Heading into the Holiday Season, mindful-eating practice can bring great insight and save us from the suffering caused by over-indulgence.
As we enter into the “Holiday Season” and the many opportunities for over-indulgence, I thought it might be beneficial to consider taking up the practice of “Mindful Eating.” In this way, these many opportunities can be transformed into opportunities for cultivating greater self-awareness and self-compassion.
Now, I am not suggesting what you should eat, nor how, other than suggesting chewing your food a bit more than you most likely do now. There’s no need to count your chews or anything, but notice when the urge to swallow arises, and simply chew a few more times, savoring and noticing any changes. What have you been avoiding by swallowing when you normally do?
I remember the first time I participated in an “Apple Meditation,” eating one apple mindfully. I found that my conditioned tendency was to swallow as soon as the intense sweet taste started to fade. By continuing to chew, I found that the taste became a bit ‘sour’ or tart, then bitter, until eventually, the skin was just about all that was left and it had a definite ‘astringent’ quality. This amazed me!
In Ayurvedic teaching, there are six ‘tastes’ (rasa): sweet, sour, salt, pungent, bitter, astringent. These can be thought of as forms of prana or even ‘codes of intelligence.’ When we eat the apple just for its sweetness, we only assimilate one ‘code of intelligence.’ No wonder one apple is rarely ‘fulfilling.’ I found that when I chew the apple, and experience the other tastes (four of the six!), I actually feel more satiated from the apple. It’s like I assimilate more of the nurturance/intelligence the apple has to offer.
In any event, we can practice a very simple form of Mindful Eating, by first sitting down to eat; turn off the radio or tv; and refrain from reading while eating. If you have the opportunity to eat an occasional meal in silence, that’s great! Remember, this is a practice of 'insight meditation.' One student recently shared after participating in a chocolate meditation (eating a small piece of chocolate) that while eating the chocolate mindfully, and finding so much more in the experience, she wondered "What else in my life have I been missing?" Another student shared that when she received the small piece of chocolate, her first thought was "It's not enough." She immediately saw how this thought reflected a pattern of her's that made her feel nothing -- including herself -- was "enough." With tears in her eyes, she shared: "It was enough. I am enough."
The following “Contemplation” and “Meal Gatha” are simply ‘bells of mindfulness’ allowing us to take a few moments to really look at, and acknowledge, the food we are about to consume. As Thich Nhat Hanh has said, if we do not pay attention to the food, it is not real to us, and we cease to be ‘real.’ "If the broccoli is real, we are real."
At Plum Village, the following Five Contemplations are said before meals. As you will see, they are a specific form of the traditional Meal Gatha:
1. This food is a gift of the whole universe – the earth, the sky, and much hard work.
2. May we live in a way that makes us worthy to receive it.
3. May we transform our unskillful states of mind, especially our greed, and learn to eat in moderation.
4. May we take only foods that nourish us and prevent illness.
5. We accept this food so that we may realize the path of practice.
First, seventy-two labors broght us this food; we should know how it comes to us.
Second, as we receive this offering, we should consider whether our virtue and practice deserve it.
Third, as we desire the natural order of mind to be free from clinging, we must be free from greed.
Fourth, to support our life, we take this food.
Fifth, to attain our way, we take this food.
First, this food is for the Three Treasures.
Second, it is for our teachers, parents, nation, and all sentient beings.
Third, it is for all beings in the six worlds.
Thus we eat this food with everyone.
We eat to stop all evil,
To practice good,
To save all beings
And to accomplish our
May you enjoy your food, and please feel free to share your practice experiences here at the Mindfulness Yoga Blog. What kind of reaction or response arises when you read and contemplate the above verses? What is your experience of slowing down (a wee bit) and really savoring what is on your plate?