Mindfulness Through Creativity

Mindfulness in Creativity. Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios

5 Things I Learned About Creativity from Jeong Kwan on Chef’s Table

It seems appropriate to begin this article with honesty and transparency, so let me say this: I had a completely different article planned for today. I had it all planned out, fully written and ready to publish.

But last night, as I was eating my dinner and watching Chef’s Table on Netflix, I knew I had to change course. I had to throw out what I had planned to publish, and I had to write about Jeong Kwan.

Jeong Kwan is a 60 year old Buddhist monk who cooks for her community of nuns at Baekyangsa Temple in South Korea. This episode of Chef’s Table is very different than others, and although the series always leaves me exploding with inspiration, this one really made an impact and felt so in sync with everything I’ve been thinking, writing, drawing, and teaching.

I encourage you to watch the full episode if you have Netflix, but in the meantime I would also love to share some of my biggest takeaways with you. Jeong Kwan mainly talks about Buddhism and cooking, but everything she says can be applied to creativity in general.


Takeaway #1: Through creativity, we can share and communicate our emotions.

“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

When applied to creativity, you could read this as:

With creativity we can share and communicate our emotions. It’s that mindset of sharing that is really what you’re seeing. There is no different between creativity and pursuing Buddha’s way.

Now, I’m not a practicing Buddhist, so I can’t explain all of Buddhism here in this article. But to boil it down, some of the key concepts of Buddhism include the search for truth, self-reliance, self-discipline, tolerance, and compassion. Any of that sound familiar to creativity and making art?

  • Search for truth // Discovering ourselves to find our voice
  • Self-discipline // Putting in the work and committing to drawing consistently
  • Tolerance // Accepting failure, mistakes, and different ways of drawing
  • Compassion //Being kind to ourselves and others, sharing what we learn


Takeaway #2: Artists can choose which rules to keep or break.

“Jeong Kwan is very spontaneous in her cooking. At the same time she keeps a certain tradition, but she breaks a lot of rules and that makes her very exceptional as a chef, as a cook.” –Eric Ripert, chef and mentee of Jeong Kwan

I often say there are no rules in art. But that’s not altogether true. What I really mean is that there are no rules you have to follow. The wonderful thing about making art is that you get to decide how to do it. People can try to tell you the “best” way to draw or the “correct” way to draw, but really, it’s up to you.

If you follow all the rules, you’ll never be exceptional. You’ll just be the same as everyone else. So be spontaneous in your work. Choose to follow some art rules and break all the rest.


Takeaway #3: Use creativity not to stimulate your mind, but to calm your mind.

Jeong Kwan calls the type of food she cooks for the nuns temple food. She says,

“Secular food is focused on creating dynamic energy. But temple food keeps a person’s mind calm and static.” To keep that balance, Kwan does not cook with garlic, onions, scallions, chives, or leeks. She notes: “Those five spices are sources of spiritual energy, but too much of that energy will prevent a monk’s spirit from achieving a state of calmness. This is a distraction to meditation.” –Jeong Kwan

So often our society is all about go, go, go, be more productive, get more done, accomplish more! It’s a never ending hamster wheel that I find myself on all the time. But Jeong Kwan uses her food, her cooking, her creativity to achieve and send out a state of calmness.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about mindfulness and calmness as it relates to creativity and drawing. I think they really go hand in hand, and it creates a cycle. I draw to calm myself, and my drawing calms me. Then I am calm and I end up drawing more. The calmness opens you up to accept the creativity and follow your art wherever it takes you.


Takeaway #4: Lose the ego to be creative.

“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

I’m going to practice dropping my ego here, and tell you that I have nothing to add to this that Jeong Kwan didn’t already say better than I could.


Takeaway #5: Put good energy into what you create.

“It’s about being in the present, respecting ingredients, the planet, making people happy. How to be happy in the process. How to put good energy into the food. It’s all of that. That is the big change in my life. The is the influence of Jeong Kwan.” –Eric Ripert, chef and mentee

This concept of being present while you create, respecting the tools, and being happy in the process is vital to a healthy creative practice. It’s essential that you love the creative process and are present in the process to really create the art that’s inside of you. Put good energy in, get good energy out.


In the final scene of the episode, Jeong Kwan’s face fills the entire frame, as she calmly looks into your eyes and says:

“I make food as a meditation. I am living my life as a monk with a blissful mind and freedom. I wish you a healthy, happy life. Thank you.” –Jeong Kwan

I hope this leaves you as inspired as it does me.


And now you’ll have to excuse me—I need to go draw.


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17 Responses

  1. I loved this episode. I am in the middle of losing a large amount of weight and it really helped inspire me to change my mind about my relationship with food. I watched this and felt energized! Great article!

    1. Wow, that’s amazing that Chef’s Table helped you think about food differently! This episode especially reminded me about how simple food can be the best food too. I’m so glad you enjoyed the episode and article, and great job losing the amount of weight you already have! Keep it up! :)

  2. Thank you for your genosity!!
    I am a Spanish speaker and English is my Second Language. It makes me a little difficult to express my positive emotions about Jeon Kwan teaching.
    Thank you!!

  3. Number 4 hit it for me! Not only can it help you work the muscle memory to improve your work, it also does wonders for helping you enjoy the journey. I need to look this series up on Netflix, if only I can pry myself away from The Golden Girls long enough… :/

    – Belinda

    1. Definitely! I can always tell when I skipped a day of drawing and my muscles forget how to move. Just like with running. And yes, you should totally watch the series! It’s amazing. The cinematography, colors, music, inspiration, it’s all just so spot on. I think you’ll love it! :)

  4. such an inspiring post! I love your take on creativity as a way of life (I feel the same), and how you don’t just share techniques for making a certain creative product (a drawing, painting, whathaveyou) but talk about creativity as a mindset, an attitude, as more than a mere activity or profession.

    1. Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoy the articles and stuff I like to talk about too! I think the mindset/attitude parts of creativity are most important and maybe more difficult than the technical side, so that is what I tend to talk about the most! Thanks for the encouragement! :)

  5. I just discovered this Netflix program some weeks ago and I have to say that even if I can’t stand watching a food show without eating the whole time :P , it was really inspiring to see how people can do their own stuff and succeed against all odds. That is the kind of stories I love. When people do NOT follow the rules :) Now that you mentioned it, I have to watch this episod too! But you’re right, what we see in other creative fields can be applied to ours.

  6. Hey Christine,
    Another great piece! I haven’t watched episode yet, but what you wrote about it was excellent! I took something from every point. In the last year or so, I’ve been looking at the world from an artistic viewpoint, trying to enjoy the creative process. My challenge is still getting it on paper. Staring at a painting in a restaurant; deciding where the vanishing point was or looking at sunlit object and studying how the shadows are falling. Those images rarely make it on paper. Thanks Again for sharing! And I always look forward to your newsletter (PS there are small artistic benefits to reading directly from the website ;-) ).

    1. So glad you liked it, Jeremiah! And you’re right, I think the hardest part is just getting started too. And that’s cool drawing has caused you to start looking at the world more visually, and really looking around you! Don’t get too bogged down in vanishing points, and stuff like that though… it’s good to study, but it’s not the end all be all in making art! To me anyways. :)

  7. I love this post! I have been working on my blog and trying to think of ways to improve my blog experience and have since gained some much needed perspective. I have been able to really understand what is important to me. I am going to just be me and there’s so much I’m curious about. That’s it that’s what my blog should be about and I have noticed how art has always been a constant calmer in my life. I realize that is probably the hardest ting for adults to do and so easy for kids. No wonder peter pan never grew up! I have been meaning to create this art piece: art is my superhero…..think I will oh yeah! Thanks for this post and I look forward to reading more!

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