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.