Weekend Meditation: The Quiet Joy of Cooking

Persimmon Tree in Winter

There's an article from last week's New York Times that's drawing a lot of attention, at least in the circles I travel in. It's called The Joy of Quiet and in it, writer Pico Iyer very eloquently describes his search for quiet and stillness and how now, more than ever, people are seeking out places where their technology can't follow them in order to find a bit of peace. What strikes me, though, is this idea that we have to go somewhere far away, to a hermitage or a monastery or move to rural Japan, to experience the quiet and focus we all crave. I think we simply have to go to the kitchen.

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It's not that it's a bad thing to go to places that ask things of us that our everyday lives don't, that encourage stillness, reflection, and offer a quiet environment that can support this kind of inquiry. But Mr. Iyer's life, which consists of living in rural Japan without a cell phone, is a very, very different existence than most people have or can ever hope to achieve. Most of us have to live in busy metropolises and work long hours at intense jobs, all the while juggling our families and household maintenance and 10, 000 other things.

So perhaps a more realistic endeavor than taking off to a mountain top is to find those same qualities right where we are, in the middle of our everyday life. This stillness we seek doesn't belong only in the monasteries and ashrams that we visit. It lives within us, it is a part of us. We just have to find it and unfold it. Sometimes it's just the simple act of remembering that it's there.

If you are a regular reader of this column, then you know that finding stillness and connection in the kitchen is an ongoing theme here. For me, the kitchen offers a perfect blend of activity, focus, practicality, and creativity that helps to root me in a sense of well-being. But even more, being in the kitchen requires engagement and attention. When I'm cooking I need to be focused in the task at hand. I need to be present and attentive for the food will quickly teach me when I'm not. There will be burns and cuts, or over salted pasta or too much sugar, or missing ingredients. There will be pain.

But perhaps even more important, cooking is about being in relationship: to the ingredients, to the space I am occupying, to the people I am cooking for, to the life-force that enables this nourishment to happen. When I'm in relationship in this way, I'm also engaged in a form of stillness, or to put it another way, in a state of non-being. Or to put it another way, I'm participating in something deeper and more significant to my life than tending to my ego's restlessness and dissatisfaction.

So yes, we can look for this in a hotel on the cliffs of Big Sur where our cell phone doesn't work and there's no TV in the room, and there's nothing wrong with that. But if for some reason that isn't possible for you, then send the roommates or family away (promising them dinner when they return,) unplug all the devices and get into the kitchen. Let the carrots and salt teach you about presence, let the kale and chicken show you what is needed in this moment and this moment only. The pile of dishes, the sound of the oil when it's ready to receive the onions, the way you know the cake is done just by the way it smells. Presence, awareness, relationship. Engagement in the moment is like a sacrament, a ritual, and it opens up a path to a simple but very powerful stillness that is always available, always right at hand. There's no where to be but here.

• From the New York Times, The Joy of Quiet by Pico Iyer

Related: Weekend Meditation: Timelessness

(Image: Dana Velden)

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