Lower Lies, Higher Zen

As I have been thinking about my reflection for this week, I found myself wanting to go back to where I started almost two years ago, the whole notion that the kitchen and the process of preparing food can be a state of Zen. Bodhidharma, a Buddhist monk, wrote this about Zen. He said it is “A special transmission outside the scriptures; No dependence on words and letters; Direct pointing to the mind of man; seeing into one's nature and attaining Buddhahood.” Being able to attain a zenful state is the ability to realize a state of enlightenment in one’s own time. “Zazen melts away the mind-forged distances that separate man from himself; leads one beyond himself as knower, to himself as known. In Zazen, there is no reality outside what exists here and now. (http://www.amacord.com/taste/essays/zen.html).” Over the last two years I have listened to many people tell me why they do not cook, are scared to cook, do not have the knowledge to cook, and the list goes on.
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Waffles Can Be Zenful Too

My guess is that when most people think about Zen the last thing they think about is a waffle. My guess is that very few people even think about cooking when they are thinking about Zen. For me, cooking is just one of the many ways that I work through all the programming and rules I have consciously and unconsciously agreed to in life. It is through the acknowledgment of the existence of the rules, but also the willingness to not limit myself to them, which allows me to find the Zen in cooking. It is when I tap into my intuitive creativity and my ability to express myself through my cooking that I am able to move beyond the boundaries and rules, experience, and create in a way I am not able to otherwise. I literally chop my way through barriers. As I was explaining this to a friend of mine the other day, she asked me if I had experienced this when I made waffles for Zoë’s surprise birthday party a few years ago. As I thought about it, I came to realize that it was through my waffle creations that day which I experienced Zen. I guess I should explain
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The door is open, enter.

For the last year or so, I have been blogging about the lessons I have learned while preparing foods and working with various ingredients in my kitchen, a place where I experience Zen as I prepare food made with love to serve to those whom I love. I have spent a great deal of time thinking about the Zen of cooking. The other day, however, I had this epiphany that there are not only spiritual lessons to be learned from the preparation of the food, but about the choices about what we eat. A Chinese proverb says, “Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself.” somebody can cook whatever they want for me, but I am the one who makes the decision to eat the food. A different type of food can be prepared, but if I do not eat it then I will never know if I like it or not. I will never know what I am not experiencing.
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It was more then just a cookie.

Last week, I wrote about Zoë’s cousin Bruce and his request for lemon drop cookies. To be honest, I have never made them before. I figured they could not be that hard to make, but it was one of the things he remembered about his wife who had passed away. So the morning he was leaving, I woke up early and began making lemon drop cookies and quiche he had requested. I knew this was exactly what he had wanted this holiday season, so I knew he was going to be excited. What I was not prepared for was the depth of his response. He had no idea I was going to make him two quiche to bring home, along with a myriad of other leftovers from Christmas breakfast and lunch. So that in itself excited him. I am not sure he expected I would actually do this for him.
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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.
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God is in the details

Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, a German architect, once said, “God is in the details” and Maezumi Roshi, a Zen monk said “details are all there are.” so what does that have to do with cooking. Creating in the kitchen is a process; it is like the story in the Hebrew Bible of how God created the earth. God would create something, look at it, and think it was good, but then the next day, God would create something else to go into this creation and so forth and so on. The creation was not a one time instant creation, it was an ongoing process of paying attention to the details, and tweaking it until it had become what was sought after at that moment. Creating in the kitchen is also about the details.
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I dare you! I double dare you!

Do those words bring back memories from your childhood, either good or bad? I can remember times when I was afraid to do something and my friends would say I dare you! Sometimes the fear came from me knowing I was going to do something I really should not be doing and I needed to walk away from the dare. Other times, however, the dare made me push through some fear that was internal and do something I could not have envisioned me doing before. What brought me back to this place of thinking about being a child was actually a quote from Takuan Soho who wrote, “Zen is to have the heart and soul of a little child.” It seems to me that I do my most creative cooking when I am at that place in the kitchen when I have the heart and soul of a little child.
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Are you ready to go through the door?

There is a Chinese proverb that teaches, “Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself.” Cookbooks, culinary classes, recipe websites, are awesome and can be a great source of inspiration when cooking. I have learned a great deal about cooking from these sources. For me, these have all been teachers. Even watching the Food Network and The Cooking Channel have and continue to be teachers. However, one of the things I have had to remember is that I cannot depend on the teacher for my wisdom, knowledge, and understandings. To do so, keeps me in a prison where I sacrifice my adventure, freedom, and creativity.
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Freedom and discipline

Gary Snyder once wrote, “Zen aims at freedom, but it’s practice is discipline.” When I read that, it immediately reminded me of how my mother used to say, "Practice makes perfect." As I was thinking about this quote more it reminded me of the teachings of Don Miguel Ruiz in The Four Agreements. He writes about how we have spent so much time in our lives practicing certain emotions that we have them down to an art form. Most of us have no problems with emotions like anger, jealousy, resentment, fear, etc. yet the emotions that make us feel loved and are positive in nature like love, peace, calm, etc are the ones we have yet to master.
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Welcome to the Zenful Kitchen

Several months ago, I began having this series of dreams about being on the Next Food Network Star. My culinary point of view is that being in the kitchen does not have to be stressful; it can be zenful. The name of my show in my dream was going to be The Zenful Kitchen. Over the last several months, I have had this same dream. The only difference being that, like the show, there was a decreasing number of people against whom I was cooking each week. This past week, I had the dream one last time and the focus group and the judges all selected The Zenful Kitchen as the winner of the Next Food network Star. I thought the dream was neat for a couple of reasons.
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