“With food we can share and communicate our emotions. It’s that mindset of sharing that is really what you’re eating. There is no difference between cooking and pursuing Buddha’s way.” – Jeong Kwan

Jeong Kwan’s life story as told in Nexflix’s Chef’s Table moved me so deeply that South Korea, a country that might as well be on another planet, is now one that I’d like to visit. The episode arose my curiosity in soy sauce, of which she says:

“Soy sauce makes me exited just thinking about it. Every food is recreated by soy sauce. Soy beans, salt and water, in harmony, through time. It is the basis of seasonings, the foundation. There are sauces aged five years, ten years, aged for one hundred years. These kinds of soy sauces are passed down for generations. They are heirlooms.”

It wasn’t only the food that stimulated my senses. It was Jeong Kwan’s way of allowing life to flow through her. She doesn’t try to exert her will over the monastery garden where she grows her ingredients. If the pests eat them, she lets them, if weeds invade, then they’re welcomed.

She may be a Buddhist monk who cooks using her life energy, enjoying every moment of it. As I see it she’s an artist whose medium is fire, vegetables and sauce. She’s spontaneous in her cooking, allowing inspiration to come without forcing any of it. She probably doesn’t use measuring cups or timers – just her intense focus.

Because she cooks every day, it’s become discipline for her. Without discipline, the seeming torture of routine, deadlines, meal times and an obligation to serve a community, there’s no way to access our reservoir of creative energy. Many would-be artists fail to cultivate and replenish their creative energy because discipline has never been imposed upon them. Without discipline how are they to become valuable to their communities? Many turn to the dark side. The creative energy that gets bottled up turns to poison, resulting in addictions, creating drama, arguments and separation instead of togetherness which comes from a conscious and willful sharing of one’s creative gifts.

This blogging practice I have, it’s my conscious effort to bring discipline to my writing. How else is it to improve? Nobody starts off a good writer. We have to work our way up to solid efforts and then if we can somehow push past, greatness will follow. This is what I believe.

If you have the discipline to commit yourself to an hour of creating every day, you may surprise yourself with fresh ideas that keep flowing like waterfalls with unstoppable energy, bringing awe and wonder to those who witness it.

But you won’t get there if you’re overly critical of your work. Remember, it is play. It’s meant to be fun. Writing, painting, music and whatever else your practice is, allow it. Let there be grammatical errors, run-on sentences, repetitive phrases, cacophony, ”ugly” colours, misshapen forms in your compositions, let them be as Jeong Kwan lets her garden be.

As Jeong Kwan says:

“Creativity and ego cannot go together. If you free yourself from the comparing and jealous mind, your creativity opens up endlessly. Just as water springs from a fountain, creativity springs from every moment. You must not be your own obstacle. You must not be owned by the environment you are in. You must own the environment, the phenomenal world around you. You must be able to freely move in and out of your mind. This is being free. There is no way you can’t open up your creativity. There is no ego to speak of. That is my belief.”

Jeong Kwan is an artist just like Frida. Both women hadn’t given birth to children but they perform the role of mothers nonetheless. Our mothers are there to inspire us, challenge us to do better, so we grow up wise and mature and that our presence becomes a gift to the world. Food created with the intention of bringing health and happiness and art which is a mirror of one’s soul, the ultimate gift, are the things culture is made of. It is culture that gives individuals a sense of belonging and security so they can grow mature and contribute to it.

Jeong Kwan was limited by geography, living far from a major city, in a hermitage for her cooking to travel the world and Frida’s body was broken by disease and a traumatic accident that impaled her hip and nearly killed her. Despite contracting Polio which resulted in a deformed leg and a bus accident that nearly killed her and kept her body inside a hard cocoon made of plaster for three months, her spirit remained very much alive. She used her body cast as the medium for painting vibrant butterflies, showing those around her that she was as free and beautiful as a butterfly.

I always thought Frida’s body cast turned canvas a brilliant example that with acceptance of our condition, creativity comes to us, liberates our spirit. A free spirit travels far and wide to move other kindred spirits.

Frida never stopped creating and bringing colour wherever she went. It is this spirit that landed Frida on a make-up bag made in Australia, a far cry from her homeland of Mexico which not so coincidentally I now have material possession of (see photo above).  It is Jeong Kwan’s boundless spirit that’s got journalists and foodies from around the world wanting to visit temples in South Korea.

If you ever feel you’re trapped by your circumstance, and oh, why should I bother, no one will care? is what you’re hearing every time you go to create something, I hope you think about Jeong Kwan and Frida and let them guide you to clearing some space in your home and time in your diary for a regular creative practice.

The person who inspired me to stop my bullshit and just do the work, follow my creativity, is my cousin Basak, who decided to take creative control of her life and hasn’t looked back. Last time I spoke with her, she said one of her songs was heard by a radio station in Australia, which is pretty far from where she is in Istanbul. Keep singing your song kuzi and happy birthday. I’m very happy that you’re a part of my universe.

Over to you…

Do any of your friends or family members consider themselves artists and what is your relationship like with this person? Are you a critic or a fan? Does their creative drive give you courage to go and create something of your own?