There’s something about discussing meditation that makes me uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s my rational Western mind, perhaps it’s the spiritual connections to swamis and gurus, to a whole subculture of new age nonsense that I want to have no part of.
But perhaps meditation in and of itself is not a brother to these fellow travellers. Perhaps, unintentionally, it seems to hang out with the wrong crowd and has a tarnished reputation, at least in my mind, because of it.
But I have been meditating and have been enjoying it – sort of.
First, I need to be clear that, while I have read about mediation for 30 years, I have done meditation for maybe 2 months in that time – one of those months would be the past month – I know little about it.
It always sounded so interesting from an intellectual level – but to actually do it?
Never happened with any regularity – until now.
So as a person very sensitive to the ‘swami-pastrami’ nonsense that surrounds this, let me give you my impression of Meditation – as devoid of metaphysical, spiritual, and psychological hoo-ha as I can.
Meditation is the practice of shutting of that incessant chatter that goes on in the mind of just about all of us – just about all of the time. Stop for a moment and look at you stream of thoughts – they’re all over the place! You’re planning your wardrobe for tomorrow, then thinking about a fight you had with your mate 6 years ago, then thinking about buying shirts – and what your kid might say about school today.
I could write that last paragraph for a 100 years – this stream of chatter never stops. It’s normal, and has apparently been identified as a problem way before the birth of Christ because meditation is older than that.
I gotta wonder what these folks had going on in their heads – they had no TVs, radios, computers, video games, books, etc. – for them to think that their minds were cluttered means they couldn’t even fathom how deep we modern folk are in it.
All well and good, you say…but so? What’s in it for me?
Ever forget where you put your car keys? It’s probably not because you are going senile, but because you did it automatically, without thinking about it. That’s one example.
Now – he point of all this is NOT to give you tips on finding your car keys – it’s about the question of: how many moments of your life do you spend unconscious?
And more to the point of this post: how many meals do you eat unconscious?
Where I’m going with this is that perhaps paying attention to what I’m eating might bring even more pleasure to the act as well as help with a little portion control.
None of this is new – if you’ve been around the block in dieting tips, you surely came across the tip to eat slow, pay attention to every bite, don’t eat with other distractions going on, etc.
I always thought this lame.
And I think it still is lame – unless you come to it not as an isolated ‘tip’ without context in your life, but rather as part of a meditation practice that is already trying to help train you to pay more attention to life as it goes by.
There’s that problematic ‘meditation’ word again – so wrapped in labels and preconceptions that it can stop thought in it’s tracks and bring one to a conclusion before I’m heard out – but I hope you bear with me.
There’s different types of meditation. Lots of them. Some involve chanting, some involve repeating a phrase over and over, some involve focusing on a candle or some other object – all involve focusing in the attempt to crowd out the mind chatter – even of a little while.
The particular type I’m practicing doesn’t have specific objects or tasks to focus on: the focus is on nothing.
Now – this is next to impossible. The mind won’t shut up. But as you try to think of nothing and a thought occurs, you note it – and perhaps label it ‘planning’, ‘judging’, ‘memory’, ‘image’ – and there is something about that naming of the thoughts that tends to make them dissolve and brings you back.
There’s no forcing in this – your role is to watch and to be patient, to label each thought as it arises and bring yourself back to awareness.
It’s a great way to notice for yourself just how unconscious while awake you can be: you are asking yourself to be still for just 15 frigging minutes out of your day. You sit and be quiet. Your mind wanders and you find yourself having imaginary conversations in intricate detail with family or coworkers, or perhaps outlining a list of food for your shopping trip, or planning a vacation, and suddenly you awake and say: Hey – I’m supposed to be meditating.
It’s not a competition. It’s not how good you are at quieting the mind. This realization only just came to me. It is the act of ‘bringing yourself back’ – of noticing that your thoughts have run away with themselves – that is the entire point of meditation. You could do this 100 times in 15 minutes. That is the point of this meditation. That’s why meditation is referred to as a practice – it is never perfected – it is human nature to have our minds do this.
Now I don’t know about you, but for me, all of this has interesting implications. One implication is that it can show us that we are not just the sum of our thoughts. Some of us think we are, but there’s more in there. You can go through life and ignore this, but I choose not to at present.
This type of meditation – sometimes referred to as mindfulness – can be used any time. Unlike a meditation where you chant, which might not go over well in a meeting at work, to stop your chattering mind and actually listen attentively to what people are saying could be used in a meeting and might be a benefit.
All this leads to eating meditation, which as I said has been on the list of ‘diet tips’ for a long time, but when presented without depth and without the understanding of the greater practice that it is derived from, is most probably useless as a tip.
So after meditating about 15 minutes a day for 4 to 5 weeks, I’ve noticed a quieting of the mind, and when it gets really chaotic in there, I can sometimes catch this and put the brakes on it. Ever find yourself getting overheated? Somebody says something to tick you off and you go into autopilot? Well, think kind of practice can sometimes help you get a grip.
I find myself using this practice in other parts of the day – any time my thoughts start racing. And I’ve begun to do this with the act of gathering, cooking and eating food.
There are really only 2 sensual pleasures that are part of the core of our being: food and sex. Both should never be ‘cheap’ in my opinion.
Look at how some cultures – I’m thinking of the French or the Italian – make food an event. When I was a child, my family had Sicilians as friends and dinner was an all-day affair centered around the ragu – the sauce. The sauce would go on the stove around noon – made from scratch, and it would simmer until 6pm. Meanwhile, other dishes of fruit, of cheese, of chicken would be brought to the table and there would be talking and laughing and eating in a casual way throughout the afternoon.
They were not merely ‘stoking the fire’ of some machine that they pretended themselves to be, but were enjoying the act of eating at its most sensual – and beautiful.
This is probably similar to what we all descended from just a few generations ago – a relationship with food that was closer and more natural. Today most people’s’ ‘ritual’ with food is popping a Lean Cuisine in the microwave and watching it spin with a blank expression on their faces until they hear the ‘ding’.
I’ve done the low carb version of this – find foods with a favorable carb and nutrient profile, prepare artlessly, and consume. It’s so far removed from a cultural tradition that has evolved since the dawn of civilization – here defined as the first cook to throw some spices on whatever they were eating.
As mentioned in previous posts, I’m trying to put a stop to this. To learn more about cooking. To not see it as a waste of time, but almost as a ritual – to bring artfulness into it – and no true art is ever created without love and care and attention. I’ve started out making lasagna and eggplant parmagina low carb, and these have been quite good, though I a looking at each as a ‘practice’ and thinking of ways to make them better next time.
I am also trying to bring the same attention to the eating part. There’s plenty of websites you can find that describe this, but I hastily chose this website because this description is not too full of that cosmic language that I try so hard to avoid – at least it’s not as bad as some of the others I came across.
I will not redact it, but please realize that when I read this sort of stuff I tend to read between the lines and ignore what I see as the language of mystical nonsense:
Try practicing one of the following two Eating Meditations before your next meal. Take a small portion of food, like a single strawberry, raisin or a slice of apple or orange, or a cracker.
Amnesia: Imagine you have never seen a strawberry (or any piece of food) in your life, and examine it the way a baby would examine something newly discovered. Look at the strawberry and try to notice something about it that you have never noticed before. This should be easy, as no two strawberries are ever identical. Now close your eyes and see if you can smell the strawberry. Lick your lips and rub the strawberry over your lips, massaging your lips gently. How does it feel? Now lick your lips. Can you taste the trace flavor of the strawberry? Hold the strawberry in your mouth, and roll it around. How does it feel in your mouth? As you chew, notice the immediate change in the intensity of the flavor. Slowly chew the strawberry while resisting the urge to swallow. Sit a little taller and notice if posture affects your appreciation for the strawberry. Breathe in deeply and let your breath go with long soft sighs. Does breathing help you enjoy the strawberry? Relax your face and smile. Notice how smiling improves the taste of a strawberry.
Sincere Appreciation: Eat a second raisin practicing Sincere Appreciation. Eating just as slowly and following the same instructions from the first raisin, but this time contemplate the many miracles that brought this raisin to your lips. The farmer who grew the grapes, the truck driver, the architect who designed the store where you bought the grapes, all of the people whose lives helped make this moment possible, including your parents for raising you, the rain and sun and the miracle of life present in a single raisin. Give thanks for the wonderful gift of taste. Students who practice this eating meditation are often amazed at how much better food tastes when they take the time to notice and appreciate the food as they eat it. You will notice that a single raisin, eaten with sincere appreciation brings more joy and happiness than a whole box of raisins swallowed unconsciously.
OK – I think you get the point. I don’t get into it as much as this guy does, but there is something to be said of having a little respect for your food and enjoying all of the improbability of you eating it. You are most likely not near a running salmon stream, nor a lemon grove, nor churn your own butter. Yet you can eat fresh salmon covered in butter with fresh-squeezed lemon – how cool is that? This has only been possible for a few generations – and only for the most wealthy and privileged even today.
And if you don’t feel all that wealthy and privileged – you are, most likely. You can read and have access to a computer and the Internet – that alone puts you in the winner’s circle compared to a few billion fellow inhabitants of Earth – so have a little gratitude!
I’ve only just begun doing this to food – not all the time – just here and there – and I’ve noticed something interesting: some of the things I thought I liked to eat I’m not so sure about now that I’ve focused on them.
One is coffee. I focused on drinking coffee with cream one morning and as I focused on the tastes and feelings, it occurred to me that I really didn’t like it. I didn’t like the bitterness, the aftertaste – or even the initial taste. In paying attention to it, I couldn’t fathom why I would ever drink it except as a way to get caffeine.
Weird – not what I expected.
To be continued…