When was the last time you enjoyed a meal largely in silence, paying attention to what you were eating, savoring every nuance of the food, contemplating its origins and complexities and your reasons for consuming it? I'm guessing not recently, if at all. The fast pace of modern life leaves us little time to enjoy the moment, our food, and our lives. But maybe we need to slow down. And that's where mindful eating comes in.
Mindfulness isn't a new concept. It has been a basic tenet of Buddhist thought and practice for millennia. But the specific application of mindfulness to eating is garnering a great deal of attention these days as people seek ways to counteract the relentless tempo of our media- and app-saturated grind. Spa retreats are incorporating it into their relaxation offerings; the government is funding studies into the effects of mindfulness on eating disorders; local health food markets are offering seminars on the shopping aspects of mindful eating.
Essentially, mindfulness in eating is about looking inward and outward at your relationship with food. Internally, it's about being aware of how you feel about food, in the moment and in context; meditating upon the sources of your food and the effects of its production; and being sure you're hungry before you eat. Externally, it's focusing on the sensory effects of your food; appreciating the textures and colors and aromas and flavors that you're experiencing; slowing down and becoming aware of the specific pleasures of the bounty you are being given.Want to give it a whirl? Here are some suggestions on getting started:
Start Slow. Don't attempt to suddenly alter the habits of years. Begin with one snack a day, one meal a week.
Just Eat. No cellphone, no text messages. No newspaper, no iPad. No multitasking. Give all your attention to your food.
Pay Attention. Actually taste every bite. Chew slowly. Inhale the aromas. Observe the simple beauty of each item you're eating. Enjoy.
Pause. Don't plow through your meal non-stop. Instead, put down your utensils and relax in between bites. Engage in quiet conversation, especially by sharing your reactions and perceptions in responding to your meal.
Reflect. Consider the sources of your food, and the effects of its production on the environment. Who harvested it, who nurtured it, who transported it? Was the earth helped or harmed in the process?
Know Why You're Eating. Are you hungry, do you require sustenance? Do you seek enjoyment and pleasure in moderation? Are you eating for distraction, or to appease discontent? Make eating a conscious, self-aware choice-without judgment.
Cook For Yourself. And grow some of your own provisions, even if it's just a few herbs. Cultivating the ingredients, and preparing and cooking your own meals, will help you to more directly appreciate them.
If you encourage yourself to practice these simple activities and endeavors, you just may find a whole new world of contentment and awareness and joy unfolding before you at your very own dinner table.