This week’s reading is about mindful eating, which may seem like a no brainer to those of us who meditate regularly, but in reality, how many meals do any of us eat truly mindfully? Here’s a brief reflection on mindful eating from Zen teacher Jan Chozen Bays. This segment really only scratches the surface, but it’s a good place to start. She also includes a few simple suggestions to begin cultivating mindfulness when we eat and drink.
You’ve been working hard on a project on the computer, and it’s time for at treat. You’ve been holding off, waiting for the delicious taste of – here, please fill in the blank. Coffee ice cream? a piece of dark chocolate? a donut? an onion bagel? some fresh strawberries?
For me, it would be a creamy, sweet-sour lemon tart.
You take the first bite. Very yummy! You take the second bite. Still yummy, maybe a little less yummy than the first bite, but never mind. You glance at the computer and something catches your eye. A Hollywood scandal, a political gaff, a weird and wacky video. You click on it, watch, and continue eating.
Suddenly you look down. Where did that treat go? Your fingers are sticky and there’s still a trace of flavor on your tongue, so it must have disappeared down the hatch while you weren’t looking . . . or smelling, or tasting, or enjoying. Disappointment and dissatisfaction set in. “That one just vanished! I’d better have another one.” Next the internal critic voice pipes up “What are you thinking? One treat is enough. You know you’re trying to lose weight/eat better/stop grazing/etc.”
Thus begins the struggle over the simple, biologically natural, pleasurable act of eating. Almost everyone will relate some difficulty they have with food, from an embarrassed confession of an addiction to chocolate to the palpable misery of binging and purging.
How is it that food and eating have become such a common source of unhappiness? And why has it occurred in a country with an abundance of food? The fundamental reason for our imbalance with food and eating is that we’ve forgotten how to be present as we eat. We eat mindlessly.
Here are a few suggestions for mindful eating “homework.”
(1) Try taking the first four sips of a cup of hot tea or coffee with full attention.
(2) If you are reading and eating, try alternating these activities, not doing both at once. Read a page, then put the book down and eat a few bites, savoring the tastes, then read another page, and so on.
(3) At family meals, you might ask everyone to eat in silence for the first five minutes, thinking about the many people who brought the food to your plates.
(4) Try eating one meal a week mindfully, alone and in silence. Be creative. For example, could you eat lunch behind a closed office door, or even alone in your car?
Jan Chozen Bays, “Mindful Eating.”