I heard a great piece of advice recently:
When you wash the rice, wash the rice.
It is such a simple thing, and yet seems so strange or alien to so many of us. When you wash the rice, stay focused on the task in hand, and live the experience of washing the rice. That doesn’t mean that you need to spend longer washing the rice. That doesn’t mean that you have to ignore everything else to wash the rice. It just means: be aware, be here, be now in what you are doing.
Food preparation is a wonderful place to start practicing calming down, focusing and training your monkey brain to turn its volume down – or change the channel altogether. Food is one of our life forces and the food we eat influences our health, our appearance, our thoughts, our feelings, our wave lengths, our beliefs, our reflections on others, and our planet.
It seems like everyone is now telling us we need to buy our food local, seasonal and organic. If you can manage that, kudos to you. If you manage it even just part of the time, that is great too. I believe it is what you do with the food once you have it which is even more important.
Most people most days just grab something and get it on the table in as little time as possible. Time seems to be our enemy these days. There is always too much to do and too little time to do it in. But when it comes to the food you put in your body, just a little bit of time is essential.
Would you put diesel or leaded fuel into your new car if it ran on unleaded? Would you pour cheap vegetable oil into your car rather than proper car oil? Would you send your child out to school in hastily tied up rags rather than sewn clothes, even if they are hand-me-downs? Would you happily wear flip flops in a snow storm? And, would you fill your body with whatever comes to hand?
Although the answer to the first four questions probably received a shocked or strong ‘no’, I’m sure that the fifth question probably got swept under the carpet.
The point is, it does matter. How can you expect your body, mind and soul to meet all the demands of your busy life if you are choking it?
By bringing just a little bit of Zen action and old-fashioned standing at the stove time into your kitchen, you will start to unclog the machine; flush out the junk and get it moving towards peak performance – for everyone who eats from your pot.
Even if you start with just one meal a week you are making a big step forward. You only have twenty more to make in the future. For that one meal think about what you are going to make, organize it in advance (i.e. make sure you have everything you need on time), book the necessary time in your schedule, and go into your kitchen meeting full of focus, leaving the stress, anxiety, anger and worries of the day outside the door. They won’t run away, believe me. They will wait there patiently to jump back on your back as soon as you let them. So train them, like you would a pet or a child, to follow a few basic rules: the kitchen is out of bounds (and the bedroom) for this small amount of time. They will soon get the message and wait obediently until they are allowed to assault you again.
Once you are in the kitchen, simply focus on the meal preparation. There is no need to keep looking at the clock because you know that you have scheduled enough time. There is no need to rush because you know that you can’t hurry the cooking process. There is no need to fret or worry because the recipe is there for you, guiding you along your way – either on paper or in your head. All you have to do is enjoy the time. You can use it to get to know your food. Take the moment to see the process of carrot preparation from whole in the peel through to cooked and seasoned on the plate. Make a mental photo of what it looks like still with its peel on, then how the peel curls off with each stroke of the peeler. Then the before and after of the naked vegetable. Then the flowing movement of the knife slicing through the orange, revealing the greener iris and the deeper orange pupil – and indeed, how the carrot resembles an eye at all. Then the gentle plunking and splashing as the carrots land in the water. Then the sound of the pot as the carrots are simmering. Then the feeling of the warm steam as you drain the carrots and the difference in colour now, the deeper orange. Then the splat of the knob of butter, or the flow of the oil and the shaking or grinding of the seasoning. It is a fascinating process. And it is even more fascinating to realize that you are in control of the process and that you are determining how the carrot evolved in its journey to the table.
Or maybe you are cooking rice for dinner. Listen to the grains falling into your measuring cup, how they trickle or rush, how the volume changes. See how they fall, how most of them lie flat and if they form patterns. Hear the sudden rush as the grains are transferred to the pot, and the echoing answer of the metal as they land. Hear the water gushing out of the tap and listen to how it changes as the rice gets covered. Feel the water as you start to wash the rice. Is it warm or cool? What do the grains of rice feel like? Are they hard, slippery, rough, smooth? Watch the water change colour from clear to cloudy. Repeat the process and note how each part has changed. Be aware of the salt as it tumbles onto the spoon, your hand or straight into the pot. See how quickly it dissolves in the water. Listen to the different noises as the pot heats up, comes to the boil and then quiets to a simmer, and then how the sound fades as the water is fully absorbed. See how much fuller the pot is now that the rice is cooked and feel how the texture has changed. Has it become soft, fluffy, soggy, sticky? And then enjoy the taste.
Even if you only focus in such detail on one item you are preparing you have made a big step forwards. You have spent a few moments away from all the other assaulting images, noises and thoughts. You have learned about the item of food in front of you. You have given your body and mind a chance to relax and release. And you have prepared a healthful, cared for offering for your body or for your family’s body.
Maybe you still grab for the quick fix for the bulk of the other meals, but know that this focus, this awareness, this intention in this one meal is doing you, your body, your mind, and your soul good. No, it goes much further than that. You are affecting everyone who eats from the dish. You are affecting everyone who any of you come into contact with after eating the dish, even if only very subtly. And you are affecting the environment and the world as a whole.
So next time you wash the rice, wash the rice.