Mindfulness, Learning, and a North Georgia Candy Roaster Squash

 

Most Sundays find me in the kitchen, turning that week’s farm share or farmers market take (as much as possible, at least) into our meals for the week and the backups in the freezer. Yesterday was no different with piles of onion and garlic, greens and squash (SO much squash yesterday as I broke down one of the enormous North Georgia Candy Roaster Squash we picked up at the farmers market a couple of weeks ago) turning into heat-and-eat meals for weekday dinners.

Cooking is my favorite form of creativity and there are few places I am more relaxed than in a kitchen. Much in the way our greatest challenges offer opportunities for growth, so, too, do those comfy places where autopilot is particularly accessible and inviting. An example:

At some point, standing in front of my cutting board yesterday, I paused for the briefest of moments to more fully observe what I was doing. I noticed I was gripping my knife more tightly than was necessary and adjusted to a tension that was closer to the minimum needed to keep control of it, lessening the stress in my hand. I noticed one hip jutting out to the side and my characteristic lean toward the counter and so straightened my posture, head over heart over pelvis, as Adriene Mishler of yoga fame likes to instruct. I dropped my shoulders and squared myself in front of the board. And then I kept going.

After 16 or so years of serious cooking, I still have to remind my body to align itself, to be alert to the job while also relaxing into it, to hold the knife rather than grasp it, to be present for the wonderfully mundane work of turning a 10 pound squash into two large bowls of peeled, fairly uniform cubes.

We tend to think of meditation or mindfulness as something we have to make time to do when it’s available to us in every moment, even when that moment involves prepping veggies to cook. The mantras and visualizations and cushions and techniques we tend to think of? All useful and wonderful and powerful in their own right, and all ultimately dressing on the window of simply paying full attention to yourself and any given moment.

We tend to think of learning as something we must do only once per topic when learning is a process of repetition, especially for the important stuff. Sure, you could learn to make the chipotle, black bean and North Georgia Candy Roaster chili currently in our fridge in one afternoon; if you’re curious or playful or driven, though, you could spend the rest of your life tweaking and exploring it.

And while chipotles, with their varying levels of heat, require a touch of adjustment from batch to batch, you are an ever-unfolding version of yourself. No doubt you’re spicier on some days but your flavor profile is so much more complex than that. Dipping your spoon into the bubbling pot of your being for regular tastes – Who am I today? What do my dreams look like at this moment? What do I know now that I didn’t know a week ago? – is not navel gazing but, done thoughtfully, an act of mindfully repetitive learning.

P.S. On the saltier days, add some carbohydrates and extra glasses of water. We’re all a little heavy on the shaker sometimes…


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