Sunday, April 18, 2010

How to Eat Like a Zen Master

My Uncle sent me this article written by Alexander Green. With the authors' permission, I posted it because I thought it was well worth the read.

How to Eat Like a Zen Master
by Alexander Green
Dear Reader,

Two weeks ago, I suffered a home invasion - and not for the first time.

I had plopped down to watch Duke play Virginia, having just fixed a toasted ham and Swiss on rye, and a few minutes later - to my astonishment - my plate was bare except for a few crumbs and a spot of pickle juice.

The sandwich thief had struck again!

How clever of him to enter my home in broad daylight, steal the sandwich and dill spear right under my nose, then vanish without a trace.

Wiping the Dijon mustard from my lips, I considered the suspects...

Seriously now, how many meals have you eaten this way, so consumed by your plans for the day, the conversation at the table or - worst of all - the drone of the Tube that you never really tasted the food?

Thich Nhat Hanh would not approve.

Who's he? Nhat Hanh is an expatriate Vietnamese monk and Buddhist Zen Master who has spent his life advocating nonviolence, setting up relief centers for refugees, ministering to the needy, establishing monastic centers, and authoring more than two dozen books on what he calls "mindful living."

(In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize, telling the committee, "I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of this prize than this gentle monk from Vietnam.")

Nhat Hanh insists that most of us in the West live mindlessly. We spend our days on autopilot, reminiscing about the past or, more often, endlessly planning for the future, even if that's only ten minutes from now. By doing this, we miss our appointment with life. Because the only time we can be fully alive is in the present moment.

To change, we need only recognize that it is always now - and increase our awareness of what is going on within and around us.

Sounds simple enough. But few can actually do it. Instead, we live in a near-constant state of distraction, even when we sit down to eat. (And some, I've noticed, don't even bother to sit.)

Nhat Hanh says we can change this and turn mealtime into an art, a spiritual discipline, simply by following the Seven Practices of a Mindful Eater:
  1. Honor the food. Start by unplugging all your daily distractions. Turn off the TV, your cellphone, and the laptop. Then take a moment to consider that everything you are about to consume - even the contents of your salad bowl - was recently alive and is about to provide your sustenance. Be grateful, too, for the many people who made this meal possible: the farmer who grew and harvested the food, the trucker who transported it, the shopkeeper who offered it, and your spouse or other individuals who may have worked hard to prepare it.
  2. Engage all your senses. Before eating, make a practice of pausing. Notice the color, the smell and the texture of the food. With your first bite, take an extra moment to savor each nuance.
  3. Serve modest portions. Nhat Hanh recommends using a small dinner plate no larger than nine inches across. Modest portions are not only healthier, they are less wasteful and a small step toward a more responsible use of the planet's resources. It's hard to believe, but over 16,000 children in the developing world still die every day from starvation, malnutrition or hunger-related illnesses.
  4. Savor small bites. This allows you to better enjoy the taste of the meal. It also improves digestion since the process begins with enzymes in your mouth breaking down the food.
  5. Eat slowly. This will make you feel pleasantly satisfied sooner and help you avoid overeating. There is a big difference between feeling you've had about enough and swearing you can't eat another morsel. Set your fork down between bites. (Few people do this, I've noticed. Try it in a restaurant and more often than not your server will try to whisk your plate away.)
  6. Eat regular meals. Skip a meal and you're more likely to yield to fast-food restaurants and vending machines. Planning and sticking to regular meals - at least as much as your schedule allows - will enable you to eat more nutritious food, enjoy more satisfying company and settle your body into a consistent rhythm.
  7. Eat a plant-based diet. Buddhists like Thich Nhat Hanh claim this isn't just healthier, it is also easier on the environment and more compassionate toward animals. To the extent you do eat meat, studies show it's better to favor fish and poultry. My good friend Dr. John Reed, head of the Burnham Institute (one of the world's leading medical research institutes), loves a good steak. But he told me recently that he has given up red meat altogether. He says the increasing evidence of a connection between red meat and colon cancer is pretty scary.
So there you have it. To eat like a Zen master, you don't need years of training or hours spent in cross-legged meditation. You need only recognize your mindless habits and make an effort to change them.

Dine this way and you'll find that not only are your meals more enjoyable, you'll eat less too. And that's a good thing. Scientific studies show that caloric restriction is an important source of longevity.

Eating mindfully allows you to appreciate your food and its connection to the rest of the world. It makes you look and feel better. And it helps you live longer, too. So try this Zen Master's guidelines. See if you can make them second nature.

And, who knows, you might never fall prey to the sandwich thief again.

Carpe Diem,


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1 comment:

Kathy said...

LOVED reading this. Thanks for passing it along!