Recently a colleague asked how we grow spiritually. While we had different paths in many ways, one thing we agreed on was finding the spiritual in everyday life. Crazy as it may sound to those who do not like to cook or spend time in the kitchen, I have gained some important lessons spiritually from cooking. As I once heard someone say, “Food crafts your soul.” Many people I know buy cookbooks because of the recipes they contain. I collect them for the wisdom they contain. While the cookbook authors might not have intended to be departing spiritual information, their words often time strike a chord with me and bring me to a place of reflection about the quality and composition of life.
The other day, for example, I was reading about reclaiming the place of vegetables in the creative cooking process in the Zen of Cooking. The authors identified four factors: cooking process, color, texture, and degree of flavoring, which are important in treating vegetables with dignity and respect and using them to elevate the dish. As one of my favorite children’s books teaches, God created vegetables too. When we treat vegetables with dignity and respect, for me, it is a way of respecting the Infinite and the gifts bestowed on the earth. That is also part of why I try to buy from the local markets and organically grown produce.
In talking about the cooking process, the authors suggest you pick a technique that is going to compliment the other items in the meal. For example, if I am making a vegetarian meat loaf, which tends to be soft in texture, I want to prepare my vegetables in a way that enables them to maintain some crispness. I have found the same to be true of my spiritual life. I have this tendency to be very cerebral and intuitive in my thinking and writing, so I always have to be mindful to bring some lightness, humor, joy, and opportunities for fun and silliness in my life. Conversely, I have a friend who tends to live on the comedic side, so she is intentional about taking some time on the serious side of things. Her visits to what she calls “seriousville” often provide her with more comedic material. We are both spiritual people, but the processes we use in composing our “whole dish” are quite different.
The second factor is color. The authors suggested that we choose vegetables whose color compliments the overall look you want to achieve for the meal. What color vegetables would you suggest to compliment salmon pink? Barbecued ribs reddish brown? Fried chicken golden brown? After all, as I have heard so many times, we do eat with our eyes. A friend of mine who does not cook said she would definitely not put carrots with salmon, but might consider something green like a vibrant salad. This lesson has been important to me in that it reminds me to bring in that diversity in whatever I am focusing on in my spiritual journey. For example, I have been recently learning about Tarot and have come to realize there are two approaches: an intuitive approach and a more traditional approach based on the images and archetypes. They contribute to my overall spiritual understanding, work together, and bring things out in the other one might not otherwise see.
The third factor was texture. This is something you need to keep in mind when deciding the cooking process. If I am serving something soft, like my meatloaf, then I want something crispy to contrast it. Sometimes I have found I have to add some texture to that which is feeding me spiritually. For example, musically I tend to listen to music, which adds some texture to where I am spiritually. The other day I was in this very prayerful space focused on sending positive and healing energies to those in need. Listening to soft, serene, and inspirational music worked for a while, but then I found myself needing a bit of texture in my life. Seeking songs about courage, as this is what I was focusing on in my prayers, I found a song by Nellie Furtado called Spirit Indestructible. This added some texture to my spiritual life that day and I would up sharing it with others.
The final factor was the degree of flavoring. The flavors and spices are determined by the spices, herbs, sauces and other ingredients you use. My meatloaf for example, is not overflowing with flavor, so I could kick it up a notch with a tangy barbecue sauce or mustard sauce or even a salsa type sauce. Isn’t this true of our lives as well? The spiritual ingredients we use to flavor our whole dish determine how they taste spiritually.
A colleague of mine once told me his four favorite spiritual vegetables were peas, squash, lettuce, and turnips. Peas provided him with Patience, Positive thinking, and Persistence. Squash enabled him to, squash excuses, blame, and criticism. Lettuce provided him a series of mantras: Let us be responsible. Let us be trustworthy. Let us be ambitious. Turnips taught him to turn up when needed, turn up with a smile, and turn up with confidence. Whatever vegetables you honor in your life, may they bring a balance of color, texture, and flavor to your spiritual life.