Sunday, May 23, 2010

Eating Mindfully

Eating is one activity that we often do without paying much attention to it. The process of mindful eating can be a very rewarding one, not only because it helps us cultivate mindfulness in our every day life, but also because it offers us the opportunity to really enjoy our food. 

The first exercise that we do in our mindfulness-based groups is to eat one raisin. We begin by simply holding the raisin in our hand, gathering as much information about it as we can through the senses of sight, touch, smell, and hearing. We investigate the raisin as though we had never seen one of these things before, pretending that we are scientists from another planet gathering facts about the flora and fauna of Earth. Eventually, we place the raisin in our mouths, then we begin to chew it slowly and completely before finally swallowing.

This exercise can take as much as twenty minutes. For many, it is an insightful and enjoyable experience, the first step toward understanding what it means to truly pay attention in the present moment on purpose. Some participants are amazed that they can sit still and concentrate for that long, which allows them to begin the sitting meditation practices with more confidence. Eating a raisin in this way also lays the foundation for understanding the difference between thoughts about the raisin, and the fact of the raisin itself. This, in turn, offers them the real-time experience of dis-engaging from thoughts, and returning to a present-moment sensory reality, which is the core skill of formal mindfulness meditation practice.

We end the exercise by giving out one more raisin, and then having everyone contemplate all of the interdependent elements that brought the raisin to their hand. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches five eating contemplations that echo and amplify the raisin experience:
1. This food is a gift of the whole universe, the earth, the sky, and much mindful work. In this food, I see clearly the presence of the entire universe supporting my existence.
2. May we eat in mindfulness so as to be worthy of this food.
3. May we transform our unskillful states of mind and learn to eat in moderation.
4. May we take only foods that nourish us and prevent illness.
5. May we accept this food to realize the path of understanding and love.

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