From time to time Tricycle offers articles from the Inquiring Mind archive. Inquiring Mind, a Buddhist magazine printed from 1984 to 2015, has a growing number of articles from its previous editions available at www.inquiringmind.com (Help Inquiring Mind complete its archive by making a donation here). Today’s selection is from the fall 1994 issue, On Using a Body.
When we take a lunch break at my meditation retreats on Saturday, I often say to people, “Please enjoy your meal.” I offered various instructions in sitting and walking meditation throughout the morning, and by noon we also had an hour of yoga with further instructions so I can leave it at that. I don’t want eating to be another chore or another place to worry about whether or not you are doing it “right”. We’re doing enough of that already, so I invite people to just “please enjoy your meal”.
On some occasions I may say a little more, although I don’t want people to try too hard to “have fun”. I explain to you that it is very important to enjoy your food, because enjoying something is the way in which we connect with the world, with each other, with ourselves. When you enjoy your food you will be happy and well nourished from what you eat.
Sometimes I may also tell people that when they are enjoying their food they are practicing meditation naturally. They will pay attention to what they eat – perceive aromas and textures and taste nuances – because to enjoy something you have to experience it. Also, they need to stay present because if they get carried away with greed they will think about the future possibility and miss what they are eating in the present. As you fully enjoy it, you will relax and open your heart to food, not worrying about good and bad, right and wrong, or “How am I doing my meditation?”
Most of the time I think it’s better to say as little as possible. Then “enjoying your food” may be the best meditation you do all day. It all takes care of itself without you having to try too hard. Following the path of joy is deep and profound and very rewarding. Sometimes people complain that it doesn’t work that way and it takes discipline, rigor, and restraint. This is nonsense, which means that one’s own being lacks wisdom or a sense of beauty and consequently has to be kept in harmony and retrained, tamed, tamed. Give your body some recognition.
Most of the problems that arise in the pursuit of pleasure are the result of a lack of devotion – one is not fully enough committed to pleasure. Which bite of chocolate cake is no longer enjoyable? What sip of wine brings you down instead of up? Sure, restraint is necessary, but it comes after pleasure or with pleasure, not before and in place of pleasure. “Please enjoy your meal.”
When pleasure or indulgence is forbidden, one looks for numbness, for unconsciousness, which is the closest thing to liberation from the stupid urge for discipline and restraint.
Years ago we had an eating meditation at a meditation retreat. Raisins passed out. We were encouraged to help ourselves from a small handful: “But don’t eat them yet!” I sighed. I am not keen on this type of exercise. How horny can you get I prefer to have these experiences alone rather than having them spoon-fed to me.
We were instructed to look at the raisins, observe their appearance, note their color and texture: “But don’t eat them yet!” I assumed it could be worse, like “Ready now, one, two, three. Open your heart to the raisins. ”Next we were invited to“ smell the raisins ”and finally, after an appropriate pause during which the aromas could be registered, we were allowed to put the raisins in our mouths:“ But not yet chew ! “
Meanwhile, I also felt an urge to smash something, and continued to look at it, a sense of annoyance. “Leave me alone,” I complained (out loud). “Let me eat for God’s sake.” It is annoying and worrying when someone’s eating is stopped abruptly. Get something tasty in your mouth and your teeth will want to tell. But wait! We were then instructed to simply feel the raisins in our mouths, their texture, their presence. We had to notice the flow of saliva and the impulse to chew.
We were finally allowed to crown the act of eating. The raisins could be chewed. More juices flowed. The sweet and sticky have been freed from their parcels, “But don’t swallow yet!” “Take care of your swallowing. See if you can be conscious of your swallowing. ”Some people, I think, just have a knack for knowing how to take all the fun out of things. This noting and observing, watching and awakening does not leave much opportunity for joyful abandonment, but I will always remember these raisins.
As I was conducting my own eating meditation, I decided to get real. Skip the raisins. Let’s meditate on just one potato chip. So I bought a bag of Ruffles. Then I thought we could move on to oranges – my concession on wholesomeness – and finish with Hydrox biscuits. I chose Hydrox because I heard it was the kosher oreos (no pork or beef fat, I guess). I had also heard (or maybe just made it up) that there was a secret society that secretly met in the twilight to eat oreo cookies and drink milk, and I aspired to join.
Since I didn’t want to distribute the instructions as they were given to me, I put the whole thing up at the beginning: Pay attention. Pay your attention, get your attention drawn to the potato chip, and be as conscious as possible of the whole process of eating just one potato chip. Only one! So better watch out! Observe, smell, taste, feel, swallow.
When I announced our potato chip food meditation, I was of course greeted with various complaints, taunts, and complaints: “I can’t just eat one.” “That’s ridiculous.” “You will leave us hanging with unsatisfied desires. How could you? “Nonetheless, I remained steadfast in my instructions and passed a bowl of potato chips around and asked each participant to only take one. When everyone was finished, it started.” Instead of words, “says Rilke in one of his sonnets, “Discoveries flow in amazement, to be free.” And so it was.
First the room was loud from crunching, then quiet from enjoying and swallowing. When everything was ready, I asked for comments. Many people were shocked by their experience: “I thought I would have trouble eating just one, but it really wasn’t very tasty.” “There’s salt and fat for a moment, and there’s a tasteless mushy stuff in your mouth.” “I can understand why you might have trouble eating just one because you are using another and another to find some satisfaction where there is no real satisfaction.” “If I were into television I would probably find it great; But when I actually experience what’s in my mouth, it’s kind of tasteless. “
This potato chip was quite surprising even to me, the “experienced meditator”. Now I walk past the french fries walls in the supermarket rather easily, without awakening insidious longings and the thought that I should really “deny” myself. I do not feel disadvantaged. There’s nothing to be had there that’s worth it. And that’s not just book knowledge. I know that.
The oranges were fabulous, exquisite, satisfying. . . refreshing. . . Sweet . . . juicy. . . gorgeous. ”About half of the attendees refused to end the Hydrox cookie. A bite and newly awakened mouths simply ask the hands to put the rest aside: “We know that as something that we do not need, desire, want or wish. Thank you anyway.”
For more information from Edward Espe Brown, see “Rhabarb,” followed by “A Letter to Myself” from Inquiring Mind.
Related Articles by Inquiring Mind on Eating and Mindful Eating:
The nothing of the ground
Interview with Alice Waters: Think global, taste local
Interview with Jean Kristeller: Know your hunger
I stopped for a burger on the bodhisattva trail