Heidi Isern

writer. thinker. whiskey drinker.

Meditation and Thomas Keller

“Why don’t you a blog post on meditation?” asked a man I recently met.


“What is every executive in a company were required to?” he continued.  What would the world look like? How much petty bullshit and time wasting would vaporize….”


Clearly the man had pleasurable meditation experiences.  He didn’t know that I had tried it multiple times without much success.  If I were going to write about it, not only would I have to find time in my busy schedule to sit down and “Ohm” again, but I’d also have to master it….something I never quite managed to do.


My past times with meditation had gone something like this:


Meditation through Movement: Five years ago I went to Bali to, er, ‘find myself.’  ‘Finding myself’ consistent of endless surfing, yoga, and one attempt at a “Meditation through Movement Class.  According the instructor it was, “a way of reaching ecstasy or god through your own personal movements. We will close our eyes and dance around the room like woodland nymphs to a series of joyous beats and sounds. We have 5 phases –Flow, Chaos, Lyrical, Staccato, Silence. You must …twirl, shake, stomp, sway, jump to the beats until you reach ecstasy.


I had blocked most of the woodland nymph experience out of my memory.  Not only did I have a very hard time to let go and dance without judgement, but I also panicked during the ‘staccato’ session, thinking one man was having a seizure as he jerked his limbs around.  “He’s having a FIT,” I had screamed.  The instructor explained to me that he was fine and had just reached meditation ecstasy.


Satsang at the India Ashram: Four years ago I decided to give mediation another whirl, with less jerking movement. I spent a few weeks in Kerala at the Sivananda Ashram.  I actually really enjoyed the entire experience and felt bliss overtake me as my mind and body reset.  However, meditation during Satsang was challenging.  First of all it was at 6am.  Secondly, it was really uncomfortable.  My legs cramped up in the cross legged position as I tried to calm my mind.  Lastly, it was (gasp) loud! We would start the session by chanting. Unfortunately, many Ashram chanters are tone deaf.  Words like “Purnamevashishyate” were sung in eerie off key chords. There was no way to calm my mind as all my energy went to try and tune them. I found myself not relaxing but trying to sing louder than them.  Competing in chanting volume likely wasn’t the best entrance into meditation.


Esalen-Mind Mood and Happiness: Earlier this year I decided to give mediation another go.  I had gone through a breakup, was having challenges at work and needed to escape and refocus.  The Big Sur retreat Esalen was calling me . Who can beat a class taught by a famous mind-body psychotherapist (who also likely did LSD), naked baths, sharing stories, music workshops, and maybe a little silent time?  Sitting cross-legged on the ‘silent pillow” I swore that I could do this.  I would stop my mind.  I would imagine my thoughts as ‘little clouds’ and dismiss them.  I would ignore the mosquito biting me and the cramp in my ankle. I would forgive myself.  I would write a great blog post on how I, neurotic overachiever, had stopped my mind.  I would be featured on Oprah for embracing the new technique despite my past failures. I would, I would….and before you knew it meditation time was up and I hadn’t even started!  I was a failure on mind stopping.  I was too easily distracted.

A concerned friend told me that I just needed a new way to meditate. “Monks use repetitive actions like wood chopping.” I was told.  “Maybe you just need an activity?”


And then it happened.  Famed chef Thomas Keller gave me inspiration.  I saw him speak at an event about cooking. “It centers me,” he said.  He spoke about the beautiful delicacy of filleting a fish. “I’ve done it so many times, “ he said, “and with the repetition your mind is free to focus….”


Aha!  This was it!  Instead of sitting cross legged trying really hard not to think I was going to engage in a repetitive activity and let my mind naturally release.  In honor of Thomas Keller I made his roast chicken plus multiple side dishes and four batches of cookies for a Sunday evening dinner event.  Each recipe I had made dozens of times before.  I didn’t have to think.  All I had to do was cut, chop, stir, scoop, bake, roast, sautee.  And repeat!

The action focused my body and my mind cleared of all thoughts.

After four hours in my kitchen I emerged calm and collected. Well, okay, minus one * tiny* smoke incident as the thyme caught on fire and my fire alarms were dismantled.  But after the “burning thyme” incident was resolved, I was centered.  I didn’t think about work or relationships or what to wear to the next holiday party. At work on Monday, the stress I had been battling dripped off my back and I calmly worked through problems.


I wasn’t going to bother with meditation class again.  I would just cook more, making both my stomach and my mind happy.


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