The Buddha was asked, "What do you and your disciples practice?" and he replied, "We sit, we walk, and we eat."This was posted for an online retreat in which I am taking part, and it made me think of my studies of eating disorders and disordered eating. So often what happens is a lack of mindfulness, of awareness, of what we eat, and how much we're really eating, especially in the cases of bulimia and binge-eating disorder. In both of these illnesses, the sufferer loses awareness, at least in the short term, and also control. Eating becomes automatic, it is detached from actual hunger, it is not serving the body or the psyche well, because too much food makes one sick, and although the eater may temporarily feel comforted about what is eating him or her, ultimately the binge will result in self-recrimination and more psychic distress.
The questioner continued, "But sir, everyone sits, walks, and eats."
The Buddha told him, "When we sit, we know we are sitting. When we walk, we know we are walking. When we eat, we know we are eating."
Most of the time, we are lost in the past or carried away by the future. When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present movement, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace, and love.
In contemporary western cultures, it's really no wonder that such a disconnect would happen and cause illnesses like these. Meals are no longer the communal events they once were: we eat meals in the car, we eat meals in front of the TV set or a book, we eat far too many meals alone! We're doing other things when we eat, and not really thinking of what we're eating or how we're eating it. What is more, we aren't doing as much of our own cooking, choosing fresh ingredients with care to make the best food we can make! I know I eat far too much "food heated up", and I actually like to cook and am pretty good at it.
Preparation also leads to mindfulness. A Lean Cuisine lasagna may taste fairly good, but you're certainly going to feel more connected to a lasagna you carefully made from scratch: you'll think about the individual ingredients, the amounts of herbs and seasonings, the finishing touches before you put it in the oven. Even worse is when you pick something up in a drive-through to eat as you rush off to work in the morning. You could be shoveling cardboard into your mouth for all the enjoyment you get out of it. Sometimes it's unavoidable, but try to taste each bite of your breakfast burrito as you eat it. Pull over if you have to. Be mindful.
I have something of a history of binge-eating, though not, I think, to the point of a clinical diagnosis. Sometimes, if something is bothering me, or I'm feeling sorry for myself, I'll start eating a favorite (forbidden) food, like potato chips or chocolate, and I won't stop until it's all gone. I might savor the first few bites, but soon I'll just be gobbling it up without thinking, or, worse, thinking I have to get rid of it before anyone finds out I have it. (Forbidden food, remember?) The last thing I'm doing is being mindful when I eat like this, and as a result, I don't know if I'm even tasting it properly. I think the next time I find myself on the verge of this sort of a binge, I will try to stop, breathe, and be fully aware of each bite.
Are there any things you do that lack mindfulness? Do you think that cultivating an awareness of your actions would improve your enjoyment of life?