“Zen. . . does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.”
Alan W. Watts, ‘The Way of Zen’, 1957
Did you ever see the movie, “Like Water for Chocolate”? A woman who cooks a meal for a large table of diners is crying her heart out while she cooks. Later in the movie we see the diners all doing the same as they eat her tear filled meal. So how do our emotions affect our cooking? Does the food taste different if we are happy, sad or angry while preparing it? I often wonder about this as I enjoy a great piece of music while stiring a pot or on the other hand, get angry at the kids refusal to set the table while chopping the veges. So how do our emotions affect our food and if they do, how do we get into that “positive zone” while cooking?
How do our emotions affect our output?
Looking at the matter simply, we are energetic beings, we use the energy in our bodies to prepare our food and we get out of the process what we put into it. With this in mind, it isn’t just the physical ingredients we are putting into a meal when we handle food, it is the emotional energy as well. According to Quantum Physicists, during an experiment the outcome will be affected by the person conducting the experiment because looking at the bigger system, we are all one. In the words of Robert Gass, native American singer, “All things are connected” – but are they really?
You would have heard of E=MC2 right? Turns out it was Einstein that did in fact prove that we are all one, it’s just that most of us, although we have heard the latter mentioned formula, don’t actually know what it means.
Without getting too much into the physics (personally it is not my cup of tea), what Einstein’s world changing discovery proved was that the atoms that the world is made up of, could be broken down and analyzed further than ever before and that the subatomic particles which collectively formed the atoms were pure energy. The bottom line is, Einstein’s discovery proved that ALL things broken down to their most basic form consist of the same stuff. What is this stuff? Pure Energy and that it is this One Energy which makes up ALL things. ALL THINGS!! So we are all (meaning you, me, your cat, your house and even the dog poo on your lawn) floating around in one big cosmic soup!
Now bringing this back to our original subject….how our emotions affect our food, it seems to be unavoidable. How can our happiness not lift our soup or our rage not flatten our sponge? Of course people’s innate sensitivity levels are very different so it may be that some of us are more attuned to the energy of what we eat than others. Even so, it must affect all of us at some level. So watch out for that angry tabbouleh!
Without expensive and probably very complicated equipment at home, we are not going to be able to measure the differences in the output of our food. So our bodies are probably the best instruments. Using presence of mind, see what you feel after foods prepared in different emotional climates…
How do we create the “Zone” in which to cook?
Often, food preparation and cooking is just a job, something that has to be done, and there are many times when it is done in a less than harmonious environment – noisy kids, barking dogs, sirens, not to mention time constraints and the mountain of other stresses from throughout the day that people often carry on their shoulders.
So first up, lets turn cooking into a “time-out”, of the positive kind. Close the door to noise if possible or do what you can to minimise it. Put some music on that relaxes you or bask in the silence.
Mentally picture yourself walking into a sanctuary when you enter your kitchen. If it doesn’t resemble a positive place, do what you can to make it that way. Use candles, pictures of positive images, colours that lift you, and of course make it free of clutter.
Make sure you start in a clean kitchen and have your ingredients on hand. Take your time whenever you can, focusing only on the task you are doing at that moment. If you find this hard, focus on your breath whilst performing that task.
Using what Ekharte Tolle describes as “mindfulness”, we can actually turn cooking into a meditation. Funnily enough, a person who usually doesn’t enjoy cooking may end up finding peace in the task if performed in this way. It is also when the mind is still that inspiration will flow and you may be able to branch out in your cooking style – try new combinations and ideas without fear.
Edward Espe Brown is an american teacher of Zen and an Author on the subject. According to him, Zen cooking means:
- cooking as a personal spiritual act
- personally selecting foods
- recycling leftovers and waste
- respect for and hospitality toward guests
- an absolutely clean kitchen
- use of the freshest seasonal ingredients
- the ability to cook anywhere in the world with whatever is on hand
- being equally capable of cooking frugally and extravagantly
- using food to enhance health
— Edward Espe Brown, Preface to Zen and the Art of Modern Eastern Cooking by Deng Ming-Dao How to create a Zen Space for cooking
So next time you are in the kitchen and the eyes well up or you feel a rage building because little Xavier won’t stop hitting his brother, put the knife down……walk out of the room……let that emotion out and wait for it to disperse…..get back into the zone and then, only then, resume your relationship with your food. Your diners will no doubt thank you afterwards.