Mindful Eating as Food for Thought

Today’s New York Times and this week’s mini-podcast on PRI’s The World highlight the practice of mindful eating.

“Just as there are forms of meditation that involve sitting, breathing, standing and walking, many Buddhist teachers encourage their students to meditate with food, expanding consciousness by paying close attention to the sensation and purpose of each morsel….Mindful eating is not a diet, or about giving up anything at all. It’s about experiencing food more intensely — especially the pleasure of it. You can eat a cheeseburger mindfully, if you wish. You might enjoy it a lot more. Or you might decide, halfway through, that your body has had enough. Or that it really needs some salad.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, poet, scholar, and peace activist, elaborated most notably on the concept of Mindful Eating in 1993, where it appeared as the fifth of his Five Precepts:

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society.

Thich Nhat Hanh (pronounced tik-nyot-HAHN) founded the Unified Buddhist Church (Eglise Bouddhique Unifieé) in France in 1969, during the Vietnam war. His lifelong efforts to generate peace and reconciliation moved Martin Luther King, Jr. to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. He founded the Van Hanh Buddhist University in Saigon and the School for Youths of Social Services in Vietnam. When not traveling the world to teach “The Art of Mindful Living”, he teaches, writes, and gardens in Plum Village, a Buddhist monastery and mindfulness practice center in Dordogne, France.

(Photo courtesy of Plum Village Online Monastery)

He recently partnered with Lilian Cheung of the Harvard School for Public Health to co-author a newish book, Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Living. Here she is with a helpful introduction (The Hearts of Space-ish soundtrack is a bonus):

To recap:

1. Honor the food

2. Engage all senses

3. Be mindful of the portion size

4. Chew

5. Eat slowly

6. Don’t skip meals

7. Eat a plant-based diet

Or, to put it in Yogi Bhajan-ese, Feel Your Abundance.”Sometimes we do not have the power to concentrate and we miss the opportunity. Elementary abundance is in your hand”, he says. The corresponding meditation, first taught to western Kundalini yogis in 1997, puts this principle into practice. It involves the methodical holding, peeling, and eating of an orange.

Try it the next time you REALLY have a taste for one.

(Photo by Mary Scheirer)