cooking away in the kitchen with my abuela, my grandmother. I would help prepare the veggies while she sang; cooking up a grand meal for the family. She has always enjoyed her time cooking in the kitchen, which was evident by every Christmas Eve meal.
As 13th century Japanese Zen master Eihei Dogen explains, “You cannot go beyond your abilities and your intelligence unless you have robai-shin, grandmother mind – the mind of great compassion. This compassion must help all of humanity. You should not think only of yourself.” Zen master Eihei Dogen speaks of the grandmother mind that can be applied to all aspects of life. When we cook, we do not only feed ourselves, we feed our loved ones. You are what you eat so make meals that are full of fresh produce, healthy ingredients and love. Motivate yourself and fully immerse yourself into making the delicious meal. The final product will be proof that it was made with love.
Dedicate some time to making something your family will enjoy. If your family has a weekly Sunday lunch or an upcoming birthday, exercise your grandmother mind. Try this Fig, Strawberry and Almond tart with fresh cream that will surely not disappoint. Use the best ingredients and try your favorite flavor combinations. With your grandmother mind, choose your ingredients thoughtfully. Decide on ingredients that will symbolize the love you have for each person; strawberries for your niece and almonds for your father who loves candied almonds. You’ll bake a delicious tart filled with love and enjoyed by the whole family.
Mindfulness seems to be an important aspect of the art of meditation.
“Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.”
In everyday language, follow the Nike slogan, “Just do it”. Cooking is about being in the present and immersing yourself in the experience. If you are running through your task list in your head you’ll make mistakes, burn the rice, and over-salt the sauce. When I’m immersed in cooking or baking, my mind does not run with excess thoughts. It is the time of the day I can fully commit to the task and forget about upcoming deadlines and bills that need to be paid.
Next time you’re cooking, instead of stressing, focus on the aromas of the spices, the sound of the sizzling skillet and the texture of the dough beneath your palms. Waft the aroma from the spices and wiggle your nose as it tickles with the strong and spicy scents. Watch the spices stain all the vegetables as you sauté them; gently move the pan back and forth carefully, so as not to spill the ingredients. Cup the dough in your hands, sprinkle flour then press your palms in the dough and knead it as it springs back with every pull.
Lose yourself in the process of creating meals with exotic flavors and enchanting colors. You do not need fancy recipes and techniques to use cooking as your form of meditation. The essence of cooking should be simplicity, so take away the extras. Cooking, for me, is more about the process than the final product. Once finished, I feel relieved and relaxed with my mind at ease, plus a happy sense of accomplishment.
Excite your taste palette by stepping into your apron and making this colorfully bohemian Roasted Autumn Panzanella Salad.
Meditation can be brought into any ‘everyday’ task: washing the dishes or taking the dog out for a walk. Hone in on the small details of the task and be purposeful with each new step taken. Dive into those tasks and completely let your mind escape while focusing on the little details. Concentrate on the bubbles in the basin or the leaves falling and crunching beneath your feet. Meditation is a great way to break out of anxious thoughts and relax from the pressures of life.
What is your favorite thing to cook?
“The Yogic sages say that all the pain of a human life is caused by words, as is all the joy. We create words to define our experience and those words bring attendant emotions that jerk us around like dogs on a leash. We get seduced by our own mantras (I'm a failure... I'm lonely... I'm a failure... I'm lonely...) and we become monuments to them. To stop talking for a while, then, is to attempt to strip away the power of words, to stop choking ourselves with words, to liberate ourselves from our suffocating mantras.”
~Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love