Take up a blade of grass and construct a treasure king’s land; enter into a particle of dust and turn the great dharma wheel. —Zen master Dogen

Enlightened by the ingredients, you follow your nose.

When we are captivated by the everyday, we often look for the recipe: how shall I cook so that the food comes out the way it should, no one criticizes my efforts, and I do not risk being seen as less than masterful? Heaven forbid any failure! Crafting your image, developing your brand, that’s life—isn’t it? Or is there more to life than looking good?

Playing it safe means cooking the same old dishes rather than chancing the expression of your taste and your understanding. Aiming to make things taste the way they should is safer than the risk of letting the ingredients speak for themselves. Yet opening to this moment, which has never happened before, we could be investigating what is it that thus comes. And we could be dreaming up what to make of it.

Our usual approach is to start by dreaming up a picture—that is, coming up with a recipe—of how we want things to turn out. Then we work to come up with the ingredients—the foods, the time, the energy—possibly struggling to get them all together. Then we effort to make our dream come true. It’s often more work than we imagined, and the results can fail to measure up. We call this freedom—to chase after dreams. Chasing after dreams in this horizontal world most often feels vaguely unsatisfying.

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We can shift to bringing forth what is sacred—receiving and opening the gifts from beyond—by first taking an inventory of the ingredients we have on hand. Next, we dream up what to do with them with the time and energy we have available. And as we continue cooking, we continue to dream up our response to the food, to the circumstances. We are not attached to our original recipe, our original dream, trying, often forcefully, to make it come true. We are using what’s on hand and dreaming up what to do next with the resources, both inner and outer, that we have available.

We wake up, come to our senses, knowing for ourself what is what—knowing what is what so profoundly that the world of ingredients reveals its secrets. As the ingredients begin to share their blessing, we go beyond uninspired cuisine.

Working to bring food to the table, we are working to transform ourselves from being a bystander to being the star, the center of our own life—transforming our challenges and difficulties and our afflictive emotions into nourishment. The way to do this is by doing it.
We work through it.

When you stay with the picture in your head, looking for what fits with your recipe, you may miss the quieter ingredients that are right on hand. When you are open and curious, you taste the lettuce, savor the bread, make discoveries, and find out what pleases you deeply. You’re beginning to cook with feeling, to live with feeling. You mean it, putting your heart into it. You have some successes and some fiascoes. You do your best—and now it’s time to do something else.

Excerpted from NO RECIPE: Cooking as Spiritual Practice, by Edward Espe Brown. Sounds True, May 2018. Reprinted with permission.