The Zen Kitchen: Cleanliness is next to Mindfulness

:: Post submitted by Fukutoku, Tenzo at Clouds in Water ::

Thoughts about cleanliness and cooking food for others in a community is what I felt rise up in me as I was cooking at the one day retreat on March 11. I  wanted to share this with you.

Concerning cleanliness. I know that my nursing training is flowing into my role as a cook. For sure. In the sense that I have taught myself that tidiness and keeping objects clean is a way to express caring for others.  If you have ever been a patient in a hospital or had a visiting nurse come to your home you might have noticed that you get very interested in how clean the nurse is when that person is changing a wound dressing. My experience is people get hyper vigilant in that setting. In order to motivate myself and get away from feeling judged by patients, I have come to see it as an act of generosity for me to be as organized and clean as possible to create a calming environment with cleanliness.

So I carry that over into the kitchen. No one is watching me clean counters over and over. I don’t need to calm anyone with my tidiness. However, I realize if a piece of food sits on the counter and then another person puts it in their mouth, there is a lot less bacteria that is going to be added into the food they eat if the counter is clean. The bacteria will never be gone, of course, but hopefully, it can be kept below the threshold for an upset stomach. I am taking care of the kitchen in order to take care of the community.

Tidiness leads me to calm myself. When I see objects strewn all over the counter, my mind goes off in ten directions. Also, I get tense as I can’t find the cutting board I want. I notice I almost drop juice from a vegetable salad into an open container of nuts and get irritated thinking I would have had to throw out the nuts. This is the time to take a break from cooking. I call it a “thirty second tidy.” Put dirty utensils in the sink, put packages of  food back on the shelf, get the dirty dish towels in the bin, put the blender back in the cabinet and so on. It really only takes thirty seconds. Objects stay clean because they are stored away. The next person to touch the blender won’t get dirty hands from stains I left behind. Tidiness is generosity to myself and others.

Please explore this and test it for yourself. Let’s do what we can to take self-judgment out of the process and put generosity to self and others front and center.

Fukutoku, Ann Morishita is the Tenzo and a priest-in-training at Clouds In Water Zen Center. 

In the Zen Kitchen, the tenzo holds the responsibility of planning, preparing, and serving meals to the community. At Clouds in Water, our tenzo ryo consists of a group of volunteers who, as Fuku shared, ensure that everyone attending our sesshins receive delicious nourishment to support their practice.

Clouds in Water Zen Center is a vibrant urban community in the heart of Saint Paul, Minnesota. We practice in the Soto Zen Buddhist tradition, dedicated to awakening the heart of great wisdom and compassion. We welcome people of all backgrounds and faiths.

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