Eating is one of the most natural things you do every day. It is something everyone must do, since it is essential to sustaining life. For most of human history, people struggled to find enough to eat every day, but now most people in developed societies have more than enough. You’d think that would be a very happy state of being, but people still struggle with lots of issues surrounding food. Sometimes people feel guilty about the kinds of food they eat, or they become addicted to unhealthy ways of eating. Some people overeat to the point of becoming obese, while some practically starve themselves to death in search of the “perfect” body.
These problems all represent an unhealthy relationship to food wherein the mind and ego have divorced food from its most basic purpose—to provide energy and sustenance to the body. Food is part of the whole system of life on this planet, a way that energy is exchanged and evolutionary progress is made. Thus, eating is a way to connect with nature and the energies of the cosmos. That’s why I encourage people to see eating as an important mind-body exercise, a kind of meditation that expands your awareness and deepens your connection to nature.
Preparing the Food
Mindfulness about eating begins long before you sit down at the table. It starts when you prepare the food, starting even with your shopping and menu planning. These days, we rely too much on fast food and instant meals that have not been prepared with care. In fact, they are often made by machines instead of by human hands. So, try to find some time each week to enjoy a meal for yourself and your family that has been prepared with genuine love and care. Instead of grabbing something on the go, plan a balanced menu and choose your ingredients carefully, obtaining the freshest natural ingredients possible. Then, as you begin to chop vegetables and measure ingredients, make it a meditation in which you become entirely engrossed in the process of cooking. As you cook, imagine that pure, loving energy is coming out of your heart, down through your arms and hands, and into the food itself. When you are ready to serve your meal, even if the meal is only for yourself, present it with care, arranging it beautifully on the dish and placing it gracefully on the table before you sit down to eat.
When you have placed your prepared meal on the table, do not just dive in right away. Take a moment to contemplate what is before you. Feel gratitude well up inside of you as you observe your meal. Take a moment, either silently or aloud, to offer thanks to the many who have contributed to the meal. In addition to whomever bought the ingredients, there are many people who gave of themselves to make the meal happen. You can thank all the people in the grocery store, from the people who purchase the food to the baggers at the check-out counter. Then, think of all the people involved before that—the farmers and everyone working to produce and transport the food. Even for one single, simple meal, hundreds of people gave their time and effort.
Opening Your Senses and Savoring Each Bite
After you have expressed your gratitude, take a moment to open your senses, so that you can more fully appreciate the food you are about to consume. Of course, taste will be very important as you eat, but use your other senses, too. Start with your eyes, noticing all the variations of color and shape in your food. Next, use your nose to take in the smells of the delicious food. When you do finally begin to eat, notice the texture and sounds of the food—the crispy crunch, the luscious soft textures, and so on.
Before swallowing your food, chew very thoroughly, at least 25 times. If you do so, you will notice the full complexity of the taste and texture of the food in your mouth. Notice all the flavors – bitter, sweet, sour, savory, and salty. As you chew and the food breaks down, you will also notice that new flavors emerge—a bitter vegetable becomes sweet, and bite of rice reveals notes of sourness, and so on. If you do this, you will come to truly appreciate the gift and wonder of your food, rather than simply looking at it as a flat routine.
Food is not something that begins and ends with the meal itself. It is part of the cycle of life. With every meal, the Earth has given you a gift. Afterward, it is up to you to decide what to give back. The Earth gives unconditionally, but the point of eating is not to simply take. Each meal is energy that you will use for something. Yes, you can choose to use that energy for something frivolous, but why not give back something more positive than that? It is customary to give a prayer before your meal, but do the same afterward, setting your intention for the creation of a better world.