I love cooking. I know several people who are perplexed by this idea. To them cooking is a means to an end and nothing more. If they can avoid the process all together they would. I enjoy the process, sometimes more than the food that comes of it. Cooking allows me space to focus my thoughts on a singular task. It helps me quiet my monkey brain and be present in the moment.
I didn’t connect that this was a form of meditation until I watched the movie How to Cook Your Life, about the Zen priest and chef, Edward Espe Brown. (I highly recommend the movie even if you aren’t interested in cooking. The lessons are applicable even if you prefer take out.)
Before watching the movie, I thought of meditation as sitting quietly and counting breaths, which I also do but am not necessarily great at. In reality, meditation is anything that allows you to clear your mind so you can clearly see things and reflect in a calm manner. Anything that can allow you to come to the present and focus on what is here and now can be meditation. I like the idea of the tea meditation (which could just as easily be coffee, if you so desire).
Cooking is meditation for me. I try to focus on the task I am doing. I do each step in a deliberate and thoughtful way. I focus on the ingredients I am using and how to make them into the final product. As it is said in How to Cook Your Life, I treat the food as precious and important because it is. As the cliche goes, we are what we eat. I prefer to be thoughtfully prepared food instead of potato chips. I prefer to give the people I love food prepared in joy because food prepared with joy, tastes better.
For an additional level of meditation, I enjoy trying to make vegan recipes. I am not vegan but making vegan recipes is an added step that requires even more focus on what you are putting into the food. In vegan cooking, nothing can be an animal product, this includes eggs and milk which is in almost any recipe.
Recently, I was baking vegan muffins in preparation for a brunch I was hosting. At the same time I was making non-vegan food. Though the people I was preparing the muffins for probably would not cross examine me about the preparation of the muffins, I was careful not to cross-contaminate the muffins with items that I was baking. If I used a bowl, I made sure it had no residue of animal products. This additional layer of thought made the process even more of a meditative process. I had to be present in the moment to ensure all went smoothly. If I had let my mind wander or run amok in a million different ways, I could have mistakenly dipped a spoon that had stirred eggs into the vegan muffin batter, ruining it. This thoughtfulness brought me calm because I had to be deliberate in the way I cooked.
The beauty of using cooking as meditation is, most of us have to cook at least once during the day, so it opens you to an opportunity to meditate without having to set aside an additional period of time that you may not have.
As I said, I realize not everyone enjoys the process and if that is the case, cooking as meditation likely isn’t for you. However, even if you think you don’t enjoy cooking, doing it deliberately and in a meditative state may allow you to find the joy in the process.
If you want to try and use cooking as meditation, you can start with a simple recipe. Be mindful of the ingredients you are using. If you are doing something like chopping vegetables, focus all of your thoughts on the chopping, on the sensations, sounds and smells as you chop. By focusing you will settle your mind and clear it of all the random thoughts that tend to roam about normally. Continue this with each step of cooking. By the the time you are done preparing the meal, you will likely feel more relaxed and lighter, just like many people feel after doing sitting meditation.