Thai green curry the perfect blend of Asian vegetables, coconut milk and spices.
Apple crumble, rich with the natural sweetness of the apples and a lovely hint of cinnamon in the crumble.
Wholewheat bread made from natural yeast, kneaded by hand and left to rise in a sunny spot in my kitchen. The finished loaf so good it stands alone, as well as being an excellent accompaniment for soup or salad.
This is what I managed to ‘whip up’ in my kitchen over two days during the recent Golden Week vacation.
While this might be pretty routine for some of the culinary-inclined out there, it was no mean feat for (until recently) culinary-challenged me.
Cooking has never been my forte. While, if pushed, I could make a very passable dessert or salad, I somehow managed to reach my mid-thirties without being able to say the same for main courses or side dishes.
The year my friend fell ill on Christmas Day and I used her ingredients to cobble together a Christmas Dinner for her husband, kids and me is a prime example. I might not quite have managed to turn the soup blue Bridget Jones’ fashion, but the food was memorable to say the least.
The creme brûlée I had made and brought from home was spectacular…
The rest of the meal a congealed, tasteless mess.
My friend’s husband, bound by politeness and good manners, smiled and suffered as he diligently cleared his plate despite my repeated protests not to. The kids, being more honest and far more sensible, pushed theirs around their plates and presumably went to Obaachan’s (Grandma’s) after I’d left.
I notched this incident up as another leaf in the folder of ‘evidence’ against me being able to cook.
The other leaves weren’t nearly as dramatic it’s true. They primarily consisted of meals that were bland but edible; with a main thread woven in about how a dislike of cooking ran in the family – my mum never liked cooking, ergo neither did I.
While this body of evidence was circumstantial at best and definitely wouldn’t have stood up in a court of law, it was enough to convince me: “I can’t cook;” “I don’t know how to cook;” “I don’t like cooking;” “Cooking is something other people are good at, not me;” “Cooking is not my thing.”
These stories and variations of them I repeated over and over in my head and in my conversations.
Our subconscious mind is very clever, but it is not very discerning. Whatever we tell it enough times it will accept as fact. And so what was to begin with nothing more than flimsy circumstantial evidence, repeated over and over to myself day after day year after year, became entrenched in the dusty tomes of ‘Fact’ in the deepest realms of my subconscious mind. A self-made mantra that spoke itself into truth.
Far from being consciously chosen by me, this was an unconscious mantra of lack, limitation and disempowerment. One that stranded me in the mire of my own helplessness and shortcomings as I, quite literally, brainwashed myself into believing it was true.
“I can’t cook.”
I told myself and others this story over and over, never once thinking to challenge its validity or rewrite the story.
It didn’t really even cross my mind that I could.
Some people tried to embolden me – “Anybody can cook; once you learn it’s not that difficult.”
I rebuffed them all with my misplaced determination: “Not me. I can’t cook.”
What debilitating stories we tell ourselves. How we take away our power, lay ourselves to waste with the unconscious mantras with which we furnish our minds.
For these things we say to ourselves, they take root like seeds and become the lens through which we view our world. Once we believe something to be true, we make it so. And so it is that our fictions (the stories we tell ourselves) take on the solidity of fact in the telling of them. And as our actions stem from our beliefs about ourselves and the world they reinforce the ‘fact’ in a never-ending cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy, so that what is nothing more than an often-repeated untruth becomes our (mistaken) truth.
The longer these erroneous seed-thoughts lay unchallenged in our minds, the deeper the roots grow and the harder it becomes to pluck out the mistaken beliefs and exchange them for other, more empowering, ones. So in believing I couldn’t cook, and in failing to challenge this mistaken belief, I perpetuated my own incompetence; dishonouring both myself and the infinite potential that I am in my litany of lack.
They say the truth isn’t always comfortable. If I’m really honest with myself, my belief that I couldn’t cook was a convenient excuse that enabled me to be dependent on others to do for me what I really should have been learning how to do for myself.
At any point the power lay within me to make the decision to step out of my limits and learn how to cook. And I diminished my power each time I neglected to take this decision in the direction of self-empowerment, self-expansion and growth. Did I ever get out there and try to learn how to cook? Take a cooking class, learn from a friend, even work consistently with a recipe book or blog? No. It was far easier for me to stay in my comfort zone and let other people do the cooking. So that is what I did, what I have always done; what I might have always continued to do if my world hadn’t turned itself upside down and inside out and circumstances basically forced me to (finally) learn how to cook – to a certain degree at least.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not heaping blame on myself. I feel fully detached from all of this now. But saying that I couldn’t cook without even trying to learn was akin to sitting behind the wheel of a car lamenting the fact (there it is, that word again…) that you can’t drive without thinking to first turn the key in the ignition.
We are deep and infinite reservoirs of potential. We have the capacity within us to be and do almost anything we choose. But we are the only one who can set this potential in motion. It first requires a decision from us.
Surprise of all surprises I now actually enjoy preparing most of my meals – I find the simple repetitive nature of the processes relaxing, and the fact that they require my full attention helps me to be present in the moment. I relish the physicality of cooking. We do so much with our heads these days, it feels good to do something that grounds me in my body. I like the way that the simple act of cooking connects me with the earth from which the vegetables came and the whole history of my human ancestors, all of whom have cooked to eat to live… Plus, at the most basic level, it is so much more fun now I can cook something that actually tastes good. (Provided I have a recipe to follow at least; I will leave experimental cooking to the real chefs amongst us…).
So, in learning how to cook I have rewritten my story.
Or one of them at least…
The fastest way to rewrite our stories and change our false beliefs is to challenge them; to do something differently, something that takes you outside of your norm and your arbitrarily imposed limitation. This is strong direct evidence of the kind that the mind cannot refute, and so it willingly accommodates the new truth. As Van Gogh said, “If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”
But in order to challenge our false beliefs by doing something differently, we first need to be able to catch them; and we can’t do that when we’re living on autopilot.
“I can’t…;” “I don’t know how to…;” I’ve found it really helpful to catch myself in the act of saying these two phrases and observe what comes next.
“You can’t…?” “Who says you can’t…?” “Is that a fact or something you’ve arbitrarily decided?” “Does that belief come from you or is is one you’ve taken on from someone else?” “Can you find a more empowering way to think (and talk) about…?” “How can you change that ‘can’t’ to a ‘can’?” These are all questions I have started to ask myself when I hear those familiar litanies of lack and limitation echoing in my mind, enabling me to spot the stories and overlay them with a more empowering script.
It is up to us to take back our power and rewrite our false stories; to knock down the walls that restrict and curb our infinite potential – walls that don’t even exist except for in our minds.
Just because you’ve never been able to (cook) doesn’t mean you’re unable to learn. I’ve found it helpful to remind myself that no one knows how to do something when they’re just starting out and that this doesn’t mean that they can’t – it’s simply a reflection of the fact that it’s not something they’ve opted to put their focus on thus far.
Where have you been holding yourself back in limitation, telling yourself that you ‘can’t’ when really you just ‘haven’t so far?’ The only thing that is stopping you is you.
How can you get our of your own way today?