As a human being it is essential for us to create not out of duty but out of inspiration and joy. This brings something different in us, a dimension of imagination, intuition and creation that nurtures us and invigorates us. A few years ago, I was feeling that something was missing. A certain something within me was not being fulfilled. So I decided to do woodworking. The first lesson was so exhausting that I nearly gave up, thinking that this was not going to do the trick. On the contrary it was giving me aches and pains. When I began to address this creative activity more meditatively, with attention and awareness, I started to hold my body and mind differently. The woodcarving became very satisfying and in the end I created an owl. A meditative life is a creative life. Any daily life activity we engage in, like cooking or gardening can be done with artistry.
If you bring attention, awareness and playfulness to cooking, it becomes creative and meditative. Everyday we are hungry and we have to eat. We can see cooking as a chore and of course we can get pre-cooked food. It looks always so delicious on the packet. Every now and then, when I am alone or tired I try one of them. Every time I find that they have a weird taste and I admonish myself to try to remember not to buy them again. It is so easy to cook and it can be such a joy to create something ourselves. Cooking can be an opportunity to improvise, to experiment and to explore the art of cooking. You can play with so many registers: tastes, colours and smells. At your fingertips you have a whole palette of spices and herbs.
Cooking can also be a visual art form if we dare to create with contrasting colours and shapes. Mozzarella and tomatoes are a good colour combination and taste wonderful with a drizzle of olive oil and some basil but you can also place on the mozzarella diamond of smoked salmon or a line of sundried tomato paste or some dots of olive pate. You can create a minimalist or an expressionist entrée depending on how you set your elements on the plate.
You can further a creative cooking style by exploring what you are served at friends or in restaurants, discovering new ingredients or recipes. For a long time I appreciated the taste of poached pears eating out but never attempted this myself, until recently when I had some pears to use, routed out the recipe, and discovered that it was very simple and easy. Now I start to have other ideas, if I did not want to use red wine, what about if I were to cook the pears with honey, ginger, red grape juice and a dash of lemon. To be meditative and creative in the kitchen is not to be afraid of trying things out.
At the same time, if you are reluctant to experiment because you do not feel confident enough, you can try to cook simple dishes and just play with the freshness and the characteristics of those simple ingredients. A Korean master expresses delight in simplicity in this way.
Unaffected by the passage of time
I remain bright and quiet while I sit.
A bowl of porridge,
A plate of wild greens,
And a cup of tea:
If you find cooking challenging, meditation helps you to see your limitations and inspire you to play with them. You can still be creative by selecting a series of dishes that you can prepare easily and learn to cook again and again, but with a dash of something experimental each time. My husband, Stephen, had to cook for the first time when we joined a community in England. He was rather daunted by the task. He could never cook complicated things because it would take him too long and stress him out. Finally he decided to do the same dishes every time since he had to cook only once every seven days. He chose to cook rice, vegetables and a white sauce. His creativity went into the sauce. He played and toyed with it, trying different ingredients, amounts, spices and herbs. His sauces became famous. They were smooth and subtly different each time. They were an art in themselves.