Imagine if you lost everything in your life. Everything. All gone; your family (yes, your kids, if you have any), the place where you live, your job. What is it that would sustain you? Seriously, take a moment and think about it. Many people across history have faced this very predicament. Some make it through and some do not. Finding the key to your resilience is a mysterious quandary most hope they’ll never face.
It was a question posed in the book I’m reading by Joseph Campbell, a mythologist and writer. The question struck me and left me still, with the book laid down and with eyes to the ceiling. At first I thought, and said out aloud, I would just die. Then I went deeper.I decided I would most likely write myself out of the misery. Yeah, I thought, I’d write my roadmap right south of that place.
Then today, when I was cooking, it dawned on me that the chopping, the stirring, the aromas and the setting of the table would feed my soul should it be rocked and torn apart. For me, creating food, from scratch, is a ritual that reconfirms the need to take one step at the time; one foot in front of the other. It’s a sensory thing that begs you to stay focused on the task at hand. It stops everything just as meditation does. It draws you into a script and you follow the lines. From there you go into a space of art and the best thing? You get to share that art with others.
While not everyone is a natural born cook we all share the need to eat and we are currently witnessing a food revolution. Look at the success and number of food related shows either teaching us to cook, showing us how others cook or what to eat when we do that next bit of world travel. Is it about being hungry and that need to fill our bellies? Or is it all those social cues which remind us of the wonderful times we’ve had around a table with friends or family? Whatever it is, our depth of respect for the diversity of foods, the actual dishes, available to us in the Western world brings us to a place which is strangely familiar and where we slow our fast paced lives to stop and break the bread of life.
So, I asked myself, if it’s cooking that would provide the emotional compass out of sorrow and grief, why is it that? Then I went one step further. And that answer came very quickly. You are there, right in the moment, when you cook. Instead of worrying about something you are instead going through the motions and the rest of the crap can go jump.
And then I thought of Nigella Lawson and a passing comment she made in one of her series about how she feels about her work and life. It was then I realised there was something more that needs to click in and support resilience. Nigella would have to be my ultimate career guru. She is living her passion and doing very nicely at it. Her presence, in terms of being ‘right there’, is what gives her goods that intriguing charm and addictiveness. She’s in her craft, in her moment and in her body, and the light that comes from someone when they’e there shines wide. I wondered if she was already there whereas I am still ‘working on it’. I wondered how long I’d be ‘working on it’. for. It’s an ongoing prospect.
When the soul is confounded or hung out to dry we tend to reach out for the things that stir things deep within us. Food can be one of those things, whether it’s for good or for bad. It sustains us from our first day on the planet and it ultimately becomes the thing we reject just before passing on.
But when it comes to preparing a meal, the process through the idea of the dish, the shopping, the touch, smell and texture of the ingredients, the entwining of flavours, is something that centres and reassures. Writing could take me to one place far away but cooking, well, it brings me to the table of life and there the nourishment for living is always good.