A Practice You’ll Want To Savor
It’s ironic how we spend good money and take the time to prepare the finest organic foods, and a good portion of the nutrition goes right down the toilet. We don’t adequately chew. When we don’t chew well, the bulk of digestion is put on our glands. The stomach, pancreas, and gallbladder secrete huge amounts of gastric enzymes, pancreatic enzymes, and bile to digest our food, and still there is undigested food going down our toilet bowls every day. The young have stronger digestive fire than the old, but if food isn’t masticated, it can’t be fully digested no matter the age.
Why Don’t We Chew?
We are in a hurry, always busy, on the run, or talking. Eating is just to fill our bellies like a machine needs gas and oil to function. Amidst our busy schedules, the quicker we can do a pit stop the better.
On a deeper level, our mind has become too busy. We need constant amusement… constant distraction from ourselves. This is why even when we have the chance to do nothing, we must find something. This constant need to occupy our minds is a disease! Most people, if they even try to sit down to a meal doing absolutely nothing except eating will quickly search for even a cereal box to read, start looking around the room, creating a mental dialogue, or begin going over events in their mind. In this busy high-tech world, it may be beneficial to take a few steps backwards, to slow down, to learn to be present in our activities of daily living.
Another reason why some don’t chew their food well is the mercury amalgam placed in our teeth. When we have mercury amalgam fillings, every time we chew, mercury is liberated, which poisons our brain and bodies. Chewing less becomes a subconscious protection mechanism.
How to Perform The Food Meditation
There is an old Taoist saying: drink your solids and eat your liquids. This “crazy sounding wisdom,” makes practical sense and is more or less the rationale of our method.
Sit by yourself in a quiet place; this meditation requires all your senses. Before you begin eating, place the plate of food in front of you and just look at it for a few moments. Try to catch the fragrance. If necessary, bend over or pick up the plate near your nose and breathe in the aroma.
Begin eating. It is perfectly fine to use your hands. Using the hands for eating is good. You get down and personal; intimate with what you eat. That’s why the ancients did it, not because they were primitives and didn’t know any better. In a sense, it is more sophisticated: your vibrations co-mingle. The instant you touch food with your hands, the brain gets a signal: the type of food, consistency, temperature, etc. are registered. Before the food reaches your mouth, the body is prepared; the right enzymes are already poised and ready.
Once the food reaches your mouth, close your eyes and let all of your awareness go towards chewing the food. You will find that each food has a certain consistency that changes as the food is broken down and gets closer and closer to a liquid. Even soft foods may surprise you. They may have a lot of cellulose or fiber that requires a good amount of mastication to break it down. As the food is being masticated, roll it around your tongue. Different parts of the tongue pick up flavors more efficiently, such as sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Rolling the food around your tongue allows you to experience all the flavors. Sometimes, as the food is broken down more and more, the flavors change.
Swish the food around in your mouth to make sure it is liquid. When all the food is liquid swallow it down, imagining that it goes all the way down to your navel. Take a few seconds before you put more food in your mouth. Most find that it takes much longer to eat this way.
Watch yourself during the process. You may find your mind wandering, the urge to rush, or boredom setting in, but try to stay with your senses. When you have finished eating, rub your abdomen lovingly: the stomach, pancreas, liver, and intestines with both hands for a few minutes. The rubbing aids digestion.
This is just a basic outline, as you will discover much more as you practice. And remember the other half of the Taoist saying: to “eat your liquids.” This means if there is juice, soup or even tea, keep the liquid in your mouth and roll it around, letting it mix with your saliva, actually chewing it up a little.
Truly Enjoying Your Food
For those who enjoy eating, the food meditation is a way to appreciate it much more. Using the meditation you become an aficionado, a true lover of food; you get to savor and magnify the delight of eating. When we enjoy eating, it is much more beneficial.
Perhaps even the food itself rejoices when we take pleasure and experience gratitude. Certainly, we come more into harmony with what we are eating.
One day after practicing this for years, I learned just how much we miss by not being present with our food. Usually, after everyone had gone to school or work, I ate my breakfast alone. In those days, my typical breakfast was a cup of homemade yogurt and one of my special health muffins made from freshly ground oat and barely flour, nuts, and fruit, and warmed with a dab of butter. I had no distractions in the quiet house, and it was such a delicious treat; the meditation came naturally. I focused all my senses on eating, liquefied the food in my mouth, tasting all the subtle flavors, and swallowed it down to my navel, or center.
Then came the first day of Christmas vacation. My wife went off to work, but the kids stayed home. I sat down to eat my breakfast, but the children asked me to make something for them. I prepared their food while I ate mine, standing. When I had the kids’ meals squared away, I went looking for the rest of my food, sure I’d only eaten a few bites. I was shocked. My food was not to be found; I had finished it. So used to putting my attention on my food, it didn’t even register that I ate it! Naturally, I was left unsatisfied. I had eaten like a machine and missed the experience. Most enlightening: because I had diminished awareness of eating, I was still hungry!
Food Addiction, Weight Loss, And Awareness
The way to overcome food addictions is not by suppressing the desire, but rather going into it with complete awareness.
Most of us use food for more than mere sustenance. Eating is sharing, communion, a way to comfort and nurture ourselves, and it is natural because food is such an elemental and pleasurable necessity. As previously mentioned, although food addictions often involve elaborate preparation and ritual, there is still a deep level of unawareness, even a total checkout of consciousness.
The hallmark of the food meditation is the opposite: complete awareness… awareness of not just the flavor, consistency, the feel in your mouth, on your tongue, but also including the spatial feeling, the sensation of food in your belly. By playing with the meditation, by exploring awareness, one may find that smaller amounts of food satisfy their emotional needs even better than eating a lot mindlessly.
One may find that with a little awareness, they are quite full and sated, and can break the cycle of addiction or overeating. If the addiction is deep seated, don’t despair. Keep watching yourself without judging. If you accept yourself and watch, sooner or later you will reach a deep understanding of what you are doing.
Awareness is really the only way to break the cycle of any habit. Generally there are several components to any addiction: indulging, feeling guilty, vowing never to do it again but doing it anyway, then feeling guilty again endlessly. Remember that repression never works: first acceptance then awareness.
Now, I’m not suggesting to become a hermit, or a monk, or to eat alone all the time. Sharing food is a form of love. But give the food meditation a try, perhaps one meal a day. You’ll be helping the body and having a lot of fun in the process. Food never tasted so good!