Eating Gratefully

One of my favorite times to do mindful eating is when I have something beautiful and delicious to eat. Pretty much anything on the table at The Christine Center or Holy Wisdom Monastery will fit that description, along with being rustic and healthy. When my diet affords me some fun carbs, I love to take a piece of chocolate and eat it so slowly it dissolves into my tongue as I bring my awareness back to my palate, over and over.

Of course, my awareness doesn’t want to go much of anywhere else when I have a piece of chocolate in my mouth! When we’re eating foods we love, their attractive looks, smells, textures and flavors draw our attention easily. At least, for a little while. Often we only savor the first few bites before our minds fly off back into the thought stream. But when we bring our practice intention, dining deliciously can be a wonderful way to practice mindfulness.

If you have never practiced mindful eating here are some quick instructions.

  • Slow down.  Set your food down in front of you, take your hands away from it.   For a moment, set your intention to eat each bite of this food as mindfully as you can.
  • Notice what foods are especially interesting, which you want to eat first.  Notice what it’s like to have the desire to eat.
  • Before picking up the food, see if you can notice your intention to move your arm or hand before you actually move it.  If you forget, put your hand back and try again.
  • Notice the color, the texture, the shape, the smell.   Looking this carefully, is there anything that surprises you about this piece of food?
  • Now, slowly take a bite.  See if you can feel the weight, pressure and temperature on your tongue.  Notice how flavor rolls across your tongue.
  • Now chew, slowly, bringing your awareness back to the sensations in your palate whenever it moves off.
  • After each piece of food, put your hand or fork back down.  How does it feel to have eaten that food?  Where do you notice the sensations?
  • When you’re through eating, take a few moments to reflect on all the people and other living things whose gifts led to your nutrition and enjoyment.  If gratitude arises, spend some time savoring it.

Of course, once you get the hang of this practice it’s easy to extend it to any aspect of the eating experience. When you eat this way, you consume much less food in much more time. When you can linger at the meditation center, you can take a whole half-hour to eat a sandwich and some fruit. But if your to-do list beckons, at least try to take a few bites of every meal as mindfully as you can.

So what does all this have to do with gratitude? Robin Kimmerer, the botanist author of Braiding Sweetgrass, proposes a beautiful notion. Gardening, harvesting and preparing food are all reciprocal acts of giving with the Earth. We take care of the soil, we plant and tend living things, we accept the gift of food, and then we respect that gift by using it well and not wasting it. In return, the Earth gives us food to sustain us, offering us things we like to eat so we will propagate them and keep their kind alive. If two people treated each other with such care, we would say they loved one another.

Seen that way, eating becomes a sacrament, a way we can remember and embody our kinship with the Earth and with all living things. When we eat mindfully, we can turn our hearts toward gratitude for every bite, and for the universe of planets, plants and people who brought us the gift of life.

When Practice Circle meets again this Sunday, November 22, at 8 pm Central, we will share a mindful eating practice. Bring a snack to practice with! Since 2012, the SBA has offered Practice Circle, our online practice community. We meet on the second and fourth Sundays of every month at 8 p.m. Central.  It’s free, and everyone is welcome.  Just click on this link Sunday evening to attend.