Practicing Mindfulness While Cooking

Yesterday I cooked lunch for myself. It’s a task I’ve been focusing on more and more lately, as I work on eating food mindfully, taking in the bounty and sustenance granted to me by the universe and using it to nourish and heal my body.

I was tempted to go with my normal method for getting lentils onto a plate, ready to eat. Dump them in a pot, throw some spices on top, and let the combined alchemy of water and heat do the rest: Somehow changing the chemical structure of the hardened husks into something smooth, palatable and capable of being broken down into all the good nutrients by my sometimes-stubborn digestive system.

But as has become my practice, I decided it was high time to make sure my food preparation, along with its ingestion, was mindful and focused. As my eyes scanned the package, I noticed instructions. Nothing major that would send me off to Google or Pinterest, but a few simple tasks that would promise red lentils the way they’re intended to be cooked.

So I picked up my knife and I chopped an onion. I sighed over my lack of garlic press and hand chopped those cloves, too. I found some leftover ginger in the fridge from a past houseguest and took the time to peel and grate it, and I cooked them slowly, mindfully, cooking each ingredient for a minute or two before adding the rest, allowing them each to slowly release their flavor into the mix.

Cooking has always been my greatest meditation, even when I strove to divorce myself from that identification as the lady in the kitchen, and as I chopped and diced and stirred and mixed, I wondered whether it was all worth it. I was hungry, I had work to do, and honestly, lentils are lentils. I can throw a bunch of salt, pepper and olive oil on top and it’ll make me happy, won’t it?

But I persevered with my intention, and hummed and sang as I threw in ingredient after ingredient, thanking the earth for the bounty of her ingredients, thanking the old Hispanic man at my local fruit stand who carefully measures loose grains into bags for us to purchase, thanking the former guest who left her ginger behind for me to use. I asked the food to be kind to me, to nourish me, to heal me, to give me the energy I needed to go through my day, and I thanked the Creator of it all, the Divine love that lives in every creature and every being, for providing my sustenance even in times of trouble.

And then I took a bite, and my eyes opened wide.

It wasn’t my first time cooking with love and intention so I won’t pretend that was all that deepened the flavor for me. I’m quite adept at producing a delicious stew with salt, pepper and a lot of love. But I had moved into new territory with just a few extra ingredients, just one new method of layered additions, and it was magic. I had created a new universe of tastes and textures that I’d never experienced in my slapdash approach to cooking. 

I’ve always loved watching cooking shows and attacking a complex recipe used to be a fun pastime in my teens. But the notion of adding ingredients and cooking methods to something simple at lunchtime was new – as was the patience factor.

The way I’d had to stop and wait, adding each ingredient and letting it cook for a minute before adding the next. How I’d had to think one step ahead, peeling the ginger while sautéing the onions; rinsing the lentils while heating the oil, that had opened my eyes to the way I approach all my practices, not just cooking.

How often do we decide to do something all the way – taking on a new meditation practice; an exercise routine; a new method of approaching family or work or our health – and find ourselves overwhelmed by a two-hour list of directions, so we give it all up after two weeks?

How often do we opt for the easy way out, throwing all the ingredients in the pot then wondering why it doesn’t come out anything like we would have liked it; adding all-at-once yoga, breath and meditation into the fifteen minute practice that often takes months to build? Or deciding we’re going to begin expanding our minds and buying a stack of books that don’t make a dent in the bedside table; signing up for a series of classes that go unattended week after week.

We love to oversimplify and we love to overcomplicate, but rarely do we allow the complex instructions to give us direction in creating something truly simple. In knowing that by layering the ingredients and allowing them to cook, piece by piece, we can create something magical with a new depth of flavor in our universal experience.

If we spend five minutes every day breathing; then another five minutes a week later stretching; and by the end of the month we’ve created a twenty minute morning practice that suits our body, soul and most importantly, our outside routine, we’ve created something magical. No longer throwing everything into the five minutes we have available, or overwhelmed by the two hours it’ll take to get things done, we have the capacity to build a slow-cooked stew using fast-acting ingredients.

Being mindful in our actions isn’t just about taking on behavior that feels like a stretch from our comfort zone. It’s about integrating those actions we already do daily, all the time, and stretching them just a little bit until we’ve built up a complex web of flavors, layer by layer, so it tastes like far more than just salt and pepper. It’s learning from the lessons that come our way every day; making use of the ingredients we have in the pantry; and paying attention to the instructions listed on the box.

Life. It’s that simple. And we already have the recipe.

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