There’s nothing like being on retreat to bring you back to simplicity – and the Zen of eating.
There’s a famous Zen saying “When I eat, I eat; when I sleep, I sleep.”
Not everybody eats when they eat, and not everybody sleeps when they sleep. Do you?
To eat when you eat and sleep when you sleep means to be completely present in all your actions, with none of the distractions of ego to stop you being there. This is integration. This is mindfulness. This is meditation. Ideally there should be no separation between our meditation practice and the rest of our daily life. What happens ‘on’ and ‘off’ our meditation seat should inspire each other.
A wonderful way to practice this integration is to practice or ‘taste’ it in a retreat environment. Where you learn how to integrate your meditation practice with everyday life, far away from the stresses of modern life, and be able to sustain the experience when you return home.
When it comes to eating, even the healthiest food can harm the body if it is taken without peace. Most of us are on automatic pilot and often don’t remember anything about a meal: how the food looked, how it smelled, how it sounded (yes, food can have a sound) or how it tasted. “Savouring” or mindful eating is not the usual experience.
How we eat is just as important (I’d argue more so!) than what we eat. Ayurveda recommends conscious eating or to ‘eat with awareness and in a calm/relaxed atmosphere – possibly in silence.’
Observing silence and mindful eating were two integrative practices offered during our weekend-long retreat held at the beautiful Eastwood Hill near Gisborne on 7-9 May 2021. The purpose of the practice was to give participants the experience of truly enjoying food in a way they might not have otherwise. There were more than a few questions and concerns raised by those new to the experience of eating in silence, about it being difficult and a bit weird: who, after all, wants to feel restricted, limited and uncomfortable while eating a meal?
Bringing mindfulness to the experience of eating and enjoying an entire meal in silence builds our awareness and invites us to be fully present. And while a retreat setting is certainly more conducive to practicing the Zen of eating (or ‘doing’), it is certainly ‘do’-able anywhere…
Try to notice when you are in the middle of your day today, and you’re caught up in the sandstorm of thoughts, feelings, to-dos, meetings, readings, and communications of this day.
Stop. Drop. Breathe deep. Let all of that fade.
Now focus on doing one thing, right now. Just choose one thing, and temporarily clear away all other distractions (they’ll still be there when you return). Seriously, clear it all away. Turn off your internet. Turn off your phone. Put down your list/s.
Let all thoughts about anything other than the doing also fade away. Thoughts will come up (that’s what they do), allow them to come up and then let them go. And return to the doing. Return to your breath.
If you’re washing a dish, do it slowly, and feel every sensation – connect with as many of your five senses as you can. If you’re eating a fruit, taste it, feel the textures, smell it, be mindful of your hunger or lack of it. If you’re writing something, pour your heart into that writing, observe the words flow onto the page from your hand.
In that moment the rest of the world becomes a meaningless distraction. It’s just you, your doing and your breath.
Let me know how you felt afterwards.
It is only by cultivating more mindfulness and self-care in your daily life that you can bring greater awareness and ease to your relationship with food and your body.
Why not give it a try? Maybe we might just change our fast-paced lives: one mindful meal at a time.
A big THANK YOU to the amazing group of women I had the pleasure of sharing this incredible Autumn 2021 retreat weekend with. Co-creating this retreat alongside two wonderful humans – Michele Franks and Marg Peck – has meant that I too have returned home with my tank full and mind/body well nourished.
And if you’re inspired to experience a mindful – or silent – meal at home, either by yourself or as a family, check out this article on the art of eating mindfully, with links to helpful resources to get you started including this pocket planner:
MINDFUL EATING POCKET PLANNER
E: Emotions – are you really hungry or do you need to deal with a feeling?
A: Awareness – what is going on “inside” and “outside”; check in…be aware.
T: Take your time – chew each bite and savour; slow eating wins.
I: Intention – remember, lifetime health and wellbeing is your goal.
N: Notice – 15 minutes into the meal, how full are you? Save what’s left for tomorrow.
G: Gratitude – be grateful for the blessing of food, where it came from and who to thank.