The Journey to My Kitchen Sanctuary
"The labyrinth was used as a meditation tool whose path would lead to one's own center and then back out into the world." ~Anita Johnson
I've always considered my journey to be a series of windy, unrelated and more often than not, unconventional pathways. But recently, in reading a passage in Anita Johnson's Eating in the Light of the Moon, I had a profound realization: That my life is, in fact, a beautiful labyrinth.
This metaphor is exactly what I had needed to simplify and put words to the last 39 years. It finally came together with a single image.
The archetype of a labyrinth (versus a maze) involves a single pathway that loops on itself until reaching the center and from there, back out into the world. No dead ends, no barriers, no race against the clock. Just a peaceful, meditative pilgrimage within a path of hand-placed stones that twists and turns to its own rhythm. Where we are encouraged to keep moving forward and trusting in the Universe to reach the other side.
More importantly, the central part of the labyrinth is akin to the deep, sometimes painful internal work of self-discovery where we let in both the learnings and the blessings. Of grasping who we are at the essence, listening to our intuition and honoring our innate gifts and talents. It's a place I know quite intimately as I've been immersed in and committed to this soul-level work for a decade, beginning with a yoga teacher training in early 2012.
The stage I'm currently in is the exhilarating one of emerging from that middle heart space and back into the world with a renewed trust in myself, acceptance of my non-linear path and desire to share more vulnerably. A rebirth, a rising phoenix!
In retrospect, I can see that my relationship to food and to what I call my Kitchen Sanctuary has followed a similar course. For many years, I listened all too carefully to the external voices of media and diet gurus, alongside critical internal ones that led me into deep ups and downs and phases of poor physical and emotional health.
I trusted everyone except myself.
Being deeply passionate about food and desiring a career out of it, I enrolled in two culinary schools and jumped head first into a slew of cooking jobs that were unfit for my gentle nervous system. Chaotic, overstimulating, loud, bright, cramped spaces full of intensity and adrenaline! Somehow, everyone else managed just fine so I figured it was me and continued to push through until burnout.
But dotted within these experiences, I always found deep peace when I connected to nature and to the seasonality of ingredients. At small family farms, botanical gardens, vineyards and olive groves, spiritual centers, artist retreats, Japanese spas and community kitchens, I could engage all of my senses and cook with food that had been respected and cared for by Mother Nature and her human stewards. Best of all, I could transfer my own love into the final product for all to savor. I held onto that nourishing feeling.
Along this journey, my wife and I criss-crossed the country and lived in a variety of locations and housing setups (14 homes in nine years!) as part of our desire to experiment and see what suited us best. What always mattered most for me was the kitchen, the hearth, where I would be spending most of my hours and precious energy. Living in a tiny home in Oregon was one of our wildest adventures that taught us most about living with a gentler footprint.
We intentionally pared down all aspects of our home life in order to drown out the complex, fast-paced outer world that was buzzing nonstop. By becoming aware of every single material possession, we could consciously design a comfortably minimal lifestyle that would be orderly, calm and easy on the senses. We just don't realize how much energetic weight our physical belongings hold and that we are constantly in communication with them even behind closed doors.
In doing all this hard, messy work, I had in fact been setting myself up for a huge discovery at the center of the labyrinth.
Two years ago, my wife and I serendipitously came across the trait of Sensory Processing Sensitivity, known commonly as High Sensitivity, which is inborn to 20% of the population and evolved as an adaptive feature in 100 animal species and in humans as a way to sense danger in their immediate surroundings. This trait was discovered by Dr. Elaine Aron in the 1990s who describes its four main attributes (which inherently come with both gifts and challenges) using the acronym DOES:
Depth of processing
Emotional reactivity and Empathy
Sensing the subtle
So here we were, prototyping our way through life in an attempt to thrive in a fast-paced, overstimulating, convenience culture set up for the other 80%. And then comes this massive realization that we are not alone! That there are other deeply caring souls whose sensory world and emotional depth is just as rich. This moment forever changed me.
Moreover, this revelation encapsulated everything I felt about all the kitchens I had worked in throughout my career and the bombardment of information I had received about food. There was a constant pressure to buy buy buy - more gadgets, more knives, more superfoods, more supplements, more more more. In adulthood, I flat out rejected the notion of excess which I had become so accustomed to as a child and have since become an advocate for reducing food waste at home and living more sustainably.
Among other things, this discovery explained my innate desire to create a more tranquil world for myself where I could feel at peace and at ease, shielded from the harshness my body and mind felt out there. It explained my desire to design a kitchen space that was visually calm and extremely orderly ( I have a methodical system of shopping, storing and preparing food before cooking). I could work intentionally and without distraction, knowing where each and every item is located within my kitchen. I have even freed mental space simply by owning less (and better quality where possible) while learning to approach shopping and labels with less decision fatigue.
All in all, I do things in a way that works for my particular sensory and processing needs and to soothe my more sensitive nervous system.
Knowing about my sensitivity to sensory overload, I've now carved out an ideal environment to bring forth my gifts of creativity and intuition about ingredients. When I work in spaces such as these and bring in elements of the natural world - both directly into my space and through the foods that I choose - I am truly in a state of flow.
This is my Kitchen Sanctuary.
See some of my creative expressions in the photos below, all prepared in outdoor kitchens with the most seasonal of produce. I was definitely in an environment that brought out my natural skills and passions.
By honoring and elevating my gifts as an Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), I can clearly and confidently see my role in sharing these learnings with you as an intuitive chef, educator and mentor. I'm here for it all.
As I gaze out at the expansive opening of my life's labyrinth, the path looks nothing short of exhilarating.
Whether you also identify as an HSP, have yet to find out (check out the amazing tools below) or are wanting to create a simpler, gentler experience around food and cooking, I hope you'll join me. It truly means a lot.
Pyschotherapist and sensitivity expert, Julie Bjelland, has created a treasure chest of resources that are supportive to sensitive souls. Her blogs, podcasts and Sensitive Empowerment Community have all been instrumental to my own evolution. I encourage you to look around her site to learn more.