May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I think it’s safe to say that all of us would benefit from paying attention to our emotional well-being during these complex times. There is never a good time for an international pandemic, but if we are to continue enduring one then it is crucial that we strive to integrate mental wellness activities into our daily life. The month of May provides some unique opportunities for self care, as the weather warms and the days lengthen. Since we are all feeling stretched by many layers of stressors, I’d like to offer a simple mindfulness exercise that can be used seamlessly with many daily activities. Your life might not have space for “one more thing” and that’s why this technique involves no additional effort. You are simply allowing yourself to notice certain details of your experience in a more intentional way. Simply put, you focus on your senses as you complete certain tasks (washing dishes, mowing the lawn, cooking, etc.) I will demonstrate what I mean by describing how I might apply the technique to an activity many of us are doing more of during the month of May. It’s BBQ season and cooking outside is an excellent opportunity to enhance your mental wellbeing while making the dinner you were already planning. Let’s take a look at how this works.
For this example, I’ll describe how to mindfully BBQ ribs, as it’s usually a May staple at our house. There are many steps to the process and each will offer an opportunity to draw your awareness to your sensory experiences. The key is to hone in to your senses and take notice of what you’re seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling as you complete the task at hand. I’ll describe a basic rib recipe, but remember, the goal is not just to get great ribs, but to complete the task mindfully.
- Begin with your untouched ribs. Apply a binder to the outside using either cooking oil or plain yellow mustard (you won’t taste the mustard but the time the ribs are done). This binder allowed the seasoning to stick. Notice the way the binder changes the feeling and texture of your food under your fingers.
- Once lightly coated, apply your rub by sprinkling liberally on both sides. Use any rub you like, but salt and pepper is great on its own. As you season, pay attention to the way the rub changes the appearance of the food. The color will change as your seasoning adheres and you’ll often start to smell aromas from the flavors in your rub. Let yourself breathe deeply a few times to take in the pleasant smell. Pat your seasoning into your food as you apply and feel the tactile experience of the coarse texture of the seasoning on the food surface. Once done, let stand for at least 30 minutes so the rub absorbs into the food. Again, notice the subtle changes in color or appearance as time passes.
- Cook ribs unwrapped at 250 degrees over indirect heat for three hours. I use a pellet smoker, but you can use a regular grill as well. Cook bone side down at this stage and listen to the soft sizzle that happens as your cold food makes contact with the hot grate. Feel the heat on your face and hands before you close the lid to your cooker. I let them cook without disturbing them, but allow yourself to walk by your cooker from time to time to experience the aromas that grow as the hours pass.
- Check your ribs at three hours and look at the striking changes to color and overall appearance. We have a ways to go on cooking, but this is a perfect moment to admire the progress so far. The smell will be incredible and let your breathing deepen to take it in.
- At this point, the ribs are probably ready to be wrapped. Remove the ribs and place them on a sheet of foil. I like to add butter, brown sugar, and honey along with 1/4 cup of apple juice to the foil. When you do, watch the ingredients slowly melt and coalesce into a beautiful baste. Seal the ribs in the foil and wrap with a second sheet of foil to prevent any leaks. Place on the cooker meat side down and let cook for one to two hours.
- Remove ribs after one to two hours, or when desired tenderness is reached. If you’d like to add BBQ sauce, remove the ribs from the foil and brush sauce onto both sides. Notice the difference in aromas both before and after doing this. Then add the ribs back to your cooker for five to ten minutes until the sauce has adhered and become slightly tacky.
- Remove the ribs for the last time and let rest for just a few more minutes. Use these last moments to admire your work and take in all of the sensory details you can. Slice and serve your masterpiece. You finally get to utilize your final sense, your sense of taste. Let your palate savor the various flavors, temperatures, and textures you’ve created. Take your time with this part, there is no rush.
Continue using your senses to experience your food from beginning to end, remembering that these details are an opportunity to observe your experience in a more fulfilling way. Even as we exist in this current age of deprivation and uncertainty, we can enhance our ability to endure by connecting to the simple pleasures in our lives that would otherwise be overlooked. I invite you to integrate this mindfulness approach to any activity that lends itself to it. You might already feel overwhelmed with tasks and responsibilities, but the beauty of this technique is that it brings high rewards with very little investment of time or energy. I’m hopeful you can find value in the subtleties of your daily experience by really paying attention to little details and staying present in the moment. You might find a hidden source of refreshment you didn’t realize existed.