Keeping the Zen

The last few months have been an unexpected adventure in our lives.  The beginning of August, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Since then our lives have been impacted in ways I could not even begin to imagine.  Today, she had her first chemotherapy treatment.  One of the things I have come to understand is the importance of preparing foods that will be nutritious for her regardless of how she is feeling in response to the chemotherapy.  There may be days to come where she feels fine, days when she is tired, days when she is nauseous, and days when she does not feel like eating because of mouth sores.

Thinking about how to cook for her has definitely moved me outside of my comfort zone.  After being with her for almost 10 years, I have mastered her taste buds and flavor profiles.  Now, I am entering a new stage in our journey.  We are entering a space in our journey where her palette, desires, nutritional needs change, and desire to eat may change. As I sat here and began to process all the information we were provided with today, I found myself experiencing a multitude of feelings and none of them were leading me towards that Zenful space I tend to be in my kitchen.

Not being willing to lose that feeling, I began to reflect on what it is about cooking that keeps me in that state of Zen.  It was then I realized this journey was about leading me to a state where I had not been yet.  I remembered the words of Gary Snyder who wrote, “Zen aims at freedom, but its practice is discipline.”  I had mastered the old way of cooking for her and this newest challenge was pushing me outside of my comfort zone.  The way for me to maintain my Zenful place in the kitchen would be to practice thinking about and preparing food in a new way and then practicing those skills, constantly pushing myself to the next level.

I found myself looking for books online about cooking for people with cancer and there is a multitude of them available.  It was then that I remembered a Chinese Proverb, which said, “Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself.”  I may buy a book or two to provide me with some general guidance to open the door for me.  However, what has always helped me be in that Zenful state before is when I have entered the door of the unknown by myself.  My experiences, amazing and not so amazing, have been my best teacher.  When they have not come out as well as I had envisioned I hear my Bubby saying, “She who fails to fail, fails to succeed.”  Then I tell myself next time will be better.

Rather then allow myself to be overwhelmed by all the information out there and the sense or responsibility I was feeling, I gave myself permission to have the heart and soul of a child in the kitchen and just play.  There was always going to be some fall back dish I can make her if one of my creations does not suit her palette that day, but that is ok.  My mom always had a back up dish she could whip together when I was learning how to cook dinner.  When I began to think about this as a game, a time to whip up new and delicious creations on my “Easy Bake” oven  (only kidding), then the feeling of peace and excitement began to well up inside me again.

Ultimately, learning to cook for her may required me to unlearn a lot of the not so nutritious ways of cooking.  The good news is that I had already started this process of unlearning, so learning more about the nutritional values and healing benefits of foods just takes that process to a new level.

The one thing I had to laugh about is that to prevent her from losing weight for the wrong reasons.  So at times, I may be preparing two meals – one for her to help her gain and keep weight on and one for me to aide me in taking weight off.  Maybe part of this adventure will be to develop a core recipe that I can add to for her.  It is always easy to add calories to a dish, not always as easy to take them away.  What was she craving tonight?  Leftovers – macaroni and cheese, tuna fish sandwich, popcorn and bananas.  So we spread them out across the night.  No challenge tonight – however, I know they are to come and I am so up to the challenge.  I may have started feeling out of balance, but as I have reflected on this journey, I have brought myself back to a space of keeping the Zen in my life and in my kitchen.