Eating Mindfully

By Tergar Meditation Community • 3 min read

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Just one?!

If our modern relationship to food had a motto, it would likely be borrowed from that potato chip brand’s famous slogan: “Bet you can’t eat just one!” There’s a lot to unpack in that playful dare, but it certainly sums it up. For one thing, the cycle of craving and dissatisfaction comes easily to human beings. That tendency is easy to exploit, so companies can (and do) bioengineer foods specifically to produce insatiability. Adding insult to injury, the act of giving in to a craving you were trying to resist usually unleashes a torrent of guilt. You lose the bet by eating the whole bag of chips, and the fallout affects your physical, mental, and emotional health.

An unwinnable fight

Craving is a habit that hangs out in your subconscious mind. Much of the time, you’re not especially tuned into it, and you’re often unaware of when it’s poised to descend on you. Then, when it shows itself, a power struggle ensues, and most of the time it wins. Sometimes it wins this way: you’ll give in and grab the junk food, or something you know will upset your stomach, or make you feel lousy in some other way. Or, even worse, it wins this way: you clamp down so hard on your control mechanisms that you fall back on unhealthy patterns of restriction and self-hatred. Either way, a shame spiral is nearly unavoidable.

 

Breaking the cycle

The problem of powerful craving is not solved by either mindlessly giving in to it or mindlessly fighting it. It’s a human situation that actually goes a lot deeper than whether or not you munch on candy, so to address it successfully, you need the three aspects of view, meditation, and application. Having a basic intellectual understanding that your health can be adversely affected by mindless, compulsive, or disordered eating can be said to correspond to the view aspect. As for the meditation aspect, happily, that can come with a side of mashed potatoes.

 

A craving for transformation

Whether you’re a seasoned meditator or a beginner, the most effective way to transform your habits of craving is to bring mindful awareness to eating. If you don’t already have a solid practice, you may have to learn basic meditation first: start with five minutes of breathing meditation every day, and keep it up for at least 21 days, 30 if you can swing it. Just be aware of the breath. At that point, you can start bringing your awareness to your cravings. Gently bring awareness to your sensations. Especially when you feel a craving to eat something that you know doesn’t really support your mind or body, be with it; explore it with impartial curiosity. That doesn’t mean getting deeper into imagining the object of your craving so much as it means delving into the physical sensations, thoughts, and feelings that arise in you as you notice the craving. Be fully present for all of that. At first, the cravings might seem to loom even larger, but then they will shift or subside. Over time, they’ll become a support for awareness; even though you might still experience them, their power will lessen.

 

Taste meditation

The practice of mindful eating is simple. Keep your spine loosely straight (alert, but not tense or forced). Be aware of the food you’re going to eat. Let the aroma reach you. Eat slowly, with attention. Your taste buds are specialized to pick up variations on salty, sour, bitter, savory, and sweet, and if you bring mindfulness to it, you may notice some or even all of these in one mouthful. Experiencing flavors becomes a support for meditation. As you chew, the taste changes; by the time you swallow, it’s different again. The whole process of taking in food becomes a support for meditation.

 

Awareness is the entree

When you bring awareness to eating, the food you consume will better nourish your body. And, you can apply this tasting method at every meal, every day. This is where the application aspect comes in. If you do tasting practice during breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, you will get in at least three good sessions of meditation, and at the same time you’ll enhance the sensory experience of eating your food. That’s what’s known in the industry as “buy one, get one free!”

“We can find our freedom only through embracing the conditions that trouble us.”

– Mingyur Rinpoche –

Meditation on breath

  1. Keep your spine loosely straight and let your body relax. If you find that you can’t relax, just allow that you can’t relax — that in itself is to be relaxed!
  2. Notice that you are breathing and simply continue to be aware that you are breathing. You don’t need to focus on any particular sensation, just know that you are breathing. You can allow other thoughts, feelings, and sensations to come and go freely — as long as you remember that you are breathing, you are doing fine.
  3. It’s normal to quickly get lost in thoughts, memories, plans, and so on. But as soon as you notice that you were distracted, you are already back in awareness! Now gently return your attention to your breath. Let this process continue again and again, over and over, with short intervals of awareness repeated many times — aware, lost, aware, lost, aware, lost — for the duration of your session. Every time you notice that you were distracted, you’re strengthening your meditation muscles.
  4. Practice short sessions regularly. Doing five to ten minutes each day is a great way to start. You can experiment with increasing the length of the sessions as your confidence develops.

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About the Author

By Tergar Meditation Community Team

Tergar Meditation Community supports individuals, practice groups, and meditation communities around the world in learning to live with awareness, compassion, and wisdom. Grounded in the Tibetan Buddhist lineage of our guiding teacher, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, our online and in-person programs are accessible to people of all cultures and faiths, and support a lifelong path toward the application of these principles in everyday life.

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