I love to cook. The kitchen was where, as a child, I first discovered that I could be a creator. As I explored and experimented with all kinds of dishes, I came to appreciate that it’s not just the ingredients, but how you work with them, that makes a meal wonderful.
That’s why, in addition to cooking, I love watching cooking shows. One of my favorites is MasterChef, with its “Mystery Box Challenge.” The Mystery Box might hold durian or dogfish, Spam or spaghetti. All contestants start with the same raw materials, but they don’t know what they’ll get until the box is opened. Each chef draws upon the richness of their culture, their culinary training, and their unique take on life to dazzle the judges and win hearts and stomachs. Everyone has the potential to face glory or mishap.
What a perfect metaphor for daily life. Each moment offers us a rich spread of ingredients and options. We might find some experiences more delectable or desirable than others, but it’s up to us to decide how we work with them, doing the best with what we have.
We might find some experiences more delectable or desirable than others, but it’s up to us to decide how we work with them, doing the best with what we have.
Today, for example, I noticed a feeling of joy as an early morning light came into the room. At the same time, I felt edgy about some tasks I needed to accomplish. So joy and edginess were two ingredients in my day. Noticing the ingredient of “enjoying the sunlight” allowed me to connect with simple happiness, while the ingredient of edginess was like making a dessert that featured jalapeños. I let myself feel how my body was responding to the prickly heat of edginess. As I investigated its characteristics, instead of seeing it as a problem I was able to enjoy watching my spicy edge keeping things perky. And because I brought awareness to this peppery friend, I was able to see that I could soften it with the soothing milk of kindness. So I gave myself space to pause and take a mellowing, nutritious breath (and I reduced my caffeine intake for the day).
Just like with cooking, you invite deliciousness and mastery when you take a moment to assess the ingredients you have on hand before diving into the action. If you notice edginess, irritation, or anger in the mix, consider how you might moderate their impact—or even, when the time is right, let them shine with their characteristic zing. In the right proportion, edginess can be motivating. If investigated with kindness and nonjudgment, anger can signal a line that’s being crossed or that you need some self-care. The familiar taste of anxiety can be a reminder to reconnect with home and hearth, soul food, and soothing.
As you create your recipe for a nourishing day, you’ll want to check in with the seasoning, the textures, the balance of flavors, and adjust accordingly. If, say, you find yourself alone and awkward in a social situation, try a few sprinkles of warmth and friendliness. If you notice exhaustion bubbling in the pot, you might fold in some mindful breathing, take a nap, or, if you have time, maybe enjoy a movie. We each have our own needs, our own tastes, our own knowledge and experience, and there is more than one way to compose a cassoulet. It’s all about staying tuned in to what’s cooking, and nurturing virtuosity in the balancing act of flavor and savor.
One of the fun things about MasterChef is that the contestants aren’t professional cooks. They’re amateurs who aspire to develop mastery in a new field. Few of us are born chefs (except maybe Jamie Oliver). The rest of us have to learn how not to overmix the muffin dough, undercook the beans, or burn down the kitchen. Don’t worry if you find some ingredients more challenging to work with than others. Relax, focus on the main ingredient, and let yourself tinker and learn what works and what doesn’t. When you welcome whatever experiences arise you can relish them all, so eat, burn, and pray!
As you come to recognize the ingredients of your days, you might become aware of moments when certain encounters make you feel light as a soufflé, dark as chocolate, or as earthy as a mushroom. You can be there for it all, invite an abundant range of flavors, and develop a whole repertoire of tasty techniques to work with life’s sumptuous pantry of strange and familiar delights.