People often practice walking meditation. Why not practice cooking meditation? Let’s do mindful cooking before our mindful eating! It’s an easy way to turn a chore into a mini-retreat. For some of us, it’s the only chance we have all day to connect with the natural world.
Practice mindful cooking by following your breath as you cook, in and out. Breath normally, enjoying how your body breaths without any conscious thought on your part. I like to think of my breath as gentle waves from the ocean lapping on a sandy beach. Am I breathing the air or is the universe breathing me? In any case, you are breathing in oxygen made by plants and breathing out carbon dioxide that the plants will breath in.
If you haven’t already, consider focusing your mind with my 3×3 Meditation for Cooks. Then go on to mindful cooking.
Plan to Avoid Wasting Food and Resources
Cooking mindfully leads to thrift. I read a story of a monk who instructed a novice to sweep the garden. The novice returned with a bucket of yard waste. He asked the monk where to throw the junk out. The monk took the bucket and led the novice to a path, where he put a few pebbles from the bucket, covering a bare spot. He took leaves to the compost bin and so forth until the bucket was empty. When he showed the empty bucket to the novice, saying “There is no junk.”
What a beautiful idea for our kitchens and our lives. I have not yet found a way to be as thorough and creative as that monk, but I do zest my citrus fruit before I peel it, save the broth from cooking beans to use as an egg substitute and more, and keep a Stoup container.
Check your planned menu if you have one. See if any food needs to be used right away and adjust your menu. Better to eat the green beans a day early than to waste them!
Think about ways to prepare your meal using the least amount of energy, water, paper, plastic, and other resources. Can you bake a few potatoes at the same time as you bake a cake? Can you wash the greens in a tub and save the water for your garden?
Use a Mantra to Stay in the Present Moment
As your mind wanders, bring it back gently to your breath and your physical experience of cooking. I often use a mantra, or short phrase, to help me keep my mind from wandering off while I’m rinsing vegetables or stirring a sauce. As Eknath Easwaran writes in Passage Mediation, the idea is to give your mind something to hold on to the way an elephant handler gives an elephant a piece of bamboo to hold in his trunk as they go through a crowded marketplace. Without something to grasp, the elephant’s trunk and your mind will go here and there, causing a ruckus.
A mantra can be as simple as one word, such as “peace.” According to Easwaran, Gandhi said “Rama Rama,” St. Francis said “My God and My All,” and many Buddhists say “om mani padme hum.” Find ones that fit your religion or worldview. Sometimes I use a short section from Shantideva’s The Way of the Bodhisattva, like this:
So come what may,
I shall not interrupt my cheerful frame of mind.
Dejection never brings me what I want.
My virtue is warped and marred by it.
For there is a remedy when trouble strikes,
What reason is there for dejection?
And if there is no help for it
What use is there in being glum?
Be Aware of All Five Senses and Your Thoughts
- See what makes a particular pepper or peach unique. Cook the rainbow, knowing that different colors indicate different nutrients.
- Feel the smoothness of the pepper and fuzziness of the peach. Savor the water as it runs over your hands while you rinse the greens. Enjoy the pressure and yielding as you chop vegetables. For the ultimate in cooking-touch immersion, knead yeast bread. After a few minutes of kneading, bread dough can feel like an adorable, sleeping baby.
- Listen as the pepper snaps as you cut it and as the knife contacts the cutting board. Hear the music of the water as it comes slowly to a boil.
- Smell the ingredients as they come together and enjoy the aroma as they cook. “Smell” with your eyes when you blink as molecules rise up from an onion to sting your eyes. Feel your body as you walk across the kitchen or pick up a bag of potatoes.
- Taste ingredients before you use them and at various stages as you cook. I’ve ruined a batch of muffins because I didn’t try the canned pumpkin, which turned out to be bitter. On the other hand, I saved a batch of brownies the next day by tasting the batter after I put it in the pan. I’d forgotten the sugar again! Taste just before you serve, then make any adjustments you need before sharing it with others.
- Watch your thoughts arise and fade away. Label the type of thought (joy, sadness, planning, working, longing) and let it fade away. Gently return your focus to the present moment.
Put all your senses together to enjoy the transformation of your food as you cook it. Is there any better reminder of the impermanence and connection of all things than cooking? You are literally star-stuff eating other star-stuff!