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Stirring the Pot or Letting it Simmer - Meditation and Blackbean Soup Recipe

A common issue that comes up for me in meditation practice is trying to balance the relationship between "applying effort" and simply "letting be".   I liken this mental balancing act to the culinary equivalent of working with a pot of simmering vegetables.   When is the right time to stir the pot and rearrange the vegetables and when is it best to leave them alone?  

In meditation, "too much stirring" often manifests as a lot of small adjustments in posture.  If I feel a slight discomfort in my stomach, I might take a deep breath and try to extend my spine further, thinking that by removing this small discomfort I will be in a more "perfect" posture for my meditation.  This seems to work against the principle of "letting be" that is central to meditation practice.  I spend most of my days trying to "do things" and accomplish goals, that for the 30-60 minutes of meditation I afford myself everyday, I'd rather not be attaining anything.
But with too little effort, "too much simmering" I'll call it, my awareness can become so scattered, my thoughts so disconnected, that I feel no sense of presence at all.   What would happen to a pot of vegetables never stirred?  The bottom layer would burn and the top would be undercooked.  There's no sense of balance or harmony in that situation, the food would taste like "unawareness".
The practice of "letting be" has been extremely powerful in my meditation.  What is it actually like to accept everything as it currently stands?  It's very radical.  Not making that small adjustment in posture, or react to the stress building in my stomach, much more seems possible.  I can stop being subservient to the stress, I can dance with it and make a more spectacular soup.   (The recipe is coming soon, I promise).
The flip side of this is that there is very much a relationship between posture and energy.  If my posture becomes so terrible that I'm hunched all over myself, my energy will diminish to the point where I can't connect to my awareness, everything remains grey and is so close that it is not workable, like using soggy, old vegetables for the soup.  
Zen Master Dogen offers some advice for "watching the pot" in his Instructions for the Tenzo (Tenzo is the word for "Head Chef" in a Zen monastary)
"As tenzo you should not be away from the sink when the rice for the noon meal is being washed.  Watch closely with clear eye do not waste even one grain... You should personally supervise the rice and soup being cooked.  When you need utensils, ask the assistant, other helpers, or the over attendant to get them."
In preparing the great meal that is our everyday life (which includes meditation practice) Dogen encourages us to always be there, watching our mental pots of boiling rice and simmering vegetables.  The question of when to stir will be answered if we are there really watching what is happening.
And what is happening is this Delicious Black Bean Soup Recipe that I cobbled together a few weeks back.   Using ingredients local to the East Coast in Mid Summer, this soup is really delicious when it is cold too.  Heck you could even take all the ingredients raw (minus the stock) and make a killer salad if that's your style.   Raw or Cooked, bask in the glory of Kale.
Summer Blackbean and Kale Soup
2 Small or 1 Large Summer Squash - Sliced into Quarter Moons about 1/2" thick
1 Red Pepper - Diced into 1/2" squares
8 Cloves Garlic - Peeled and Minced
1/4 c Red Scallion Bulbs (Or other Onion)
1 1/2 c Cooked Black Beans
1/2 Rhubarb Stalk - Chopped into 1/2 inch squares (Lemon Juice Works Here Too)
1 1/2 c Kale - Rinsed and Ripped 
1/4 c Fresh Cilantro
3 c Mushroom or Vegetable Stock (I used Deborah Madison' Recipe for Mushroom Stock)
2 T Butter or Olive Oil (I use local butter to support local, Olive Oil for Vegan Recipes)
1. Melt Butter or Heat Olive Oil in Bottom of Medium or Large Stock Pot, Heat should be Medium - High.
2. Add Garlic and Scallions (Or Onions).  Let them simmer (watch carefully, with full awareness) to the point where the garlic is translucent around the edges, don't let them burn!
3. Add Peppers and Squash.  Mix in with Garlic and Scallions, let simmer for 5 or 6 minutes and then stir.   Squash should be turning brown around the edges and peppers no longer crispy
4. Stir in the Black Beans and Rhubarb (or Lemon Juice) Let simmer for 5 minutes.
5. Add the Mushroom or Vegetable Stock to cover all the veggies.  Add water as needed to cover, Turn the Heat up to High
6. Once the Stock is bubbling consistantly add the Kale and Cilantro and a few dashes of Salt and Pepper
7. Turn the Heat down to Med-Low and Allow to Simmer for 20 Minutes with the cover on.  Add Salt and Pepper to Taste
8. Serve Warm or Cold.   Great with Tortilla Chips or other dipping implement.   
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Posture and pots

Really enjoyed this article. :) Can't wait to make the soup!


Food for Thought

Thanks for the thoughtful post.  Love the recipe!

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