“It’s around the table and in the preparation of food that we learn about ourselves and about the world.”
– Alice Waters, chef, author, and pioneer of the farm to table movement
Most of us have some memory of a meal that delighted our senses in every way. A meal shared at a communal table in a distant land or a Thanksgiving when the smells permeated the entire house and made your mouth water. Perhaps it was a meal where you savored the sight, the smell, and then each and every bite while being fully conscious of the experience.
Tuning into our senses is one of the ways we cultivate awareness. Since we carry our senses with us, we have a ready-made mindfulness toolbox. No matter where we are or what we are doing, we are able to access them and do a quick scan to observe what is happening around us.
The kitchen provides a fantastic laboratory for exploring everyday mindfulness. One might consider the act of cooking as a way to apply, in a practical sense, the formal mindfulness practice. Through the selecting and preparing of food, all of our senses can be activated. We can really dive into the experience when we are open to stepping out of auto-pilot, and instead focus on our senses to notice what is there and be fully present.
In addition to being a therapeutic practice, cooking can bring us deep satisfaction and immense joy. Even on the days when we need to get dinner on the table quickly, an invitation is implicitly present to engage with your surroundings- even if only for a moment or two.
Engage with the ingredients and your relationship to the food.
Engaging with the ingredients and noticing your relationship with the food can start with selecting ingredients at the market. The produce department or a farm market is full of sights, textures, and smells. Think of an orange. Notice the colors. It is bright orange? Is there a hint of green or yellow around the top? What does the skin of the orange feel like? Does it have a smell? Move to the herbs. What do you see and smell? Can you feel appreciation for the farmer who grew your food or the person who stocked the produce bin? These simple acts can allow you to slow down even for just a moment and experience gratitude and appreciation. If you do these practices consistently over a period of time, you will form new habits that will allow you to engage with the world around you differently and perhaps view things in a new way.
Prepare the meal with care
Being fully present is the only way to slice and dice in the kitchen. When I was a chef, it was imperative to be one with the knife. A careless mistake and drifting of the mind could cause a severe injury. One had to be “in the zone” when using equipment in order to keep everyone safe. It was a great experience to teach me to do one thing at a time. As you work with each ingredient or tool, notice it. Also there is nothing wrong with a little taste here and there. In addition to smells and tastes, the kitchen also allows us to engage with sound. The sounds of oil popping in a skillet, water running in the sink, or even the whirling of a blender.
Stay with what is happening
If you notice that you drifted off into thought or you are just going through the motions, bring yourself back to the present by bringing your attention back to the task at hand or by noticing your breath. Notice the scent of the dish soap or the feel of the bubbles in the sink. Can you smell the cookies or the pie baking in the oven?
Enjoy the meal
When you sit down to eat, eliminate distractions. Put cell phones away and turn off the TV. Set the table – perhaps place a vase of flowers on the table or be intentional about how the food is arranged on the plate. Get out the good china on an ordinary day. Pause for a moment of gratitude and thanks. Look at your food. Consider the tastes, textures, and smells. How do they all play with each other to create this delicious meal? Have each person share something they notice about the meal. Eat slowly and truly taste each bite. Lean into silence sometimes.
Nourishment comes not only through the food that we put into our bodies, but nourishment also comes by being fully present with intention and non-judgmentally in each moment. When you adopt an attitude of curiosity, you can experience life with newfound zest.