Attending to Attentiveness
Working in the kitchen gives us an opportunity to deepen our relationship with the world through the food we cook. We can look at the ingredients as if we are seeing them for the first time and attend to them as we would with close friends. When we create genuine interest for what we are working with, we engage our senses. It is through the senses that the wisdom of the world conveys its nature to us.
We are accustomed to thinking we have five senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. In reality we have seven more: the sense of balance, movement, speech, and thought as well as the sense of self, life, and warmth. Notice that when we work in the kitchen we constantly apply and exercise our inner sense of balance. We relate this sense of balance to cutting styles, cooking styles, colors, and so forth. As we move our hands over the surfaces of the vegetables, we feel a sense of movement and how our own inner movement relates and resonates harmoniously with the movements and processes that created the foods we are preparing. All kinds of curves, textures, and contours are expressed to us. We perceive the unique yet universal language articulated by the foods and dishes we cook.
Our sense of thought also engages during cooking. By immersing ourselves in the creative processes our thinking becomes like the life forces we work with: mobile and living. We clearly have a sense of life. Not only do we sense our own well-being, whether we are tired or comfortable, we also sense the life of the food we cook. We have an inner sense of warmth when we eat spicy foods or a hot soup, and we feel warmth by sharing our meal with friends and family. Lastly we have a sense of self, of our spirit-nature and the spirit-nature of others. We nurture this sense through the fact that we are able to imbue and change the quality of foods with our own activity. When we bring consciousness in our senses, cooking becomes an enriching, living, soul/spirit experience of the living world.
Attentive and open in all senses, begin to look with curiosity at the foods needed for the meal. Observe the structures, the rhythms, and follow the patterns into the slightest details. Keep your eyes on the ingredients as if you were touching them with your gaze. Run your eyes up and down, around and inside. What are the movements and gestures of these foods and what secrets do they tell? Without intellectual speculation, look through a magnifying glass and admire the work of nature. What beauty to behold!
Try to really live into the processes that created the vegetables. Immerse deeply in these activities of growth and decay, expanding and contracting. While washing the beet, become the beet as it grew in the dark moist soil. Rinse the kale and feel the upward and outward movement of these leafy greens. If the leaves are still attached to the stalk, observe the special ordered arrangement of the leaves to the stem, how they unfurl into planes, spiraling, stretching outward. Give yourself into the feeling that arises in you.
When we have these lovely colorful foods in front of us, we can look at them in such a way that we perceive what the spirit that lives throughout space expresses. At that moment we may feel that we are looking into the soul of the earth.
As we take a couple of onions in our hands, we admire the roundness and firmness of these vegetables. We observe how the outer layer is tightly protecting the bulb. Now cut the onion vertically from top to bottom. Notice how the creative formative force has shaped this onion and created the most beautiful patterns. Within the outer brown coat are layer after layer of what would become the new leaves next year if the onion were to be planted. These layers develop out of a base, which holds the new flowering shoot. If we look closely around this base we might find a separate new bulb growing, which would become the flowering onion the following year. How amazing to be able to witness something that will manifest in the future.
Uncooked as well as cooked vegetables and herbs have delicate fragrances. Breathe in the gentle scents of each of the foods before they are cooked. The delicate scent of these raw vegetables is an echo of the fragrance of the universe. Notice how all these fragrances change as the foods are cooked.
While cooking, watch also how the colors and the textures of the foods transform. Observe how the green string beans brighten and soften as they cook before they get to a point where they become pale with no luster, and mushy. The same happens when we boil kale; the color first deepens to a lovely, rich, dark green and then becomes dull when cooked for a longer time. Red radishes lose their color completely when cooked, while the bright orange color of hard winter squash intensifies in the cooking process, resembling concentrated sunlight.
What happens when we add salt to a dish? It makes a big difference whether salt is added in the beginning of the cooking time or at the end. Natural sea salt is permeated with strong contracting forces. Soak dried beans in salt water and you will find that they struggle to expand. Add sea salt when you start the cooking of the chickpeas and discover how difficult it is for them to get soft and tender. Notice how salt in small amounts can bring out the special flavors of each food and how some foods become sweeter when a pinch of sea salt is added.
Feel the roughness of the leaves and the smoothness of the squash. Close your eyes and touch each food gently. Let your hands run through the salt crystals. Touch the cool, juicy part of the cucumber and become aware of the tiny seeds. Feel the layers of the cabbage and the rings of the onion. Notice how this light touch makes you aware of the borders of your own hands. We might have a favorite dish that we like because it tastes delicious or looks fabulous. We may like a special dish because it is fun to cook or eat. Have you ever paid attention to which dish you like according to its sound? Listen! What does it sound like when we cut, simmer, or sizzle the foods for that dish? Notice the different sounds in our kitchen. Listen to the footsteps, the stirring of the pot, water splashing, and a lid placed on a pan. Are there any technical noises such as a heater, refrigerator, or fan?
Observe if the water, when it runs out of the kitchen sink, creates a vortex spiraling either clockwise or counterclockwise. Draw a spoon through a thick soup, first slowly, then a little faster. What patterns emerge? Observe the movements and shapes that appear while mixing dough and stirring sauces, or when the heat underneath the cooking pot sets the water in motion. When we sharpen our knives, wash the carrots, cut the cabbages, and wash the dishes, do we work harmoniously and rhythmically? Feel the loveliness of your own flowing, graceful movements.
Continue to stay attentive to all the changes and transformations that happen in your art studio, your kitchen. As the painter, take a few steps back to keep everything in perspective and observe your artwork, as it is being created, from a distance.