With the changes in the way we live our lives today, more of us are cooking at home than ever before and discovering the connection between cooking and creativity. Some people say that cooking relaxes them whereas others are still learning how to relax and enjoy the step-by-step process. When we add a spiritual component to our cooking by reciting a mantra, listening to spiritual music, or saying a prayer, we can elevate our experience. The Divine Presence can be called upon anywhere and at any time. When cooking becomes an extension of worship, magical things happen—food tastes better and nourishes our friends and family with an extra spark of spirit.
Cooking isn’t everyone’s passion, but for some it’s an art—like it was for my mother. Raised in the Louisiana and transplanted to Arizona, she embraced every kind of cuisine, and became as adept with cooking Julia Child’s French masterpieces as she did with making enchiladas inspired from our desert home. She introduced our family to mangoes with a squeeze of lime juice, artichokes (before they were a thing), and the creamy textures of avocado, butter lettuce, and brie. After I became a vegetarian, she embraced tofu and seitan, yogi tea with fresh ginger, and praised whatever came out of my kitchen, no matter how undeserving. Today when I cook, I often think of her and the adventures she created with fresh vegetables, herbs, joy, and love.
For true foodies, love and joy are not only twin spices but vital ingredients, as important as salt and pepper. They satisfy the soul just as water slakes thirst and flavor gratifies taste. They can’t be purchased, but when they are infused in the food we serve to others, they provide a grounding, a stillness, and a nourishment that go beyond mere vitamins and minerals. When we cook with intention, we learn how to channel our prayers and stillness into our preparation. These pleasant vibrations become as much a part of the food as the physical ingredients themselves.
Although I can’t prove any of this with scientific instruments or elaborate math equations, I can appeal to your memory: Think about one of the best meals you’ve ever had, the way you felt after eating it, the happiness that spread through you, and then reflect on how it was made and the kind of attention brought to its creation. Next, consider another meal that may have tasted good but left you squirmy after eating, or mildly nauseous. When this happens to me, it’s usually after I’ve eaten at a very busy restaurant. Who knows what was going on in that kitchen!
There’s a story I read many years ago in a talk by the 20th C spiritual Master, Sant Kirpal Singh Ji Maharaj. It has stayed with me since, and though I can’t say that I’ve always followed this procedure, his story resonates with a truth we don’t often find today. He has written,
In the year 1921, I was working as Accounts Officer . . . [and got] an orderly-cook [when I was] in the field. I told him that I would not mind what his life was in the past, so long as he cooked my food while repeating the Holy Names of God on his lips and did not allow anyone to enter the kitchen and divert his mind in idle talk. The cook promised to do this and everything went well for two or three days, but on the fourth day as I sat for my meditation, I felt that my mind was not steady. In the middle of the night, I called the cook and inquired of him if there was anyone else with him in the kitchen while he was preparing the food. At first, he denied it but ultimately confessed that a person had come and had engaged him in conversation and thus diverted him from the sweet remembrance of God. He was warned against this and thereafter he always followed my behests scrupulously. This then is the best criteria to weigh one’s spiritual advancement and the purity of the foodstuff that one takes, both in procuration and in preparation.
(“Spiritual Aspects of the Vegetarian Diet”)
Although we may not be as sensitive to mental vibrations as was Sant Kirpal Singh Ji, when we’re at home and in our own kitchen, we can control how we approach meal prep. We can practice staying in the present moment and become more attentive to our thoughts and the ingredients we use.
We’ve all experienced how, when we radiate a positive, joyful vibe, people are drawn to us. They feel safe in our presence, tuning their own frequencies to ours. Likewise, we’ve all sensed people stepping over or around us, attempting to avoid contact when we are angry or sad. We’re like conductors of different emotional and mental frequencies, radiating what we think about during the day and vibrating with their music. This isn’t my own discovery—although it can be tested in our daily lives—but is the teaching of almost every spiritual path and practice.
Preparing and sharing food with others is one way to form deeper connections. It’s a generous act, and when done with a dash of love and prayer, the gift goes beyond merely enjoyment. We are sharing a bit of our heart and soul, our prayers and kindness. We are taking a moment to step out of time and channel eternity into the bread or salad or soup at hand. Here are some tips to cooking attentively and intentionally, channeling the best of our self into our food.
There’s a scene early on in Irving Stone’s, The Agony and the Ecstasy when Michelangelo’s stepmother—who is called, Il Migliore or The Best “because every ingredient that went into her cooking had to be ‘The Best’”—says, “Ah, Michelangelo, I have something special for you today; a salad that sings in the mouth!” Just as it was in Italy five hundred years ago, so it is today: The freshest herbs and vegetables, fruits and grains, when combined properly can create joy in the mouth, the heart, and the spirit. One inspired dish can make a meal. Choose your ingredients with care.
Take a moment
Before you chop or cook anything, take a moment and collect your attention. Think about what you’re cooking and for whom. Feel the joy that cooking good food brings to yourself and others. Create a net of positivity around you by inviting the divine power of the universe into your kitchen, into your thoughts, and into your hands.
Choose a Mantra
Simran is a Punjabi word that means “the act of remembrance.” It is the silent repetition of spiritual words or a phrase. Just as simran is a meditation practice, it can also enhance our work in the kitchen. A mantra focuses our attention and calms our spirit. In her article in The Wall Street Journal (May 9, 2017), “Say It Again, A Mantra Really Works,” Elizabeth Bernstein writes “Research shows that thinking of a word or phrase that affirms our values—and repeating it over and over—produces powerful physiological changes. It can lower our cortisol levels, enhance endurance” and “Perhaps even more compelling, a mantra can quiet the mind.” When we are still inside, cooking becomes more pleasurable. We let the business of the world fall away for a while and instead focus on the healthy, delicious meal we’re creating and serving. If you don’t already have a mantra, choose one that resonates with you and is easy to remember.
Just like when we meditate, cooking with a mantra requires some vigilance. It’s easy to let our thoughts interfere in the repetition and take the reins. As soon as we’re aware that we’ve been wandering around in thoughts of the past or future, we can gently pull our attention back and begin our silent repetition once again. The loving word or phrase keeps our attention fixed in the moment. The positive energy seeping into our being gets transferred into the food we’re cooking. Although some skill is required when cooking, love has its own flavor. It’s never bitter or bleh.
Mise en place
When we’re stressed or scattered by our day, getting all our ingredients measured and chopped ahead of time makes for a smooth process. “Everything in its place” or mise en place is a time-honored technique for busy chefs. Especially when trying a new recipe, preparing the ingredients ahead of time assures that we don’t miss important steps when the cooking begins.
Some of us need a little extra help to get into the mood. Impacting the environment and our own vibrations is music’s special power. The change is immediate. Living in Chicago, there are weeks in the winter when we rarely see the sun. When the clouds creep into our bones Brazilian music can bring sunshine into the house with its samba and sway! Calming music can snap us out of the daily grind and enhance the atmosphere around us. When cooking, music with spiritual chanting or hymns creates just the right ambiance.
–K from the Veggie Fest Team