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Lessons from a Zen Kitchen -- Restlessness and Wholehearted Effort

This week I've come down with the flu.  Not the sniffle sniffle, sneeze, sneeze flu -- but rather the kind of flu that just makes you feel tired and wobbly whenever you try to move.   The prescription from doctors and friends...eat warm stuff, drink a plenty of liquids and get a lot of REST.  

REST.  Right.   

As a person with an inclination for being restless, this was the most difficult pill to swallow.   Even in the enclave of my 10' by 8' bedroom, choosing an activity to occupy my "resting" time seemed a task fit for the fanciest productivity software.  With the internet at my disposal, I might as well have been stuck in Times Square, trying to choose a restaurant --- so I came up with a rule to simplify things -- as long as I checked in with my body, I would just "do" whatever I felt like doing, without second guessing it, and without trying to fit it into all the projects I have lined up in my very fancy productivity software.

I wound up skimming through my rarely utilized Netflix queue, contemplating what movie to watch.   "Would watching an action flick be like "numbing out"? " Will a documentary be too "Serious" for resting?"  Questions came in, and questions went out, and the first movie to really catch my interest was the documentary "How to Cook Your Life" by Director Doris Dörrie, which follows around Chef and Zen Priest Edward Espe Brown (Author of the Tassjara Bread Book) through cooking classes, dharma talks and daily routines inside the Kitchen at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in Northern California.

The movie has a relatively simple trajectory, Edward talks about his life, talks about Zen Practice and how it relates to his practice as a baker and chef.  We follow the ingredients,  materials and people involved in bringing food to the tables of monastery.  There are many lovely shots of hands knuckle deep in dough, close ups of carrots and sweeping shots of the cliffs and valleys of Northern California.

The dynamic that was the most striking to me was the simplicity and ease with which Edward went about slicing tomatoes, and running his hands through the rice to remove the dirt.   Even the way he dealt with his anger and frustration with other cooks seemed to have an air of gentleness around it.   

It all seemed a far cry from the scene in my own kitchen a few nights prior:

On the verge of exhaustion I stayed up late into the evening to finish making a homemade chili...meant to be my lunch throughout the week.   I hurriedly sliced the onions, fighting the tears, nervously added the spices, and menacingly minced the garlic.  In my mind the recipe needed to be finished before I started making it.    This is restlessness at its most painful -- turning a potentially relaxing and joyful activity into "a thing to be done".   The present moment gets lost, and the food becomes a vehicle for aggression rather than delight and joy.  This is no way to cook.  

Edward's presence and teachings in "How to Cook Your Life" offers an inspiring model for bringing wholeheartedness into cooking and all our everyday activities.   Watching this movie felt like a wake up call to me, to really consider my entire life situation before commencing into a recipe.  What ingredients am I bringing with me?  Eggs, Flour, Aggression? Fatigue? Restlessnes?   

How can I nourish both my body and my mind when I step into the kitchen?   

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a lovely movie

it prompted me to buy one of his books , "Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings." I'm a utilitarian cook -- I make food to get fed, not because I find it interesting -- and this may be the only cookbook I've actually read -- he writes about the relationship between practice and food in a very honest and engaging way. and the recipes are great.
feel better!

This just came up as a

This just came up as a recommendation and I added it to my instant q this weekend. And I TOO made chili this weekend. crazy. anyway, i tend to enjoy the cooking more when i really make an event of it. you should try going to the market (or having someone do it for you if you're that sick) and pick the veggies that look the best. come home and pick your favorite herbs and spices, and really stew it out of you all day. add some wine even! enjoy the different smells as you add different things. but don't rush. the process is the event.

thank u

Thank you! I will watch this tonight! :)

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