While I enjoyed all the formal practices during my 15 month stay at the monastery, eating meditation was one of the most profound practices for me and produced much insight. I remember one time, as I was sitting at the dining table waiting for the rest of the community to take their food and sit down, I was looking deeply into my hand and I saw clearly the hand of my grandfather. I could see that I am only a continuation of a long stream of ancestors, my body temporarily borrowed from the living Earth and that future generations were also contained within me.
I saw that when we stop and allow ourselves to calm down and rest that healing occurs. Not only our own but the healing of our ancestors who may have never had the opportunity to sit and enjoy a meal in mindfulness, contemplating deeply the presence of the entire universe in a piece of bread. Yes, I see the sunshine without which the wheat would not be able to grow, the Sun is present in the wheat. Also, the Earth and the microorganisms in the soil that are necessary in order for the wheat to grow. The cloud is in my bread for without the cloud that held the rain the seed could not have sprouted and continued to grow. And what about the farmer. If I look deep enough I see that there is not a single thing that is not contained within this little piece of bread. This is a source of joy and I experience a deep feeling of gratitude.
Were my ancestors able to enjoy eating a piece of bread with the peace and gratitude that I am able to enjoy this bread. If my grandfather is inside of me and I am a part of him then of course we can enjoy this little piece of bread together along with future generations yet unborn. I would like to share the practice of mindful eating as my teacher shared with me and invite each of you to experience the gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings and much hard work in a way that solidity, joy and peace are possible.
When we pick up a piece of a vegetable, we look at it for half a second. We look mindfully to really recognize the piece of food, the piece of carrot or string bean. We should know that this is a piece of carrot or a string bean. We identify it with our mindfulness: "I know this is a piece of carrot. This is a piece of string bean." It only takes a fraction of a second. When we are mindful, we recognize what we are picking up. When we put it into our mouth, we know what we are putting into our mouth. When we chew it, we know what we are chewing. It's very simple. You may like to smile to it before you put it in your mouth. When you chew it, you are aware that you are chewing a piece of carrot. Don't put anything else into your mouth, like your projects, your worries, your fear, just put the carrot in. And when you chew, chew only the carrot, not your projects or your ideas. You are capable of living in the present moment, in the here and the now. It is simple, but you need some practice to just enjoy the piece of carrot. This is a miracle.
I often teach "orange meditation" when teaching mindfulness practices. We spend time sitting together, each enjoying an orange. Placing the orange on the palm of our hand, we look at it while breathing in and out, so that the orange becomes a reality. If we are not here, totally present, the orange isn't here either. There are some people who eat an orange but don't really eat it. They eat their sorrow, fear, anger, past, and future. They are not really present, with body and mind united. When you practice mindful breathing, you become truly present. If you are here, life is also here. The orange is the ambassador of life. When you look at the orange, you discover that it is nothing less than fruit growing, turning yellow, becoming orange, the acid becoming sugar. The orange tree took time to create this masterpiece. When you are truly here, contemplating the orange, breathing and smiling, the orange becomes a miracle. It is enough to bring you a lot of happiness. You peel the orange, smell it, take a section, and put it in your mouth mindfully, fully aware of the juice on your tongue.
This is eating an orange in mindfulness. It makes the miracle of life possible. It makes joy possible. Most of the time, we are eating on auto-pilot, eating on the run, eating our worries or anxieties from the day's demands, anticipations, irritations, and to-do lists. If we are not conscious of the food we eat how can we taste it and get the pleasure of eating it? The meal is a moment of practice. Savor the experience.
Raven is a resident of Carlsbad with his wife and two sons and is the founder and director of the Deep Ecology Institute and the Gaia Mystery School. He enjoys practicing the art of mindful living and sharing mindfulness practices with individuals, groups and businesses.
"Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children."
~ Sitting Bull, Lakota Sioux, 1877