Finding peace in the meal

By Ryann Kuykendall

Where and how do you find peace?  This is something I want to ask the people I admire.  I want to sit down with them and really be able to listen and learn from them.  Of course this is not the easiest task because the people I admire are involved in many activities and also mainly because it may appear odd to suddenly say to them, “So how do you live such a purpose-filled life?”

This topic intrigues me much more lately and because tracking down my harmonious heroes to list all they know may not happen any time soon, I have taken the initiative to try and figure out some of the questions I have.  In particular the practice of Zen interests me the most.  To follow up on my curiosity, I have read many peace-themed books with mild success.  My first attempt was “Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”  I have to tell you, I spent most of my time rereading passages about metaphysics.  Other books like “The Three Pillars of Zen” and “The Religion of India” offered guidance, but not in a way that applied directly to my current stage in life.  It wasn’t until I watched the documentary “How to Cook Your Life” that a simple but new way of thinking suddenly made sense.

The documentary focused on mindfulness when cooking and eating and the idea of treating food as if it were your eyesight.  As a wife and mother, this resonated deeply to me. Far too often I find it easier to pour the meal out of a box without much thought at all to who packaged the food or where the food came from.  This is disappointing because I have seen first hand what life is like for the many migrant farm workers and factory workers who in essence did the work for me.  Most importantly I rarely gave thought of the intention to the meal.   When shopping I sometimes think, “I don’t feel like cooking tonight.” So I get a meal that some stranger prepared at the deli or I cook a meal I could make in the dark.  No thought.  No intention.  My concern has always been to provide my family with a hot meal that will provide the right nutrition.

Cooking was a chore to me.  However for the first time in a long time, I am excited about putting joy into my cooking.  Preparing a wonderful meal that has a clear intention I hope will bring more peace to our home. I also hope we will slow down at meals to be present when enjoying the textures, flavors and aromas.

My family and I pray before meals to give God thanks.  I like to think we are at least one step closer to beginning mindfulness when cooking and eating together.  Usually we pray the traditional Catholic prayer: Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.  However not too long ago I heard about a prayer that our friends the Kriege family sometimes prays.  I am thankful for the joy it brought to our table and highly recommend the prayer to anyone.  The following prayer is sung to the tune of the Superman theme song.

(Raise one arm) Thank you God for giving us food
(Raise the other arm)  Thank you God for giving us friends
(Keep arms raised and move as if flying) For the food that we eat
For the friends that we meet
Thank you God for giving us food

Other times they will sing the Alleluia while clapping. I love making prayer and meals a time of smiling and being together.  When talking to the family about the prayer, the mom and wife, Teri told me that her brother-in-law’s family deserves credit and that they are always thinking up new prayers to sing.  “How to Cook Your Life” and all my Zen books don’t mention making up happy songs during meals, but at our table we certainly sing prayers and sometimes we just sing.

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