Of course you want it to be good. You’d like the mashed potatoes to keep warm, the stuffing to stay moist and the gravy to taste homemade. You’re hoping the pies turn out, the guests turn up and the TV gets turned off. You’ll be grateful to have it over with, but can you take a week of hectic cooking and turn it into a mindfulness practice?
The sages did, and still do.
Mindfulness practice is exactly like preparing a holiday dinner. In fact, one of the most profound and practical texts in Zen, “Instructions for the Cook,” was written nearly 800 years ago for the monastery kitchen staff. That ancient teaching inspires these 7 ways to prepare your Thanksgiving meal more mindfully.
1. Know your food. This isn’t just a reminder to read labels or to choose local or organic ingredients. Considering the true origin of your food makes you thankful. Why? Because you can’t really know how your food comes to you, but you can appreciate the innumerable labors that support your life.
2. Make Grandma’s stuffing. Or Aunt Nancy’s deviled eggs. Or your mother’s sweet potato casserole. Emulate the masters. Reviving family recipes honors your ancestry, but more than that, it makes manifest the inconceivable truth. This one meal is the fulfillment of infinite lifetimes.
3. Watch water boil. A hot stove is a hotbed of mindfulness. Guard the pot as you would your own life and avoid mishaps. You will witness the miraculous transformation of string beans into a bounteous treasure. Food prepared with single-minded attention tastes better, because attention is love.
4. Season sparingly. Angry? Frustrated? Holding onto stale grudges or bitter resentments? Leave extra seasonings on the side. Food is flavored by your attitude of mind, so keep yours even and sincere. The kitchen is no place for a grouch or a snob.
5. Bring back the kid’s table. Observe the harmonious order of things, and put what is suited to a high place in a high place, and what belongs in a low place in a low place. Those suited to a high place will settle there; those suited to a low place will settle there. Invite dignity and joy to reside side-by-side.
6. Serve others first. Benefiting others simultaneously benefits you. Devote yourself wholeheartedly to the offering and then see for yourself. Nothing is quite as gratifying to the cook as a piled-up plate that comes back empty.
7. Love leftovers. Do not worry about running out of food and you will not run out of food. If you have unlimited mind, you will have limitless happiness – and leftovers for the next three days.