Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mindful Eating

Recently, I have seen advertisements for a variety of classes in mindful eating. Some with yoga. Some meditation. Some on their own. But when I look closely at the descriptions I notice that rather than mindfulness, in the Buddhist sense of being wholeheartedly present in the moment with whatever is happening then letting go and moving to the next moment, these classes are actually teaching sensory desire and attachment. It is a common mistake.

People often mistakenly think that because our experiences are impermanent and fleeting we should focus our attention on enjoying each experience “to the fullest.” That makes us more attached and more desirous, not less. That’s makes us more greedy, not less.

Like brushing our teeth mindfully, showering mindfully, urinating mindfully, eating mindfully is a meditative practice we should all do with the intention of mastering it. The liberated mind, after all, is the mindful mind.

Mindful Eating, Just Do It

If you really want to do an exercise in mindful eating, this is what I suggest:

Pick a restaurant that you like. Make a reservation there as early as possible for dinner, just when the restaurant opens and when there are the fewest patrons in the restaurant–maybe a Monday night at 6:00 PM. The quieter the restaurant, the fewer distractions to pull you away from your mindfulness. Make the reservation for one. This is an “eat alone” meal.

Arrive a few minutes early. If you are asked where you would like to be seated, say, “Anywhere is alright.” When the server arrives and asks if you want a drink, ask for a glass of water without ice. When it’s time to order dinner, ask the server to pick an appetizer and an entrée for you. Mention that you know the restaurant and just want to be surprised. Do mention if you have any allergies.

Mindful eating is about being present with the eating, not about picking and choosing. So far in this exercise, you really haven’t picked or chosen much, other than the restaurant.

While you wait for the food, just sit there, still and calm, hands in your lap and mind on your breath. Don’t look around to visual stimulation. Don’t concern yourself with what others in the restaurant might be doing or what food might be coming for you.

When the food arrives, nod thankfully. Eat slowly. Put your knife and fork down between bites. Fully address your attention to the experience of eating–to what it feels like to press the fork into the food, what it feels like to lift the food to your mouth, how the food feels and tastes in your mouth as you eat it and swallow it. Then let it go and take the next bite. Immediately let go of any judgements about the food. The point here is to experience the moment, the eating, not to savor or attach to it. Let each moment go so you can greet the next. Mindful eating is about being present with the eating, not about judging, not about liking and disliking. It should be no different from mindfully urinating.

When you have finished the entrée, order a dessert if you want. Do it with a minimum of words or mental commentary.

When you leave, just leave, mindfully. Be mindful of each movement and step. Then let go of this entire experience. Get into your car and drive home. Drive mindfully. No music, no radio, no cell phone, no thinking about the meal. Just drive when you are driving.

When you walk into the house, walk into your house. Don’t think about your driving experience, and don’t think about your dinner. Just do what is next.

That’s mindfulness. That the source of peace and well-being.