I think eating mindfully is a beautiful way to take care of ourselves and to savor our lives. Eating mindfully simply means paying full attention to eating (or cooking or even washing the dishes).
Eating mindfully is a way for us to honor our bodies, to honor the process of nourishing ourselves. It’s a way to honor the rich, long process that goes into food arriving at our tables — from seeds sprouting in the earth to trucks bringing it to the store.
Here are some valuable insights, tips and reminders for eating mindfully from the book How to Eat by Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.
Creating a Kitchen Altar
According to Thich Nhat Hanh, the kitchen can be a meditative space if we practice mindful awareness while we’re cooking and even cleaning.
“We can set an intention to execute our tasks in a relaxed and serene way, following our breathing and keeping our concentration on what we are doing.”
A kitchen altar can remind you to practice mindfulness while you’re cooking. For instance, your altar might be a small shelf that contains an incense holder, small flower vase, a statue or anything that’s meaningful to you.
When you enter the kitchen, you can start burning incense and practice mindful breathing (noticing your breath), “making the kitchen into a meditation hall.” Or you can create other small rituals that signal you’re about to cook.
What’s Available to Us
When we’re mindful of our cooking, we also realize just how much we have to be grateful for. Just how many big, important things (like electricity!) are available to us so we can nourish ourselves and our loved ones.
According to Thich Nhat Hanh:
“When I put the water into the basin for washing the vegetables, I look deeply at the water to see its wonderful nature. I see that the water comes from high in the mountains or from deep within the Earth right into our kitchen.
I know that there are places where people have to walk several miles just to carry back a pail of water on their shoulders. Here, water is available whenever I turn on the tap. Aware of the preciousness of clean water, I value the water that is available to me.
I also value the electricity that I use to turn on a light or to boil water. I only need to be aware that there is water and electricity easily accessible to me, and I can be happy straightaway.”
What Our Food Contains
As Thich Nhat Hanh says, a grain of rice contains the whole world. It contains rain, clouds, the Earth, time, space, farmers. Everything.
“When you put that grain of rice into your mouth, you are putting the whole universe in your mouth…When you chew that grain of rice, just chew, so no thinking will cut you off from this wonderful reality.”
Thich Nhat Hanh includes an example of teaching a friend about mindfulness. He handed his friend a tangerine, but he kept talking and talking while he quickly devoured the fruit.
Here’s another important reminder about eating and really any tasks we do:
Thich Nhat Hanh writes:
“What is the purpose of eating a tangerine? It is to eat the tangerine. During the time you eat a tangerine, eating that tangerine is the most important thing in your life.
The next time you eat a tangerine, please put it in the palm of your hand and look at it in a way that makes the tangerine real. You don’t need a lot of time; just two to three seconds is enough. Looking at it, you will see the beautiful tangerine blossom with sunshine and rain, and the tiny tangerine fruit forming.
You can see the baby fruit grow and its color change from green to orange. Peeling the tangerine, smelling and tasting it, you can be very happy. Everything we can do can be like this. Whether planting lettuce, washing dishes, writing a poem, or adding columns of numbers, we can do it with concentration and awareness.”
If any of these words or tips resonate with you, write them down in your journal. Pick out a meaningful quote, and create a print, which you put up in your kitchen.
Remind yourself of the miracle of eating. Of the pleasure of nourishing your body and paying full attention to every sweet bite.