How to Create a Sacred Kitchen

To find the heart of any home, the place where joy is born, where people feel nurtured and healed, nourished and comforted, look no further than the sacred kitchen.

Not being much of a cook, I never had much appreciation for kitchens. Living alone, I usually only have to cook for myself and always keep it simple.

When I attended Native American gatherings where women were typically involved in food preparation, I always demurred and preferred physical outdoor labor such as chopping wood and carrying water.

But that all changed after a profound experience I had while attending a Sun Dance ceremony in the southwestern United States some years ago.

Prior to the actual ceremony, there were both Caucasians and Native Americans in attendance. The intercessor (leader) was a Native American whom I knew as a qualified, experienced elder.

A disagreement had arisen in the camp because several of the Native men did not want Caucasians present, and did not want to follow the instructions of the leader, who they had asked to conduct the ceremony.

That was an unfortunate situation because, when an elder is asked to conduct a ceremony the best way they know how, the protocol is that they are respected and the parameters they set up are to be followed. Not this time, however.

After a long, large, and painful talking circle, the leader realized that he could not lead the ceremony in that place. So he and all the Caucasians (including me) left.

Hearts were heavy. We camped overnight in the back yard of someone who lived nearby while we figured out what to do. We still wanted to have a ceremony, but where?

Within a day, our prayers were answered. A friend of a friend of a friend had a piece of land nearby that he offered for our ceremony. It had everything we needed: a large, open field and trees and volcanic rocks for a lodge.

We caravanned to this new site and pooled our kitchen supplies and food. One of the group had experience cooking for large gatherings, so he took charge of our makeshift kitchen and made amazing meals out of the contributed food supplies.

And I witnessed a miracle: all the sadness and heavy hearts were lifted in that kitchen, where we came together for camaraderie and sustenance.

We went on to have a beautiful ceremony, and we all had a profound lesson in what can happen when people come together with a common vision and commitment.

But I also learned about the healing power of a sacred kitchen. Ever since then, when I go to a ceremonial gathering, the kitchen is where I want to be. There’s magic there.

How did we lose the sacred kitchen?

The modern kitchen is a place of microwaves and speed cooking. If we eat in our kitchens at all, we often eat on the run. And I don’t think that nurtures our souls in quite the same way.

TV and radio commercials would have us believe that our lives are so busy that we have no time to prepare food in a sacred manner. Yes, we may be busy much of the time, but not all of the time.

My mother used to prepare lovely meals from scratch. But then TV dinners came along. The commercials told us it was just like our mothers made, and would save her time. Yes, it saved her time, but was not just like a home-cooked meal!

Creating a Sacred Kitchen

Our grandparents prepared food the old-fashioned way: slowly, with natural ingredients. I realize that we don’t all have the time to prepare food in that way, but surely we can still make meal preparation a community effort at least a few evenings a week.

Here are some guidelines:

  • Remove the microwave, or at least minimize its use. Native Americans teach that the microwave kills the spirit of the food. Perhaps put a sign on it saying, “Only works on Tuesdays!”
  • Declutter: Make the kitchen beautiful and peaceful, and keep it clean. Make it a reflection of sacredness. Replace worn or soiled dish towels and sponges with new ones on a regular basis.
  • Make meal preparation a family event, giving everyone a task so they can contribute. A relative who is a family therapist starts her sessions with a new family by asking if they have meals together. That’s a big indicator of the functionality of a home.
  • Turn off the TV and other distractions. Start with just two nights a week of cooking and eating in silence. This sacred space is meant to increase your consciousness, not dull it.
  • Use your best dishes for yourself, not just company. You deserve it.
  • Get into the sacred act of composting: participate in the miracle of turning rotting food into new earth.
  • Bless the food before you prepare it, and follow the Native American custom of blessing the meal before anyone eats. Give thanks. Also, create a small “spirit plate” that you put outside for the critters/spirits. Most Native American ceremonies have spiritual food on the altar as a prayer that all beings will have enough to eat. Making a “spirit plate” continues that prayer.
  • Honor the food with your time. I often end up cooking something quick rather than taking the time to chop and cook vegetables, etc. Perhaps commit to two days a week of making a meal from scratch.
  • Cook mindfully: pay attention to your thoughts as you prepare the meal. It will affect the food. Our energy goes into everything we do.
  • Keep in mind the Native American teaching that when you give someone a gift of food (either by cooking for them or giving them groceries), you extend their life. That should be a nice incentive for cooking an occasional meal at home.
  • Eat slowly and mindfully. Notice the taste of the food. It’s also better for your digestion.
  • Clean up consciously and with gratitude.
  • Treat your kitchen as you would any holy space—a temple, church, a national park. Have respect for what it creates and represents.
  • As with creating any habit, start small. Baby steps. As you start to realize the benefit of preparing healthy food, you will be inspired to do it again and again.

What we eat is life. Honor it as such.

Find out about upcoming programs with Molly Larkin at Kripalu.

This article was originally published on Molly’s website