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Meal by Meal
365 Daily Meditations for Finding Balance through Mindful Eating
By Donald Altman
New World LibraryCopyright © 2004 Donald Altman
All rights reserved.
Lead me not into temptation; I can find the way myself.
Rita Mae Brown
Each meal brings emotional challenges. Have you ever eaten a meal while you were angry, frustrated, or upset? Eat a meal in anger and you eat anger. Contemplate on this story before today's meal.
Two monks – one young and one elderly – gather food for their daily meal. On their way back to the monastery, a woman falls into the nearby river and struggles against the current. Without hesitation, the eldest monk carries her safely to the shore. The monks continue walking in silence until the young monk can no longer contain his anger.
"You carried that woman and broke your monk's vows."
"I left her on the bank," says the old monk. "But I am afraid you are still carrying her on your shoulders."
* * *
Be mindful of your emotions as you prepare to eat.
Fight your shame. Throw out your pride and learn all you can from others. This is the basis of a successful life.
Sen Rikyu, sixteenth-century tea master
Your meals represent a series of choices. Each choice is like a step that takes you in a particular direction. Over the years, similar choices, or habits, can lead you very far in one direction.
Ultimately, though, you are always free to choose another direction. You are always free to take a new step that is beyond habitual choice. Remember that healthy eating is also a habit and that change is always possible.
What one small achievable step can you take today? Even if you choose to eat one bite of a food that you think would be beneficial for you, it is enough for now. What would that food be? What foods not on your current "choice" list could contribute to your wellbeing?
* * *
What new small choice would you like to try today?
Regard all utensils and goods of the monastery as sacred vessels of the altar.
Saint Benedict, The Rule of St. Benedict
Cleaning the kitchen can be viewed as an onerous chore or approached as a way to cleanse and purify.
Did you know that according to the Zen tradition, beginner monks are given easier chores while more experienced monks are given the most menial and demanding chores? Perhaps that is because the Zen masters know that it takes a special kind of wisdom (and person) to appreciate and learn from that which is most simple, plain, and uncluttered.
Watch your thoughts and attitudes as you clean your kitchen or any workspace. Can you let go of them for long enough to be in the moment with your task?
* * *
Be mindful of even the simplest of tasks.
No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven!
Fra Giovanni, sixteenth-century Italian architect
When you eat for emotional reasons or even out of boredom, it may be a sign that you seek greater meaning in your meals – and your life. Mealtime rituals offer fulfillment by showing you the divine nature and order of all things, visible and invisible.
This is illustrated in the story of a man who once searched for heaven on Earth.
"I have looked for angels," he said, "but I have yet to see one. I have looked for miracles, but never found anything worthy of God."
His neighbor, however, saw heaven everywhere he turned.
"I hear the angels singing in the wind that blows through the fields of wheat," he said, "and the miracle of God in each fruit and vegetable that sustains my life."
* * *
Be mindful of the miracle of food to sustain your life.
Patience ... moderation in food ... [and] striving for spiritual advancements is the teaching of all Buddhas.
Have you ever found it difficult to eat with patience and moderation? If so, you are not alone. And so you need to ask, what is patience with food? What does it mean to be moderate with food?
Buddha, for example, experienced both extremes of food. As a prince he ate to excess; as an ascetic he starved himself. Neither of them worked. Only after eating a moderate meal did he attain enlightenment. Thus, he learned the "middle way" that led to liberation.
The first step toward patience and moderation is simply watching and noticing when you are not patient and moderate. When you experience this, don't blame yourself. Instead, take a moment to consciously breathe in and out: Think "Creating a breath" as you slowly breathe in; think "Ending a breath" as you gently exhale. It's that simple to give yourself the gift of moderation and patience!
* * *
Practice taking a breath in and a breath out whenever you notice impatience.
For it is in giving that we receive.
Saint Francis of Assisi, A Simple Prayer
Each meal, each morsel, is a gift. Even if you are single and eat many meals by yourself, that is why you never really eat alone. Consider for a moment, how each meal brings you into communion with the community at large.
The earth provides a bounty of food. Farmers plant seeds and harvest crops. Truckers transport food to local distribution centers. Retailers stock the shelves.
This great chain of being and giving never ends. That you are part of a community and a planet that share food is one of the amazing gifts of being. In the broader sense, is not each meal – indeed, everything in your life – something that is given? This is true even when you work for your meals – because even one's livelihood can be viewed as a blessing.
* * *
Be mindful that each foodstuff connects us to our planet and our community.
May peace be with you.
As one meal ends, another journey begins. What kind of energy fills your body after your meal? Are you drowsy? Alert? Anxious? Guilty? Pay attention to how different food affects your body. Over time you can become more skillful at making choices that help you transition to your "after-meal" stage more easily.
Remember, too, that you eat thousands of meals in a lifetime. There is no one perfect meal for you. However, there are many more meals at which you can make adjustments. Accept your meal and the choices you make today. It is enough to be aware of what you feel at this moment.
As you become aware of your thoughts and opinions on your meal, take a conscious breath. Now, rest with compassion for today's choices, and bring compassion to your next meal.
* * *
Be at peace with the meal you have just eaten.
Waiting is a state of mind. Basically, it means that you want the future; you don't want the present.
Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
The subtle feelings you have about your next meal can cause you to feel anxiety, anticipation, excitement, fear, calm, and even peace. As you await your next meal, what is your state of mind? If you are not sure, pause for a moment as you make your way to the next meal. Take a breath and feel any restriction in your breath, body, or mind.
Sometimes feelings are subtle, like gently shifting wind. Let yourself sense the breeze within. You can rest in the knowledge that you don't need to push away any feelings about food or eating. When you push something away, does it often push back even harder? If you are fearful of eating, for example, let yourself sense your fear.
With self-knowledge of your eating emotions, you gain a measure of peace and self-mastery. Simply acknowledge that this is what you feel at this moment. To do this is to live with grace and self-acceptance at a deep level.
* * *
Acknowledge and accept your emotions without judgment or pushing them away.
As a child my family's menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it.
Many times, memories of childhood foods can stay with you – and even subconsciously affect your food choices. Do you remember the foods you ate when you were growing up? The ones you liked and the ones you hated? These memories may cause you to gravitate toward certain foods and avoid others. That is why it is helpful to think about how food choices change over time.
For example, take a moment to think about the foods you ate as a child, a teenager, a young adult, and finally, as an adult. Whether or not you are journaling, it may be helpful to notice the change in food choices over these four stages. What foods are different? What foods remain the same? Look at the overall pattern. Simply observe the clues as a detective might – no blame, no shame.
* * *
Create a "food inventory" and acknowledge that you have the freedom to change your eating habits.
Intention combined with detachment leads to life-centered, present-moment awareness.
Deepak Chopra, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success
Anytime you prepare to cook – even if it is to put a TV dinner in the oven or microwave – you first set an intention. When you think about it, do you not set an intention before almost anything? Can you imagine, for example, sitting down to eat if you had no intention to do so? The act of eating would be empty. But if you are hungry, and you set the intention to eat a nourishing and satisfying meal, then you will be fully engaged and savor it. The same is true of preparation.
Intention during preparation is an important step in mealtime mindfulness. It means you are putting your attention on what you are about to do – right now in the present moment. You are not thinking about the appointment you just had or about tomorrow's shopping list. Keep reminding yourself of your intention to prepare a meal – whether the meal is for yourself or for others.
* * *
Set an intention to prepare your meal, and experience how it changes the preparation.
The fruit of silence is prayer, The fruit of prayer is faith, The fruit of faith is love and The fruit of love is silence.
A ritual prayer – before, during, or after a meal – can transform eating and food from the mundane to the sacred. Sometimes it is useful to think about your own history of ritual. As a child, did your family have a mealtime ritual? How was it structured? Most importantly, how did you feel about it? Did the process feel forced? Or was it filled with love and acceptance? Or, if you had no ritual, how do you feel about that now?
However you may have experienced it, how you decide to use ritual in the present is up to you. You have the freedom to shape and transform a mealtime ritual that fits your needs and sensibilities. Whether you live by yourself, as a single parent, with a partner, or as part of a larger family unit, meaningful ritual can add richness and togetherness to ordinary meals. It acknowledges the mystery of food, the awesome wonder of how it nourishes and allows you to reach your life dreams and goals.
* * *
Reflect on the specific feeling and meaning you would like in a ritual designed especially for you.
Tea is nought but this: First you heat the water, Then you make the tea. Then you drink it properly, That is all you need to know.
Sen Rikyu, sixteenth-century tea master
Did you ever experience a tea ceremony? I once had the opportunity to attend a full-fledged Japanese tea ceremony that consisted of thick tea, or matcha, thin tea, and a complete meal. Traditionally, the tea ceremony is very ceremonial, with special ways of handling utensils and wiping off the tea cup, and so on. Honestly, I was worried that I would embarrass myself and the host. However, my fears were unfounded.
Tea, like any meal, only asks that you be aware of each little movement of your body and everything before you. This is mindfulness, and with this little secret you can find moment-to-moment oneness with anything – especially food. While you eat, simply pay attention. Mindfulness uses bare awareness to just watch. With bare awareness, a banana is not yellow, curved, and sweet. It just is. Use bare awareness and mindfulness to experience food in a fresh, new way.
* * *
With bare awareness, observe your eating.
A kitchen condenses the universe.
Betty Fussell, My Kitchen Wars
The journey of food begins long before it appears sanitized, frozen, processed, prepared, and packaged neatly on your grocery shelves. Food all begins alive, in the world, swimming in rivers and oceans, grazing on ranches, growing on trees, and ripening in fields. Too often we think of food just as any manufactured product, when in truth it is of the earth, like all of us. If you really think about it, the wholeness of food is dependent on an entire community that is responsible for getting food on our table.
Then, there are those who distribute and ship the food to our local communities. The effort is massive and seamless, which is why it is easy for us – unlike countries less fortunate – to take our bounty for granted.
* * *
Reflect on the individuals who made your meal possible, and appreciate them and the earth that sustains life.
When the pain of loneliness comes upon you, confront it, look at it without any thought of running away.
Krishnamurti, Think on These Things
For some, leaving a meal can mean departing from what is secure, comforting, and familiar. Have you ever left a meal with a sense of emptiness and emotional hunger?
I can recall a time in my own life, shortly after graduating from college, when I ate comfort food (rice pudding) every day one summer to ease the pain of loneliness. Unfortunately, as soon as I finished eating, I was alone again with my thoughts and my pain.
You may adopt a strict diet plan as a way to ignore uncomfortable feelings about your emotions or body. But pushing your feelings underground only allows them to hide in waiting, ready to ambush you by causing you to lose control of that diet. Better to give feelings a voice and make friends with them. In the long run, this is how to heal food cravings.
* * *
Be mindful of your feelings after you finish your meal.
Every new cycle of growth, every step we take toward a deeper realization of self, every death and rebirth of our current and future identity adds a wonderful sheen to our veneer, to our character ... to our crust.
Brother Peter Reinhart, Brother Juniper's Bread Book
What is the "crust" of emotional energy you bring with you to today's meal? Are you excited to gain sustenance and meaning? Or are you tired and worn out, just going through the motions of eating?
It helps to understand where you are in your own personal cycle of growth. You, like all of nature, possess a season, a time for growth and expending energy or a time for slowing down and repose. There is a time for holding on, and a time for letting go.
If you have been pushing your body and mind hard at work, for example, consider how that will affect your food choices and experience. Does your body need more food or less? What kind of food does your body truly desire at this moment? Take a conscious breath and slow down. Listen deeply.
* * *
Breathe mindfully and become aware of your personal season and emotions as you enter the space for your next meal.
The path is easy for those who have no preferences.
Sanaya Roman, Spiritual Growth
Have your food choices ever caused you pain and suffering? This could have something to do with how strongly attached you are to your choices. There is a big difference, for example, between obsessions and preferences.
Obsessions are very strong, singular desires, ideas, or beliefs that have become inflexible and rigid – even if they can cause you harm. I know of a woman who had only chocolate bars in her refrigerator. She offered many reasons why this made sense, but actually, she wanted a better way to feed her hunger with a healthy balance of nutrients.
Does that mean that passionately loving chocolate is bad? Preferences represent a choice that permits adaptation and change. So if chocolate is not available, then maybe a piece of fruit will do. By contrast, a singular, or obsessive, point of view – about vegetables, chocolate, or any idea – blocks out your choices and limits your freedom.
* * *
Pay attention to your food preferences today. How flexible or inflexible are they?
Excerpted from Meal by Meal by Donald Altman. Copyright © 2004 Donald Altman. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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