POSTED ON BEHALF OF KELLY RYAN
One of my go-to forms of meditation and relaxation is cooking and/or baking. I love making cookies, cupcakes, casseroles, and just about anything else that is edible. While some people might not think that chopping, scooping, or measuring are great ways to decompress, it works for me. After the module on meditation and yoga I began to think about other ways that food could be helpful in building serenity and peace. After some investigation I came across Deer Park Monastery’s mindful eating techniques. This process for eating—by yourself or with a community—is a great way to ensure that mealtimes are opportunities for meditation.
Deer Park Monastery is a sanctuary in California that brings together engaged Buddhists and lay followers to learn and grow under their teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. At Deer Park, participants and followers are not just encouraged to participate in the mediation hall or during formal sitting meditation. They encourage mediation in all activities in one’s daily life.
The eating meditation begins with serving. “Serving ourselves, we realize that many elements, such as the rain, sunshine, earth, air and love, have all come together to form this wonderful meal.” Eating is done in silence so that every individual is able to connect with the universe and reflect on their nourishment. Participants focus on several principles while practicing this mindful eating:
- This food is a gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings and much hard work.
- May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive it.
- May we recognize and transform our unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed, and learn to eat with moderation.
- May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that we reduce the suffering of living beings, preserve our planet and reverse the process of global warming.
- We accept this food so that we may nurture our brotherhood and sisterhood, strengthen our sangha and nourish our ideal of serving all beings.
The full process can be found online at: http://deerparkmonastery.org/mindfulness-practice/eating-meditation
This website is a great resource for many reasons. For personal use it provides great ways to enrich our individual meditative experiences and incorporate them into our daily routines. It provides some useful resource about the types of meditation practiced at Deer Park as well. It is also a great resource for teachers, educators, and practitioners trying to incorporate mediation into their classrooms or with their participants. Beyond the eating meditation, the website gives helpful meditation techniques for breathing, sitting, embracing anger, walking, and even hugging.
I chose to focus on eating meditation because it has a direct environmental component; it seems to bridge our meditation and environmental modules. Too often I—and I assume others—rush to eat our food so we can move on with our day. Taking time to understand how it impacts our bodies, nourishes us, and fuels us is crucial. Moreover, eating meditation allows us the time and space to reflect on what the earth has given us, what we have taken from the earth, and how we can become better stewards of the earth through our direct consumption.
This meditative practice can be used in any classroom I think. While I’m not a teacher, I remember how much my classes loved when our teachers brought food to share! A great way of practicing this meditation would be to encourage a snack day or just bring snacks to class for your students. Go through the meditation and ask your students to reflect on how the food went from the soil to their hands. Encourage them to contemplate the people needed to harvest the food, the process of cleaning/preparing the food, material used to wrap/package the food, the vehicles and fuel used to transport the food, and how the food got from the store to their hands. While every student may have different visions of the food process, of their nourishment, and of the impact food consumption has on the environment, this is a great visual and tactile way of teaching both mediation and an appreciation for the earth.
This hits on many of the pillars of peace education but I think it specifically speaks to skill building and nurturing emotional intelligences. This activity builds on meditative skills that are important to personal, academic, and professional development. It provides students with a way to practice meditation in their daily routine. Additionally, it supports emotional intelligences by promoting time and space for individual reflection on something as personal as eating and consumption.
This mediation might not be for everyone. Some people might find it hard to be silent during eating, especially if eating is a time of community building. However, it is one way of utilizing a standard routine (eating) and transforming it into a meditation practice. I encourage everyone to try the meditative eating and to build meditation around other daily activities in their lives.
In college I developed an eating disorder. I went to a nutritionist who told me to stop eating in front of the t.v. or while studying. She said I should just carve out space each meal to pay attention to my body so that I could redefine food as fuel rather than escape. I remember the first few times I tried it, it was very strange. I had never paid so much attention to the act of eating before. It did help me to slow down and ultimately sit with myself more. Built in mediation is a great idea because you have to eat, but you don’t “have” to meditate. It’s a good way to create space for this important experience.
I love the idea of turning something as everyday as eating into a reflective practice! This could be used and twisted everyday in snack time with elementary students. In my student teaching we used to hand out mid-morning snack with a question that every student had to answer before they could receive snack. This could be a great opportunity to tie in more meaningful or reflective questions or a time to start conversations with students about where the food they’re eating came from. Snack time could be used so much more efficiently than it usually is to create moments of reflection or quiet time to bring down and excited mood. Thanks for giving me more ideas of how to incorporate reflection and meditation into everyday activities!
I liked how you took mindfulness and applied it to food! I also use cooking as a way to relax. I also find that the more mindful I am while cooking the better it turns out. Food is a central part of our lives as mammals- we have to eat to survive! It is something we all share and it is important to see how it impacts our selves, our environment, and others. Great post!
Kelly, I can completely relate to your cooking and baking for meditation. I know when I’ve had a hard or busy day at work, being alone in the kitchen, having something to do with my hands which allows my mind to be free is so helpful for me. I am going to have to check out their ideas of eating meditation. But for the purposes of this response (other than saying I think it was a great idea!) I really liked your idea of having snack day in class where the students get to reflect on the life cycle of their food. I was just reflecting on the carbon footprint quiz we had to take and my main complaint was that it didn’t focus enough on the entire life cycle of goods and services. Using food is a great way to explore that concept, which with food can be especially hard to understand. And you’re right, who doesn’t like when the teacher brings treats to class!