“A recipe has no soul. You as the cook must bring soul to the recipe.” —Thomas Keller
Many of us are familiar with the practice of eating meditation, or a mindful approach to consuming your food with reverence, deliberate attention, full sensory embodiment, gratitude, and present-moment awareness. Mindful eating is a great way to infuse a deeper awareness into one of your most fundamental daily activities. However, before your food reaches your plate, it must be prepared or cooked. Enter the practice of conscious cooking, or preparing meals with full awareness.
Conscious cooking is about being totally present in the act of food preparation. It brings a deep awareness to the unique details of the cooking experience and a deep, in-body sense, of creating a nourishing and healing meal with attention, compassion, gratitude, and love.
While it may sound simple, there are several key elements to conscious meal preparation that help it to be a truly mindful experience. Consider the following as you set out to create your next meal.
Begin with Intention
To begin your conscious cooking practice, pause and set a clear intention. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and declare to yourself that you are going to use this time to prepare your meal with your full attention. Visualize the end product of a delicious, nourishing meal. Have the clear recognition that you are a channel of pure awareness and allow yourself to be the instrument through which the meal will be prepared. Consecrate the experience as an opportunity to deepen your journey of awakening.
Focus on Service
Preparing meals is an act of service; you are either nourishing your own mind and body or the mind and body of others. You are delivering love and attention to those you cook for through the food itself. Surrender yourself to bringing the fullness of your being into an act of selfless service. This is an act of Karma Yoga; performing the action acknowledging that those you serve are gods and goddesses in disguise.
Deliberately Prepare the Space
Before starting, take the time to methodically prepare your environment. Lay out your recipes, tools (knives, spoons, cutting boards, saucepans, etc.), along with your ingredients. In culinary school, one of the first lessons taught to new chefs is known as Mise en place, which means “putting in place” and refers to both the kitchen setup as well as the chef’s state of mind. Like a tea ceremony, take time to arrange everything beforehand so you don’t have to scramble for an item once the cooking has begun. This is also the perfect time to take a moment to cultivate gratitude for everything set before you. Recognize the web of relationships that have to exist (farmers, workers, drivers, grocery clerks, and countless others) to bring these ingredients and tools before you. Remember also to choose ingredients that are sattvic or pure, nourishing, essential, and filled with vital lifeforce or prana.
Proceed with Care and Attention
As you begin to follow a recipe or cook, bring reverence toward each step of the process. Follow each step in the directions with full awareness; don’t just muddle through and lob ingredients together into a bowl without tuning in to what you’re doing. Move as slowly and deliberately as possible given the required steps and cooking times involved.
Relish in a Full Sensory Experience
Cooking is a wonderful experience that involves all your senses. Take note of how these gateways of perception help you have a deeper experience of the moment:
- You can see the colors, watch steam rising off the food, and notice the freshness of each ingredient.
- You can smell the food and the spices, and become aware of the blending of unique aromas into the larger fragrance of the dish.
- You can taste the individual ingredients, diving into the sweet, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent qualities of each.
- You can hear the rolling boil of water, the rhythmic pace of a knife on the chopping block, the sizzle of cooking food.
- You can feel the texture of the ingredients, the thickness of a mixture, the grains of salt as you sprinkle them into a stew.
Embrace Total Presence
Allow the experience of cooking to be one of complete and total being. Let your mind slip beyond past or future and just experience this moment, this action in its complete fullness. Of course, it’s important to be safe and aware of cooking times, proper sanitization, hot burners, and sharp knives, but to the extent possible release any non-cooking related distractions. Put down your phone, avoid multitasking, and work to do just one thing at a time. It may be helpful to use a mantra to keep your mind anchored to the present moment. Consider either of the following:
- Om Vardhanam Namah – the mantra of the Law of Giving and Receiving which means, I am the nourisher of the universe and the universe nourishes me.
- Om Sri Danvantre Namaha – the mantra of the Celestial Physician, often chanted when preparing food to infuse it with healing energy, meaning Salutations to the being and power of the Celestial Physician.
These mantras, when used during repetitive tasks such as stirring or chopping vegetables help to entrain your awareness into a state of total absorption or Samadhi. We become one with the task, with the cooking, and the meal.
Serving and Blessing the Meal
Once the meal is prepared, it’s time to serve it to yourself, friends, family, or guests. Presenting the food with a mindful spirit of service and gratitude again helps to honor the divine in the food and those who will eat it. This is also an ideal time to offer a blessing for the food, either silently or spoken aloud, in such a way that gives thanks as well as recognizes how fortunate we are to be able to share in a meal together.
A traditional blessing often used by monks and yogis is to reflect on this passage from the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 4, verse 24:
The process of offering Brahman; that which is offered is Brahman. Brahman offers the sacrifice in the fire of Brahman. Brahman is attained by those who see Brahman in every action.
Which might be interpreted into a formal blessing as:
May I remember that the cooking of this meal is divine consciousness; the food itself is divine consciousness, and the process of consuming the food is divine consciousness. Therefore, may the act of cooking, serving, and eating be performed with full awareness that leads me to the awakening of my divine nature. Om, peace, peace, peace.
In serving and blessing the food, you surrender the practice of conscious cooking to all those who enjoy the results of your efforts. Or as Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh keenly observes: “When you prepare a meal with artful awareness, it’s delicious and healthy. You have put your mindfulness, love, and care into the meal, then people will be eating your love. People can fully enjoy the meal with body and mind, just like you enjoy a beautiful work of art.”