The word of mindful is trending hard these days so as someone who writes a 'meditation' column, I feel it's important to come out and admit that I'm not a fan of the word. I appreciate the concept and the hard work that is often behind being a mindful person, but the word itself is too easy to grasp in a superficial way and that, unfortunately, is how some people relate to it. Either that or they nervously squirm in their seats in full aversion at the mere mention.
While mindfulness sounds all mellow and hippie-like, it can in fact be a difficult practice in part because it's our human nature to be easily distracted. People are curious, intelligent creatures and we live in a complicated world. Part of what makes us successful in life is our ability to figure out and reason our way through. It's very difficult to turn off, or even dial down, the kind of thinking that enables us to live and function in this complexity.
Still, for many of us, there are areas of our lives that aren't working very well (work/life balance, right livelihood, relationships, etc.) and so distraction becomes our default response to stress, disappointment, and difficulty. Accordingly, our consumerist culture takes advantage of this and dangles before us an unprecedented number of opportunities for distraction and entertainment. We just want to check out of it all for a little while. Nothing wrong with that, right? But soon this numbness becomes our default response to everything in our lives and it becomes hard, if not impossible, to imagine any other way. And, tragically, all that stress and disappointment manages to leak through anyway.
My solution? I head into the kitchen and make a pot of soup. And I try to occupy myself with nothing else but making the soup. While I'm at it, I also make the effort to notice the colors and sounds and smells of cooking. Where is the pleasure here, what makes me smile or want to smile? What does it feel like to run a peeler along the length of a carrot, how do the onions smell when they're done cooking? Would a pinch of dill or oregano be good? My thoughts occasionally drift away from the task at hand, of course, but it's just a matter of noticing when that happens and gently tugging them back into focus.
Whether it's called mindfulness or not, it is possible to be more awake and enlivened by the daily, so-called mundane tasks of our lives and like all good things, it gets easier with practice. We need to eat and because of that, it's helpful to know how to cook. Why not combine the practicality of that with the intention to practice awareness? The presence of sharp knives and boiling water, the possibility of over-measuring things or burning things or a thousand other kitchen hazards means we are already aware and on our toes when cooking. The next step is to simply notice this awareness and see if you can deepen and expand it a little.
This is why I covertly, without actually using the word very much, write about mindfulness here in the Weekend Meditation column. The kitchen, after all, requires us to practice the rigors of mindfulness (attention) with the pleasures of cooking and eating (appreciation). This is my sneaky, back-door way to encourage us to be more aware and responsive to our lives with no unnecessary squirming involved. And even better, we end up with dinner on the table. What pleasure is there here, indeed!
(Image credits: Dana Velden)