There is a quality of the sacred that can be felt in the food we eat. With attention, we notice how our meal was prepared; the intention infused as it was chopped, mixed and seasoned. Jessica Quinn, an Ayurveda inspired nutritional therapist, recently returned from five months in the Amrit holistic kitchen in Goa, India, where she became intimately familiar with the power of this intentional way of creating nourishment for the mind, body and spirit.
The Ayurvedic-inspired kitchen she worked in serves the Samata Holistic Retreat Center, which in turn supports the conservation group Dunagiri high in the Himalayas that is working to save endangered Ayurvedic and Tibetan medicinal plant species.
Quinn, who has spent years studying both Chinese and Ayurvedic healing systems, describes what inspired her to work at the retreat center: “I wanted to be in the kitchen and put all of my prana into the food that was served because of my deep connection to the healing systems of the East, and preserving those herbs that are endangered.”
Each day she would walk into the kitchen where a section is dedicated to puja. The shelves on the wall held pictures of deities, candles, incense, and flowers. Ghee was kept in brass containers that would be poured into smaller brass containers that had a wick. She describes Tess, the kitchen manager, performing puja; quietly whispering the morning mantra as she prepared the offering, lighting the ghee candles and incense, and arranging fresh flowers.
“She would offer a blessing to whatever god she wanted to call into the kitchen that day. For Hindus, each god represents an attribute we have as humans. For example, the blessing to Saraswati would call into the kitchen creativity and truth.” The ceremony was sealed as Tess dipped her wooden wick into a small pot of natural red paint, and placed a bindi between the eyebrows of every person in the kitchen. Quinn began each day feeling honored; “She would take the blessings she offered during puja, give us a hug and say good morning, and look us in the eye. She would give us that honor and respect that we are a family, we are a community, and we are doing this work for a higher purpose beyond ourselves.”
Quinn felt the importance of “that quiet, sweet time in the morning”; beginning each day with this sacred promise and invitation. She tells of days in the kitchen filled with joy and laughter; where there was a delight and sense of purpose in the creation of each meal to honor the guests at the retreat. If someone was having a hard day, they would excuse themselves, so that their energy would not become part of what the guests were ingesting.
Tess also taught the importance of the hands and how food was handled. She taught Quinn to put mantras and positive thoughts into her hands, because it was those hands that created the food. Ancient blades and mortar and pestles were used in lieu of modern machines. She describes an intimacy with the food, extending into the act of eating itself, which is done using the hands. This Ayurvedic way of eating is based on the practice of mudras that is believed to stimulate the digestive juices. Eating with the hands also heightens the sensorial experience, allowing for more depth of flavor, smells and textures to come forth.
Quinn explains being part of this bigger circle; “Tess would call in blessings for all of us in the kitchen; that we would have positive thoughts that would flow into our hands, which would extend into the mouths of those being fed, and even further into the whole cycle of the retreat center and the non-profit.” Stepping into that circle and being informed by the higher purpose created a deep sense of meaning for Quinn. She carries that with her and it has inspired her own work in the world. For that, she is deeply grateful.