January 29, 2012

Kitchen Sink Dharma: Clearing the Space. ~ Rick Gilbert

Photo: Rick Gilbert

Part I: Clearing the space.

I’m a hobbyist cook, and a buddhist

I’m an expert in neither, but pretty passionate about both.  I spent several years in the late 1990s intensively practicing meditation and attending weekend program and longer retreats, culminating in a three month seminary in 1999.  Shortly thereafter, I bought a house and moved away from Seattle, got married, changed jobs and had children.  My meditation practice fell away.  My attraction to cooking grew, however, in the midst of domestic chaos and the usual stresses and joys and of being a husband and raising a family.

I’m finally at the point of integrating what little I know of the buddhadharma into my life in the kitchen.

Many men my age, especially those with a wife and children, either have or yearn for a “man cave.”  It’s often some room or space for retreat, to engage in a suitable manly activity, or lack of activity.  Components can include a bar, extra huge television, stereo equipment, sports paraphanelia, and the like.  I have no such luxury of space or budget.  My kitchen is my space. For me, that’s a very good thing, because if I had a more defined retreat space it would only feed my tendency to cocoon myself and try to shut myself off from the outside world completely.  The kitchen doesn’t do well operating as a cave, so the beginning point of kitchen dharma is clearing the space.Don’t get me wrong, many weekdays conspire to turn my kitchen into a cave.  My wife and I both work full-time, on top of tending to the needs and random wants of two sons, aged 10 and 6.  My commute, however, is much shorter.  It’s therefore up to me to prepare most dinners and clean up afterward.  Clean up during the weekday can be half-assed, and only sufficient to allow further cooking to occur.  I’ve therefore built into my schedule a Friday evening kitchen clean.I bring along two elements to the ritual:  music and wine, or beer.  I listen to a playlist on my iPhone and have a few drinks while I’m cleaning.  These are welcome elements, but they both run the risk of turning the cleaning pursuit into an excuse to engage in cave-like behavior, and a subsequent loss of mindfulness.  Sometimes that does happen, but at least the kitchen gets cleaned.  Paying attention to what you’re bringing to the task is important, regardless of how simple the task may be.

Photo: walker cleavelands

My goals for cleaning the kitchen are simple.  The top four priorities are 1) clear and clean the counter space; 2) do the dishes 3) clean the sink and 4) clean the stovetop.  Depending on the week and the need, other tasks come to the surface:  clear out and clean the refrigerator, clear out and clean cabinets, clean the oven, clean the floor, clean the windows, etc. ––you get the idea.

Once at least the first four tasks are done, I try to take a moment to just kind of rest in the space of the kitchen, and compare it to how it felt around, say, Wednesday after work.  Mid-week I typically get home, negotiate some tenuous peace agreement between my feuding sons, figure out if I can fit in a short nap, conjure up some reasonably easy but passably nutritious dinner –– and do it while navigating through a kitchen of half-unwashed dishes and cutting boards. Now that the kitchen is clean, does it feel any better? Of course it does.  Part of it could be that it’s Friday and the weight of the week has lifted a bit, but much of it is a mental break from clutter.

In “Shambhala, Sacred Path of the Warrior,” Chogyam Trungpa descibes the concept of drala, and introducing it into your life.  This occurs on many levels.  I only feel qualified to speak to the most elementary.  Drala is defined as “energy beyond aggression.”  It involves a connection to the earth’s elements, and allowing that connection to come through your environment.

On a very basic level, cleaning your space and removing debris and clutter allows this energy to flow through.  And, what better inside space to experience all elements simultaneously than your kitchen?  You have the earth of your food, water of your sink, fire of your stove and so on.  Removing the obstacles to these elements, something as basic as cleaning the grease off your stove, invites drala.

Once the space has been cleared, cooking can happen.

Edited by: Lindsay Friedman


Rick Gilbert is a married father of two sons, 10 and 6.  He manages a hazardous waste collection program for the public and small businesses in Kitsap County Washington.  Rick’s cooking skills don’t match up to his ambition, but he’s fine with that.  His culinary heroes are David Chang, Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert, Jim Harrison and Jonathan Gold.  He’s very fond of Korean food, while knowing very little about it.  Rick is a wayward student of the buddhadharma and really needs to spend more time on the cushion.  Rick also likes SpongeBob Squarepants, King of the Hill, the Washington Redskins, and Arsenal Gunners.  His favorite wineries are Turley and Orin Swift.

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