My new job entails a lot of prep work, which I enjoy a great deal. When you're a server there's side work to do that can be similar, but the biggest difference is that it's done on the side, as in while you're still waiting tables.
In the kitchen, your attention is almost entirely on just what's in front of you. In the dining room it's a little different. Waiting tables requires a lot more multitasking so the monotonous aspects of the side work require you to always keep your mind on your tables while you're doing it, forcing you to split your attention. How un-Zen is that?
Now don't get me wrong, the way I did side work, at least in attitude, was altered by my practice, but it was still difficult to throw myself into cutting lemon wedges if I had to keep track of whether or not table 24's entree is up and if it was timed right that they're just finishing their appetizer so that I can use the same tray to bus those plates that I'm bringing the new food on.
In the kitchen there's a list. It's always waiting, but nothing demands your attention more than the one item on that list you're doing now. Everything else will be there for you when you're ready for it. There's still a sense of urgency since you are getting paid by the hour and it's all got to be done before you can leave, but it's still just patiently awaiting its turn.
This is something I'd missed, fondly remembering assembling the collapsed boxes for chicken strips while watching the South Texas Sunset out a window at another job I held long ago.
I find myself peeling and deveining a lot of shrimp. Today they were cooked first so I had to peel off their dorsal side and remove all the guts inside. I noticed that as soon as I let my mind wander, what was supposed to go in the trash was going in with the shrimp, oops. A split second was all that it took for me to make a mistake.
The restaurant I work at now serves oysters on the half shell, a lot of them. So in anticipation for tonight's business I was asked to shave ice for their plating. There's a sno-cone machine in the wonderfully brisk 32 degree walk in cooler where I stood for the better part of an hour cramming about a half gallon of ice at a time into the hopper and pushing down the frozen plunger.
I knew about how much I was going to need, but the cold was getting to me and my thinking mind kept going for ways of making the process go faster. There was nothing I could do though as the hopper was only so big and it had to be loaded by hand each time.
Dishwasher and prep cook are usually the two entry level positions in a kitchen for a good reason. The results of the work is usually taken for granted and almost always boring. The skill level is relatively low and so is the pay.
But as I was grinding away, I wasn't reminded of the tenzo dutifully drying mushrooms in the hot sun because someone had to. I was reminded instead of Huineng pounding away at rice for years until he realized the Truth. I embraced it as an opportunity for enlightenment, not as just something that needed to get done.
After the first few minutes my arm and shoulder were getting tired from trying to push the plunger down from above my shoulders, so I relaxed and let my Aikido earn its keep by connecting with it and dropping my weight, letting the heaviness of my body do the work instead of my shoulder and upper arm. This of course is connected with the breath and as I exhaled with each stroke, I saw each load as a breath and a moment in my life to be present in and enjoy. So I did.
Every now and then that impatience popped up, prompted by the numbing cold in my fingers and diminishing amount left to do. But I took a breath and enjoyed it, not only for the sake of enlightenment, but just because I could.