Mindfulness Beyond the Plate: Mindful Eating
I sit cross legged at a bench serving as a table that held five bowls bound with cloth. A pair of chopsticks poke out among the folds. I can say that I am most definitely hungry but weary of the ritual that awaits the next fifteen minutes. Oryoki as it's called in most Zen traditions, is the art of eating with mindfulness and gratitude. The word Oryoki translates as "just the right amount". A Zen priest is our guide and he sits at the head of the table, ready to share with us the meaning of mindful eating.
Mindfulness has become a buzz word as of late, an experience to have every day. The gurus in the health and wellness community fill each day with mindfulness. They plan each meal, all of them thought out, their mealtimes slow and calculated. This is after their half hour meditation session in the morning. Before another meditation session at night, between yoga sessions and sipping green juice.
Don’t get me wrong. I wish I had the patience and the discipline to sit for half an hour enjoying meditation. I wish I had the time and money to sip green juice like water. This is the “ideal” we see on social media or on wellness websites. Mindfulness along with salads in bowls as big as your head and trips to the countryside. But this ideal is just that, an ideal. It’s something we aim for but possibly never something we can achieve on a regular basis. Practice not perfection.
The priest motions for us to begin before instructing us in Japanese. A translator helps us understand the instructions. With care and intention we unwrap the nested bowls. These lacquered wood bowls are loud. They are made to clatter and clink if you are not working with intention. It takes all my concentration and energy to make my movements quick but quiet. And not all my dining partners succeed.
The “ideal” mindful eating is to eat slowly and with intention, enjoying each bite. It's about utilizing all our senses. But to me mindful eating begins way before I ever sit down at the table. It begins before the kitchen and before the trip to the farmer’s market or grocery store. Mindful eating begins where the food begins; in the soil. Mindful eating is being cognoscente of where the food on your plate comes from.
It continues when the farmers nurture the vegetables or fruits. How farmers harvest and transport it to you. The shorter the chain from soil to plate the more connection I feel to where my food comes from. That is why I do my best to shop for local, seasonal produce whenever possible.
The meal is simple, bowls of rice, miso soup, pieces of tofu and Japanese pickles. We eat in silence, savoring each bite. The sound of chewing becomes a kind of melody as the flavors of the food hit my tongue. I remember watching my dining partners preparing the food in silence. Grateful for their diligence. I admired the craft that went into such a simple meal.
Mindful eating isn’t about where your food comes from it’s about how we prepare the food with love and intention. For some this means a silent kitchen, for others this means a bit of soft music and a glass of wine. Still for others it means being present with the people you love. But for all it's about staying rooted in the present moment. It's about intentional movements.
Think of it this way. You can get the best coffee beans in the world from a top quality roaster. Then you bring them back to your home and crush the whole beans with a mallet. You leave them on the counter because your phone buzzed. You come back the next morning to make your coffee. You throw the crushed beans in some cold water and microwave it. It's done when it resembles something like coffee. The coffee won’t taste good because you weren’t present with the coffee beans, you got distracted. The movements that go into making a great cup of coffee weren’t intentional.
We have finished our meal and I am grateful. I rinse my bowls out with hot water and wipe them with care. I return them to their original nest, working with diligence and with focus. I wrap the bowls in the cloth and place my chopsticks on top. I could have eaten more but I am satisfied, full in body mind and spirit.
After we know where our food comes from and how it's made we truly savor the flavor and effort we put into our meal. We enjoy the sounds, the textures, the mouthfeel, the smell and the taste. That is the ritual of mindful eating. And sometimes that ritual is only 30 seconds. For others it’s longer- but always with intention, always with care.
Take the time today, maybe it’s 30 seconds, maybe 30 minutes to truly and intentionally eat your food. Feel a sense of gratitude for your meal and think about the journey that food took to get to your plate. But then take a deep breath and bring yourself back to the present moment, to the flavors, textures, aromas and sounds of what you’re eating. Enjoy it, because we all deserve to enjoy good food.
If you would like to learn more about Oryoki check out this link.