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Lions Roar : May 2019
I take a breath, and another. Then I unpack and repack the dishwasher. It’s a rare moment when my two kids aren’t home, so working without one of them on my hip is a treat. Normally, during quiet times like this, I do my chores while talking on the phone or listening to stand- up comedy on Netflix. But under Dogen’s tutelage, I now clean the kitchen whole- heartedly, without doing anything else. Okay, truth be told, there is something else I’m doing simultaneously. I’m rumi- nating on my situation; I’m making a list of reasons why a monastery cook has it easy compared to me. Sure, a tenzo has to cook for more people, but monastics only eat twice a day, not three times (or more) like my ravenous family. Moreover, tenzos don’t have small children clinging to them, so they have both their hands free for activities such as straining pasta. And ten- zos don’t have to listen to crying or referee fights over toys, so they can concentrate on things such as their cookbook instructions. The cleaning goes on for so long that my useless thoughts of “It’s so hard to be a parent,” and “It would be so much easier to live in a monastery,” simply burn them- selves out. Meanwhile, it becomes clear that my condo is all about interbeing: The kitchen is not separate from the rest of the space; it’s connected to the hall and the dining nook. Things that belong in the bedrooms or the TV room have ended up in the kitchen, and things that belong in the kitchen have ended up in the bed- rooms or the TV room. In the end, I clean up bits and pieces of every room. Finally, I find a knife and cutting board to make an Asian-inspired cole- slaw. As I get out the ingredients, I think about Dogen’s admonishment to care for them as I would care for the pupils of my own eyes. Since I would never slice or dice my own eyes, I don’t quite know where to start. But Dogen says not to waste time. I need to get at it. First up is the cabbage, which feels remarkably like a human head, not a pupil. I cut it in half and marvel at the almost perfect circle of a mandala that the cabbage forms. I could meditate on the soft yellow-green hues. A slightly darker shade rings the cabbage edge and then, just a few layers in, it quickly gives way to pale and paler rings. Next up is the red pepper, with its shiny vermillion skin, light orange membranes, and tight clusters of seeds. The recipe calls for half a cup of sliced pepper. But treating it like my own eye is not just about appre- ciating its colors and textures. It’s also— maybe more so—about not wasting it. I have a little more than I need, so I mound the measuring cup. I use every red scrap. When my two toddlers come home, I’m still cooking. They are, as usual, hur- ricanes of activity, but the quiet time I’ve spent cooking and cleaning has relaxed me and I feel the full fierceness of my love for these pure little beings. Dogen says, “Care for water and rice as though they were your own children.” I say, one way to care for your children is by showing them your care for water and rice. And of course not just water and rice, but also carrots and onions, sugar and salt, and all the other ingredients in your kitchen. I hand a whole lemon to my one-year- old son and let him explore the bright beauty of it. I pick up my two-year-old daughter and let her press the buttons on the food processor to grate the carrots, and then I let her taste everything. Finally, when it’s time to eat, one last Dogen passage plays through my mind: “When preparing the vegetables or ingre- dients, do not disparage the quantity or quality but instead handle everything with great care. Do not despair or complain.” I’ve always been lucky to cook with excellent and plentiful ingredients. So, in terms of food quantity or quality, I’ve had nothing to complain about, even if I were so inclined. But, I realize, I have disparaged the ingredients of my life, like my lack of time, my excess of stress. Given the busyness of having two tod- dlers and a full-time job, I might need to order pizza tomorrow, but I realize that’s okay. The greatest lesson that Dogen has dished up for me is appreciation. ♦ l ittle book of b eing Diana Winston THE Practices and Guidance for Uncovering Your Natural Awareness “Release tHe buoyant little buddH a witH in.” Lama Surya Das LION’S ROAR | MAY 2019 20 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE