At Blue Cliff Monastery in Pine Bush, N.Y., the public can spend a “day of mindfulness” with Buddhist brothers and sisters. At meal times, they employ mindful eating: “meditating on your food, paying close attention to the sensation a... Do you eat this way? Do you think you can? What do you think people gain from eating this way?
In “Mindful Eating as Food for Thought,” Jeff Gordinier describes the practice and how it is gaining attention far beyond Buddhist monasteries and retreats:
Try this: place a forkful of food in your mouth. It doesn’t matter what the food is, but make it something you love — let’s say it’s that first nibble from three hot, fragrant, perfectly cooked ravioli.
Now comes the hard part. Put the fork down. This could be a lot more challenging than you imagine, because that first bite was very good and another immediately beckons. You’re hungry.
Today’s experiment in eating, however, involves becoming aware of that reflexive urge to plow through your meal like Cookie Monster on a shortbread bender. Resist it. Leave the fork on the table. Chew slowly. Stop talking. Tune in to the texture of the pasta, the flavor of the cheese, the bright color of the sauce in the bowl, the aroma of the rising steam.
Continue this way throughout the course of a meal, and you’ll experience the third-eye-opening pleasures and frustrations of a practice known as mindful eating.
The concept has roots in Buddhist teachings. 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. In one common exercise, a student is given three raisins, or a tangerine, to spend 10 or 20 minutes gazing at, musing on, holding and patiently masticating.
Lately, though, such experiments of the mouth and mind have begun to seep into a secular arena, from the Harvard School of Public Health to the California campus of Google. In the eyes of some experts, what seems like the simplest of acts — eating slowly and genuinely relishing each bite — could be the remedy for a fast-paced Paula Deen Nation in which an endless parade of new diets never seems to slow a stampede toward obesity.
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.
“This is anti-diet,” said Dr. Jan Chozen Bays, a pediatrician and meditation teacher in Oregon and the author of “Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food.” “I think the fundamental problem is that we go unconscious when we eat.”
*Tell us what you think about the “fundamental problem” of “go[ing] unconscious when we eat.” Have you ever tried to eat more slowly? If so, how did it go? Do you think eating too quickly is a problem, and if so, is it an individual problem, a cultural problem or both? Would you want to try a “day of mindfulness” at a place like Blue Cliff Monastery? Have you ever participated in any kind of spiritual, religious or community-building retreat? If so, were the meals similar to or different from those served and enjoyed at Blue Cliff Monastery?