Lower Lies, Higher Zen

As I have been thinking about my reflection for this week, I found myself wanting to go back to where I started almost two years ago, the whole notion that the kitchen and the process of preparing food can be a state of Zen. Bodhidharma, a Buddhist monk, wrote this about Zen. He said it is “A special transmission outside the scriptures; No dependence on words and letters; Direct pointing to the mind of man; seeing into one's nature and attaining Buddhahood.” Being able to attain a zenful state is the ability to realize a state of enlightenment in one’s own time. “Zazen melts away the mind-forged distances that separate man from himself; leads one beyond himself as knower, to himself as known. In Zazen, there is no reality outside what exists here and now. (http://www.amacord.com/taste/essays/zen.html).”

Over the last two years I have listened to many people tell me why they do not cook, are scared to cook, do not have the knowledge to cook, and the list goes on. I have met people who panic over the notion of cooking, those who have considered applying to be on Worst Cooks in America, men who do not think they should prepare food because “real men don’t cook,” and women who do not want to “be your traditional girly girl.”

I will admit there have been a few things I have considered doing which have elicited a voice in my head, which attempted to tell me I could not do this, kind of like the Wolf stove commercial when she is preparing a whole fish. However, I have learned to ignore that voice, as I know it is a lie. No matter, how challenging what I was doing, I have learned if I believe I can do something I can. When I release those thoughts, which are not of the Divine, then I am able to stay in the present and be present with what I am doing.

While there are food shows focused on competition, such as Iron Chef America or Chopped, when one is cooking at home, it is just about relaxing, staying present, and learning to listen to your intuitive spirit, listening with your nose, ears, and eyes. It is about knowing that you know what tastes good to you and what does not. It is about tapping into your inner child and creativity and seeing cooking a meal as a great adventure.

Growing as a cook means you start where you are and you gradually push yourself forward in your mastery. Growing as a cook requires the same discipline, as evolving in any vocation does. No matter what you do for a living, the longer you do it, the better you become at it. Zen in the kitchen is about reaching that space of internal freedom. Achieving that space requires discipline.

It means I have to trust my instincts and myself. Cookbooks are great starting points, but the best teacher in my life has been me and the things I have tried and did not work. A memorable lesson I learned in the kitchen was using store bought gnocchi in a dish because I had listened to a lie in my head that said I could not make them. It was not that they tasted bad, but they were heavy. Since then I have had homemade gnocchi and they were light and fluffy. I will know when I have mastered the art of making gnocchi.

When I was a little girl, we had a penny candy store down the street from us (yes candy was once a penny lol). I remember my friends and I had spent time trying the wide diversity of candies they had. Once we had tasted them all, we made decisions about which ones would taste best together sprinkled over a bowl of ice cream. We didn’t think about this as a culinary creation, but it was. We trusted our own knowledge of what we like and didn’t and what we thought might taste good together.

But what if it had not been successful? Oh well. It was not a mistake. There are no mistakes in the journey, just opportunities for us to learn and grow. When things do not work out as planned, I have come to learn to give thanks for the knowledge gained. It is knowledge I could not find in a book, but it is not something I remember.

Achieving this state of Zen in the kitchen, may not be something one achieves on day one, but what I have learned is that as I remove the lies from my mind, the closer I am to achieving that state of Zen.