= The Prologue… =
It was a beautiful, sunny day in majestic Sedona. Sitting at my desk, I was completely unaware of that fact, along with anything having to do with the food I was shoveling into my mouth. I was very hungry (time management can be an issue for me when it comes to appointments) and I had only twenty minutes to eat and prep the room for the next client.
About 2/3 of the way through the meal, I realized I wasn’t even breathing…or rather, I was completely unaware of my breath and that struck me as deeply wrong.
Something shifted and I put down the food and really looked at it. Then I took stock of how my body FELT at that very moment. My stomach actually didn’t feel very good. It wasn’t because of the meal, I was eating a very healthy, organic salad and fresh green juice, it was simply because of my state of mind and a total lack of awareness. When I actually took a breath, and looked deeper into what I was feeling, I noticed that I was feeling stressed, mostly due to the lack of time. With only a few moments left, I put the rest of the meal away and calmly prepared for my next client.
This experience was a reminder to me about the importance of awareness when taking a meal. I have be fortunate to have had some wonderful reminders of this in the form of trainings where we were required to be completely aware of our food, chew each bite 32 times, take a breath between each bite, etc. Some of these practices have come from the ashram experience and some from the Buddhist teachings of Thich Nat Han. Each technique is unique and focused on a different aspect of the meal experience, however, I was left wanting more. I really wanted to connect to my food and go deeper. Fortunately, not too long after my accelerated lunch, I had a chance to do just that.
= Dinner =
One evening my beloved prepared a homemade pot of red-lentil soup. I was late arriving home from the clinic and was famished. My first awareness of the soup was actually outside of the house. I could smell a complex aroma coming from an open window! What astounded me was not that the soup smelled good (Arin is a wonderful cook), but the reaction that my body had to simply the smell. My mouth immediately began watering and I could feel my stomach producing enzymes and chemicals that increased my appetite. Once inside the door, the sensory exposure increased tenfold.
There was a bowl waiting for me at the table. The square, green-glazed bowl’s earth tones accented the vibrant tones of the vegetables perfectly. The steam and pools of essence from the freshly cooked soup roiled as I stirred it, causing my stomach to jump.
Looking at this beautiful meal in front of me, I became aware of everything that had to come together to make this one moment possible. I was immediately overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude for the bounty of the Earth and the loving hands that brought it together. This gratitude had the effect of opening my heart to the nutrients of the food as well as the grace / spirit of the Earth and plants. It was inspiring. I wanted to be able to share or “inspire” this same sort of awareness for others and once I finished the meal, immediately wrote down my thoughts. These thoughts have become the process outlined below that I like to call “The Practice of Sacred Eating.” Enjoy and as the effervescent Julia Child would say, “Bon Appetit!”
= The Practice of Sacred Eating =
We all love to eat. Taking in food keeps us alive and if it’s a pleasant experience, all the better.
It’s becoming increasingly apparent that not only are our meals important to our overall health and wellness, but they are also crucial to our mental state during and after the time that we are eating. (Click on the quote below to read my blog entry on the importance of digestion and consciousness)
The Practice of Sacred Eating is performed over and above any prayers or blessings you may perform and is conducted in a completely silent manner with no outside distractions. Please note that you can modify this practice to fit into your daily meal time habits.
The overall attitude and energy that you should embody during this practice is: Slow Down.
1. Take a moment to become present in the “now.” Tune into your breath and slow your heart rate while focusing the mind on your digestive system. This awareness is not just about the stomach. Draw your mind across ALL the organs associated with taking nutrition into your body:
- Nose (Right and Left Nostrils)
- Tongue (Front, Back and Sides)
- Teeth (Top and Bottom Rows)
- Small Intestine (Seat of Absorption in the body)
- Large Intestine (Beginning phase of elimination and water absorption)
- Rectum and Anus
2. In this present state, take the time to VISUALLY observe your food. What does it look like? Really try to have no judgement about what you are observing. What is the nature of the container that the food is being held in, what color is it? Is there a contrast between the food and the material of the container? Do they blend evenly? How do the two “textures” interact? How vibrant is the food? What’s the consistency of the food material?
3. When you have your serving, savor the scent of the food. Inhale, hold your breath and the scent, exhale, and hold your breath out for just a moment. Pay special attention to how even the smell of the food has an “echo” of a taste. Taste is intimately tied into the sense of smell. The taste generated from the sense of smell registers on the taste buds throughout the mouth.
4. With each bite, before you chew, hold the food in your mouth for just a moment, assimilating the various bits of information about the meal. This information includes the consistency of the food, the initial taste profile as well as a cascade of sensations coursing down throughout the alimentary (digestive) canal. Remember, there are a whole host of molecular interactions occurring within your body as you prepare to eat. The entire digestive system is reacting to the information being “unpacked” from first site, to first scent, to first bite!
5. Chew each bite of food much slower than you are used to, paying attention to the coming and going of the various flavors that are presented with each chew. After swallowing a bite, pay attention to the lingering tastes, flavor notes, and sensations in the body. Really take your time to relish the relish!
6. Once you finish your meal, take some time to look at what is left on the plate or in the bowl, the combination of oils, films, shapes, food particles etc. These sacred traces allow you to go deeper or “track” the whole of the constituents of the meal and their interaction with one another. This provides insights into how the ingredients of this meal are going to interact with your cells.
7. We often discard the remnants of the food on our plates in an almost derogatory way, as if they are the dirty byproducts of our meal. In truth, these traces of our meal are actually an honest representation of our experience, the interaction, the relationship we’ve just created with our food. Honor it deeply.
= What Brought You Here =
Throughout the meal be aware of each component that contributed to and brought it to your plate.
Visualize each element, each food stuff, as a sacrifice and contribution to the purpose and vision of your life. Honor them as they will assist you in going about your day and accomplishing your goal(s).
Close your eyes periodically throughout the meal and tune in deeply to your inner landscape. Endeavor to shut out the “outside noise” that populates your environment. Breath more deeply and focus on the exhale (stimulating the relaxing part of your Nervous System), increasing your digestive system’s functioning.
After all the food is gone, draw in a deep breath across your plate or bowl, allowing the last vestiges of the meal to settle deep into your awareness.
Take a moment, in your own way, to give thanks to those who have graciously provided you with this meal. These may include:
- Those who have consciously prepared your meal with the intention of supporting you and your life’s purpose.
- Those who have dedicated or given their life to cultivate, harvest and / or transport the ingredients.
- Those whom we may not even have an awareness of, perhaps countries away, whose lives are impacted by even the smallest ingredient or spice that we are taking into our body.
Once this is complete, take a few moments to FEEL your body once again, comparing the sensations before the meal to the sensations after. Giving thanks, conclude your meal.
And don’t forget to wash the dishes!