Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Cooking and the Tao of Dave

I got off the phone with my coach about two hours ago. She had asked me to start thinking about what I wanted to work on for our next project, so I had brainstormed a potential list to prepare for our conversation. Recently, we've been talking about putting systems in place for my life. At the top of my list was to get back to cooking.

Cooking has deep roots in my family. My dad started out as a waiter/bartender for one of the major restaurants in Chinatown. He became friends with the owners and they opened up a small chain of Chinese takeout restaurants together in the Boston area. At home, my mom cooked the family fourteen meals from scratch each week. No leftovers. No cans. The only frozen foods were peas and corn. One of my friends came over to my house one day and she was absolutely blown away by our fridge. It looked like a mini-farmers' market inside. She's still talking about it.

I jumped on the cooking bandwagon early, before it became a full-on craze. I loved cooking shows on PBS. I think Jacques Pepin was my favorite. Because the idea of cooking for my family was so intimidating to me, I kept a list of recipes in my head that I wanted to prepare some day. When I finally had a place of my own with a real kitchen, I started cooking like crazy. One of my favorite things was walking through the supermarket for inspiration while I planned out a menu for a dinner party.

Over the past few years, as my life has gotten busy with work, I've been cooking less and less. Even worse, I don't think that I've tried a new recipe in the past two years. I now visit my parents about once every two weeks. They cook lunch and send me home with frozen chicken breasts and fresh produce. My parents used to cook an amazing repertoire of dishes. As they have gotten older, that repertoire has narrowed down to almost nothing. They eat the same things every day, and every two weeks, they give me broccoli, snow peas, tomatoes, and sometimes bok choy.

Cooking this stuff has become joyless for me. I can tell that I'm mailing it in when I stir fry chicken and broccoli and only use soy sauce for seasoning. I can't be bothered to throw in a little garlic or oyster sauce. Because of this lack of joy, I'm cooking less and less and buying less of my own fresh produce from the supermarket. When I brainstormed things to work on with my coach, the first thing on my list was to cook my chicken, broccoli, snow peas, and tomatoes more often. I needed to get through this stuff because my mom gave it to me (she won't take no for answer) and I don't want it to go to waste. A distant second was getting back to trying new recipes.

Talking to my coach, it slowly dawned on me that I could take two different approaches to this cooking project. The first approach would be to put systems into place that would enable me to cook more frequently. As I was cooking more frequently, I would use up what I had brought home from my parents and buy more of my own stuff to cook, and it would free up energy to do more things like expand my own cooking repertoire. Essentially, getting things done would lead to joy. The other approach would be to go for joy first. I would put systems into place to make sure that I was being inspired in the supermarket and trying new recipes. This would put me into a happy, centered place and then I would start cooking more regularly. Joy would lead to getting things done.

The realization I had with my coach is that my default approach is to take care of business first and then, if I can squeeze it in, seek joy. But when it comes to cooking and how I see my life, joy should be my priority. It's what I really want for myself. I need to get in the habit of taking the path to joy because a joyful Dave is a fully actualized Dave who gets things done and kicks butt. While getting things done can lead to joy, it is a less direct path that can be hard to sustain before the joy kicks in. It is also me not listening to what I want and who I want to be... which is a very bad thing. I'm not saying that everyone should go for joy. If cooking were not a joyful thing for me, then I should, at a minimum, get down to business and eat healthier. And if you have other priorities in your life (respect, power, challenge, peace, security, tranquility), then you should go for those. Joy happens to be my thing, along with being in the moment.

As the Fake Steve Jobs would have once said, Namaste. :)

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