Yoga is union. Mindful eating is also yoga — in the sense that eating unites your body and mind’s intention through a moment of eating presence. Create an eating mindfulness placemat that you could carry with you like a yoga mat, from table to table, from setting to setting, whether you are eating in or eating out, as a kind of portable eating mindfulness space of your own.
Sketch out a placemat that includes a visual diagram of mindful eating. For example, draw a picture of the eyes to denote the mindfulness of the appearance of food, with an arrow pointing to a nose for the mindfulness of smell, with an arrow pointing to a picture of the tongue for the mindfulness of taste, with an arrow pointing back to your mind (to remember to “open your mind before you open your mouth”).
Or, to awaken the eating zombie, include mindfulness call-outs to get your own attention, such as:
- Eating is Movement, Pause the Flow!
- Redefine “Enough” – Mindful, not Mouthful!
- Mindful Eating is Self-Synchronization.
- Eating is physiologically inevitable, but mindfulness isn’t – wake up!
- Who’s eating?
- Open Your Mind Before You Open Your Mouth.
- Made of Earth, I am eating Earth and becoming Earth.
You can also include various pointers on craving control, fullness, process of eating. If you have already formulated your Philosophy of Eating, you can summarize it on the placemat as well:
- Eat to live, not live to eat!
- Eating changes both body and mind, the total of who I am. What I eat and how much I eat changes who I am physiologically. Why I eat and how I eat changes who I am psychologically.
Your mindful eating placemat can also include mindful emotional eating harm-reduction tips on how to shift from mindless emotional overeating to responsible emotional eating such as:
- When eating to cope, remember that emotional eating does not have to mean emotional overeating. Emotional eating is not a problem. Mindless emotional eating is.
- Whenever I eat to cope I begin with a course of relaxation!
Related resources: Mindful Eating Tracker
Conscious eating isn’t just about being calorie-conscious. Conscious eating is about being conscious. It’s about counting moments, not just calories. So, put aside this tedious business of counting nutritional calories for a moment and ask yourself: What else am I getting out of this eating moment? How is my mind being enriched?
A Nutritional Calorie is a unit of energy. The job of a Nutritional Calorie is to fuel your Body. An Experiential Calorie – to coin a term — is a unit of awareness, a unit of conscious presence, a unit of meaning. The job of an Experiential Calorie is to enrich your Mind. Take a moment to count the latter…
What are the Meditational Calories of this moment? Indeed, as you eat, pause to consider the interdependence of people, places and events that converged into one seamless process in time to finally reach your lips. Of course, the Sun didn’t shine for you and the grapes didn’t grow for you and the farmer didn’t collect the grapes for you and the canner didn’t can the grape jelly for you in particular… And yet, somehow, as you are spreading grape jelly on your toast, you are now the beneficiary of this endless process of transmutation. Or, as you focus on the automaticity of your hand-to-mouth motions, on this smooth machinery of your habits, perhaps, you will awaken the eating zombie for just a moment, to both marvel and fear this ease of mindlessness with which our lives run. Or, perhaps, as you watch this food and this moment come and go, you will consider the impermanence and transience of things, and of yourself.
What are the Spiritual and Ethical Calories of this moment? How am I expressing my life values in this moment? Are my eating choices an accurate reflection of what I stand for — ethically and spiritually? Is my eating kind? Is my eating graceful? Is my eating meaningful? Is my eating grateful?
What are the Aesthetic and Hedonic Calories of this moment? Am I enjoying this eating moment, this moment of living? Am I allowing myself to notice the humble, unpretentious beauty of what I am about …
An eating meditation inspired by a verse from Rig Veda (an ancient Indian text of sacred hymns):
Two birds with fair wings, inseparable companions,
have found a refuge in the same sheltering tree.
One incessantly eats from the peepal tree;
the other, not eating, just looks on.
What is this enigmatic passage about? Who is this “other” bird that is not eating and just looking on? We’ll get to that in a second…
My guess is that most of the readers of my posts about mindful eating are more motivated by weight loss or weight management than by the meditational aspects of mindful eating. And yet, mindful eating is a wonderful platform for daily meditation.
You see, eating is inevitable, but mindfulness isn’t. When we use eating as an opportunity to awaken ourselves from our zombie-living, we stand to glimpse that elusive, essential sense of self – that silent bird of consciousness – that witnesses our day-to-day behavioral frenzy. Mindful eating – to borrow another metaphor from Buddhist philosophy – is an opportunity to glimpse your Original Face, to come in contact with that immutable, changeless, indescribable sense of presence that is the backdrop to everything else we think, feel or do.
What am I proposing?
A simple thing, really! Now and then, as you eat, pull back for a sec, and ask yourself:
As you struggle to answer this arguably confusing and recursive question that folds back onto itself, know that you are looking straight into your “original face,” that you are acknowledging that fundamental, inexpressible, yet very real sense of self-presence!
And this “you,” this bird of mindful presence that is looking on, is always full, complete, lacking nothing whatsoever, in its primordial perfection!
Adapted from “Reinventing the Meal” …
Clean kitchen countertop… what will it see today?
Clean decluttered dinner table… what will it see today?
Clean morning-fresh meditation-fresh mind… what will it see today?
Have a day of mindful eating!
Share your own mindful eating moment at Mindful Eating Tracker
See the Dissatisfaction (of the Desire) as It Passes (Rather Than Looking for Satisfaction)
A craving is a desire. Desire – as strange as it sounds – is a state of frustration. To want is to feel incomplete, to feel agitated and thwarted until a given desire is satisfied. Wanting is restlessness. Wanting is dissatisfaction.
Mindfulness involves two essential mechanisms: applying a certain kind of attention and practicing dis-identification. Attention can be active or passive: that of an active observer or that of an uninvolved witness. This distinction is easy to understand through contrasting such verbs as “to look” versus “to see.” “To look” implies an active visual scanning, a kind of goal-oriented visual activity. “To see” implies nothing other than a fact of visual registration. Say I lost my house keys. I would have to look for them. But in the process of looking for my house keys, I might also happen to see an old concert ticket.
Mindfulness is about seeing, not looking. It’s about noticing or witnessing without attachment to or identification with what is being noticed and witnessed. This is where dis-identification comes in.
Cravings (for dessert or something specific to eat, or just to keep eating) come and go. Mindfulness—as a meditative stance—allows you to recognize that craving as a transient, fleeting state of mind, and just one part of your overall experience. Mindfulness teaches you to realize that this impulse to keep on eating is but a thought inside the mind. Yes, it’s part of you, but it isn’t all of you—which is exactly why you can notice it and see it without having to stare at it. In sum, mindfulness—as a form of impulse control—is a strategy of controlling by letting go of control.
In sum, mindfulness allows you to see through the …
What is the future of eating?
This is one of the questions that I try to answer in my new book, Reinventing the Meal: How Mindfulness Can Help You Slow Down, Savor the Moment and Reconnect With the Ritual of Eating.
Still a cultural underground, transhumanism is a gradual churning of techno-genetic possibilities. As a social movement, transhumanism is still in the stages of fermentation. From the evolutionary standpoint, transhumanism is an attempt at self-guided evolution, a project of customizing the body to meet the needs of the mind.
But what does the mind fundamentally need from the body? Faster information processing would be nice. An extended health span would be nifty. Who wouldn’t like faster legs, sharper vision, or more acute hearing? Heck, having a functional pair of wings wouldn’t hurt either. Top all of this off with bulletproof skin, and it might seem as though this human dream of functional augmentation was complete. But it isn’t. It’s lacking the most fundamental piece: greater metabolic independence. Indeed, what minds seem to really like is sovereignty. And sovereignty is synonymous with greater energy independence. Of course, all metabolic independence is relative. No life is ultimately independent of its environment.
As I see it, a transhuman project of metabolic independence could take one of two general paths: that of direct human photosynthesis at a cellular level (let’s call it the path of Homo solaris) or the path of the Energizer Bunny. The former is a path of genetic modification and perhaps surgical augmentation or a wholesale nanosurgical alteration on a cellular level. The latter path might involve some sort of “future skin,” a kind of biotech chimera project of swapping elastic solar panels for patches of skin. The specifics are beyond me. In fact, it’s likely that there are solutions that lie beyond the capacity of my imagination. But one thing seems clear to me: Whether motivated by compassion (for the life that we consume) or by self-determination, we will—if we are fortunate to survive as a civilization—seek greater energy autonomy on an individual …
What is inoculation? Inoculation introduces an organism to a nominal threat with the purpose of hardening the organism. Motivational inoculation is a series of challenges (in the form of questions) that help crystallize intrinsic, fail-proof motivation. Here’s some motivational inoculation for weight management.
Inoculation 1: What is my stated motivation for this weight management attempt?
Inoculation 2: Have I tried to lose weight for this reason before? If yes, then on what basis do I believe that a reason that wasn’t strong enough for me to stick to the plan before would be sufficient this time?
Inoculation 3: is my reason to lose weight for me or for somebody else? If for somebody else, then what reason will I have to keep on track if my relationship were to change with this other person? What if my relationship ends? What if my relationship stabilizes and he/she no longer cares how I look, how much I weigh? What reason will I use then to stay on track weight-wise? And why am I not using that reason now?!
Inoculation 4: Is my reason for this weight management project situational in nature? Am I trying to lose weight so that I look good at somebody else’s wedding? Shine at a school reunion? Get a date? Competitively snub somebody else? Am I trying to impress random minds on a spring break beach? Is my weight management attempt part of my seasonal body-transformation as I get out of the “weight camo” winter clothes into a more revealing wardrobe? If so, what will help me stay on weight management track when the situation changes? And why am I not using that reason now?
Inoculation 5: Is my motivation for weight management in line with my definition of psychological health? Is my motivation for weight management in line with my life-values, my priorities, my spiritual/existential compass? If not, why am I misguiding myself? What would be a motivation for weight management that would express and extend the rest of my life-values and life-priorities?
Inoculation 6: Would …
All life distinguishes “inside” from “outside,” or “self” from “nonself.” (I call this SkinThink). This is the fundamental duality of existence. This dichotomy, this distinction, this bias, this sapience is the software of living. Life (in order to begin, in order to continue) is self-preserving and, therefore, self-serving. Life is partial to itself: it views its own self as the Subject and everything else as “other,” “environment,” or “objects.” All life objectifies other life as “environment,” to use and to eat, to flee from so as to not be used or eaten by it, or both. All life is fundamentally unfair to other life—until it understands its inevitable interdependence and, on a higher level, its essential sameness.
Early in our development—both as individuals and as cultures—we adopt an adaptively intense dualism of self and nonself. We are highly self-centered (egocentric). It makes sense. Being helpless and scared, we have to think in a highly conservative manner. This developmentally early dualism is there to protect us. “You’re either with me or against me” is the mentality that underlies our socializing. We socialize not for fun but for protection. We group into cliques and circle the wagons. We are busy surviving.
As we learn more about life, we begin to tame our fears and distinguish between physical and symbolic threats. If we’re fortunate, we eventually conquer our innermost fear: the fear of dying. As we progress from fear to nonfear, we become increasingly less invested in all of these us-versus-them distinctions. The lens of our perception is recalibrated to notice similarity, perhaps even the oneness of our shared essence, rather than superficial differences in form. We become kinder and more compassionate. We even begin to feel for the life that we consume each time we sit down to eat—not just the animals that died so we might mindlessly eat another meal while zoned out in front of the TV, but even the plant-based life we consume. We begin to understand that anything that is alive wants to stay alive, regardless of …
There are sobering realizations that you cannot, unfortunately, unthink. Here’s one such realization that I had a few years back: Health, unlike illness, produces no revenue. That’s right: In economic terms, you are far more valuable sick than healthy. Healthy bodies with healthy minds make for poor consumers in a corporate society. They mind their own business and live their lives of quiet satisfaction. The ill, however, are understandably busy looking for either direct or symbolic answers to their suffering. That makes them excellent consumers. Illness is a repeat business. Health, sales-wise, is a cold lead. It’s easy to dismiss this perspective as depressing or unnecessarily cynical. But I encourage you to not rush to brush this off as a disillusioning rant by some weirdo. Granted, I might be a weirdo, but as for disillusionment, it’s always a good thing. Disillusionment is literally a loss of illusion, and is therefore an opportunity to see reality as it is. It’s an opportunity for clarity—an opportunity for change.
Mindfulness Is the Missing Ingredient
Let us start with a brief review before I make my point: Eating changes both body and mind, the totality of who we are. What we eat and how much we eat changes who we are physiologically. Why we eat and how we eat changes who we are psychologically.
Mindlessness Is Blindness
When we eat mindlessly, the body expands (to the extent that mindless eating leads to overeating) and the mind “shrinks” (to the extent that mindless eating denies us the experience of eating). After all, being mindless means just that: being of less mind. Mindlessness hides reality and robs us of experience. I’m sure you’re familiar with this experience of having no experience: You get into the car, start driving, and half an hour later arrive at your destination. But as you look back, you don’t remember the actual experience of driving. We’ve learned not to be puzzled by that. “Highway hypnosis,” we think and move on. It’s the same with eating—a kitchen-table hypnosis of sorts. You shop, you cook, you set up the meal, you …
“There are a staggering number of edible vegetable combinations of light, air, water, and earth that are growing on this planet. The same base ingredients that produce a carrot can also make a grain of rice or a hot ginger root. The widely different vibrations and life-energies in food are real, and become you if they have not been processed out by the time it reaches your plate. Good food enables and even guides you to live your life much better on many levels—beyond improving simply physical health” (2009, 208–209).
For years I have been of the same opinion: that processed food is dead, that the life has been processed out of it, and that it therefore has nothing to offer or teach your bodymind.
It’s mind-expanding to see reality through an information-processing lens. But what is information? Information is pattern, and information processing is pattern recognition. Processed food is utterly deconstructed; it has no pattern left. It is sterilized of its history and carries no memory or life secret. Case in point: an apple is actually an embryo. It’s a vegetative womb pregnant with life. Apple puree, however, is a totally different story. As I see it, even a glass of carrot juice is processed food—even if freshly pressed. Carrot juice is no longer a carrot. Its fibrous structure has been lost in the rpms of a high-powered juicer. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against juicing—not at all. I love carrot juice, and if you see a tan tone to my skin, it’s probably attributable to carrots, not sun.
The point I’m making here is philosophical, not nutritional. Whether nutritionally sound or not, processed food is devoid of patterns of information and history. Even if it feeds the body, it doesn’t feed the mind. While nutritionally sound processed food is, of course, a better choice than many packaged foods, when I eat it I feel that I miss …