Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes. – Alan Watts
Being Zen is probably the hardest and easiest thing one can do. It is hard because we live in a world full of distractions; we are distracted by people, gadgets, news, wants, needs and general chaos around us. It is easy because Zen means just to be; don’t think about it, contemplate it, analyze it, or decompose it. And Zen can just a moment, or your entire life. It’s really up to you but its easy to just set aside a single moment a day to experience it. Once you’ve done this, you’ll want to do it all the time.
I have a few moments a day of Zen that I have now become accustomed to. I’ve incorporated it into my day ritualistically, but not in a meaningless way. Each day at around 4:45 I make dinner, I have always loved to cook, and it is dramatically different from what I am doing most of the day, which usually involves technology to some extent.
Before I begin, I go to the grocery store and start at the produce aisle, looking for vegetables that look particularly appealing that day. I especially like looking at the peppers because the shapes and colors are pleasing and soothing — bright reds, deep oranges or soothing greens. Next, I head to the meat aisle, looking for what I’ve not had in a few days, what’s on sale. I usually choose meat that goes with the day of the week. Early week is chicken, mid-week is usually pork of some variety, and the weekend, especially Friday is steak day — though this is subject to change.
After I’ve chosen my meat, then the next crucial aspect of the meal is the wine selection. I reserve my wine selection for the type of meat and spices I’ll be using that evening. Since I am not at all fond of white wines, I choose among the reds: Pinot Noir for chicken, Old Vine Zin or Malbec for Pork and a Cabernet class for beef. Again, this is subject to change depending on my mood.
Once I am back in the kitchen, the first thing I do is open the bottle of wine and pour it violently into a decanter so that it oxygenates quicker and let it set while I get the rest of the ingredients together. I really enjoy choosing the herbs I want to use, usually fresh or recently dehydrated. Prep work usually takes me about 20 minutes and once that is done, I have that first glass of wine and the cooking commences. I usually have the pans going on the stove, and more often than not, the meat is cooked on my grill which I run all through the year. Grilled meat as such amazing flavor and it is hard to get the same flavor from fried meats, depending on the recipe. I spend my time just stirring, flipping and spicing, not really thinking about what I am doing, letting the food taste the way it wants to taste, with my gentle nudges in the right direction.
Then of course, the last part of the ritual is to finally eat what I prepared with my family, and watch their expressions as they taste what I’ve made, take feedback on what they do and do not like, and work to improve it. There is nothing more satisfying that people enjoying what I have made, not from a sense of pride, but from the fact that I’ve shared my Zen moment with someone else, and in effect have given them their own Zen moment. Cause and effect.
What is important to remember is that Zen is about you. You cannot truly make someone Zen, they must want to be Zen. Zen is not a lesson, it is an experience. You can no more push Zen on someone than you can force them to remember something. It is something one attains through their own actions or non-action. Zen is Zen. But what does that mean exactly? I find that my excursions into a Zen state of mind are usually not known to me until they have passed. While I am in a state of Zen, the last thing I am thinking about is “Hey! I’m Zen!”, it doesn’t work that way at all.
Zen is not a religion, it is the act of being. It is that state your mind enters, where you are focused only on the task at hand and you are simply experiencing it, feeling it, enjoying it, living it. It is a state where all the other cares of the world leave you, allowing you to shrug the weight of the world, if only for a brief moment, and allow your soul to do what it enjoys doing.
My hypothesis has always been that if everyone could find and recognize just one Zen activity that they enjoy, the world would be less stressed. So many people I know are always on the go, and rarely find time to enjoy their lives. I know so many people who are always doing, but never experiencing what they are doing, more concerned with what other people think, what they do not have, what others have, their jobs and their wants. We pile this stress upon ourselves, with little to no release until eventually everything explodes into something dreadful. My Zen cooking each day allows me to shrug off the stress of my day, things that may have upset me on the ride home, and/or things I have to deal with in my personal life, such as home, finances, health and family. My Zen moment is for me, my little gift to myself each day, reminding me there is more to my life than petty worries.
Life is a struggle, there is no way around it. If you have no money, you struggle to get more. If you have lots of money, you struggle to keep it. If you are sick, you struggle to get well and if you are well, you struggle not to get sick. This is what drives us to experience the world. If life were not a struggle, we would all sit blissfully in a field staring at the sky wondering what the purpose is. The purpose of life is to live.
So when your day seems particularly rough, and you go home at night, think to yourself what will take your mind off of it. We as a race need Zen more now than ever before, but it does not need to be all-consuming in your life, or cause you to stop doing other things. Zen is so elegant because it can be incorporated into any type of life and religion.
Zen is Zen. And You are You.