Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cooking Mindfully

Some of my friends are surprised that I enjoy cooking, thinking of it as a chore, which it can easily be. But if I see it as a chance to be creative and, even more, fully present to the cutting, chopping, and stirring as well as the eventual eating, I find that cooking can be a spiritual experience.

Sharon Hunt, writing in a recent issue of Shambhala Sun, says that for her the preparation of food has become a meditation practice that clears her mind "of everything but the task at hand." That sums up a big part of the pleasure of being totally absorbed in the process of making anything.

To cook in this way is to be removed from words and ideas, from people and noise, from past and future, and to attend to the most humble of tasks: cleaning a carrot, feeling its texture and the flow of cool water on its surface, admiring its color as it is cut into pieces--and being grateful, perhaps unconsciously, to have the chance to do all this--and of being aware of all this.

In this sense, when gratitude becomes possible, I see that minful cooking can become more than meditation: it can be prayerful, going beyond inner peace to feeling a connetedness with God and others that is a form of love. As Brother Lawrence wisely realized, one doesn't have to be on his knees or in church to feel the presence of God. It is felt in the ordinary, in what has been called the sacrament of the present moment.

Bro. Lawrence was born Nicholas Herman around 1614 and became a lay brother who worked in the kitchen of a monastery in Paris. Because many were aware of his inner peace, he became a spiritual advisor; after his death in 1691, his maxims were collected in a book admired by many, including John Wesley: The Practice of the Presence of God.

The basic insight of this simple, obscure man with no formal education was this: why turn to elaborate prayers and rituals when we can do ordinary things for the love of God--just by being aware of God in the most mundane tasks? Lawrence found that even amid the noise and bustle of the monastery kitchen, he could do "little things for God."

He is remembered today as a model of all that is humble, of all those unsung and unknown people who serve others quietly, lovingly, especially those who in their daily tasks feel in their work connected to the presence of something greater than themselves: they give good attention to the work they do in the now, where God can be found.

If there isn't a cookbook out there called "Mindfulness (or Prayerfulness) in the Kitchen," there should be.

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