How Mindful Eating Can Calm a Distressed Mind

In some past posts I’ve inquired if mindful eating can change our lives and also written about rethinking our relationship to food. However, I think it would be good to share a personal example of what this has looked like in my life. In my upcoming book, A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook (March, 2010), co-authored with Bob Stahl, Ph.D, I discuss an experience that I have with mindful eating and how it shifted me from a state of distress and frustration to calm and ease:

Back in my midtwenties, when my life felt out of control and I went on a one-month retreat, each time we sat down to eat we were instructed to be aware of what we were eating, where it came from, and the people who prepared it and to be thankful for it and eat it mindfully. Since I was resistant to being there in the first place, I dug in my heels on this issue and just continued eating as I always had. Often my mind would be swimming with doubts, questioning my decision to even come to this place, thinking I had more important things to be doing, and worrying about whether I really fit in. Most of the time I would be halfway through the meal before I even really tasted the food.

One day, as another participant in the program was talking to me about the importance of being intentional and present in all the activities we do, I immediately thought of the eating and asked him, “Doesn’t it annoy you that they make such a big deal about eating here?” He gently smiled at me, brought out an orange from his knapsack, and said, “Treat this as an experiment. Take this orange and really think about where it came from, how it started from a seed in the ground, how real people cared for the tree to make it healthy and then plucked the fruit from that tree. Think about how this orange was carried from there by many different people before it came to me, and now I’m giving it to you. Now, take this orange and drink it in with all of your senses before even peeling it, much less tasting it. When you are ready to take a bite, chew it slightly slower than you normally would, and then come back to me and let me know how it was for you.” And then he left me.

As I sat alone, I noticed some resistance arising but decided to try his experiment. I reflected on all the effort it took for this little orange to get to me, including the fact that it was a gift from him, and noticed that I felt a twinge of appreciation and a smile came to my face. I had to admit I liked that. I looked a little closer and noticed all the tiny indents in skin. As I slowly peeled the orange, I noticed a mist of citrus spring into the air, as though the orange was rejoicing to be opened, which made me laugh, and then I smelled the pungent aroma. I noticed the contrast between the vivid orange of the outside of the peel and the pale, whitish inside surface. Once the orange was peeled, I brought it closer to my eyes and saw the smooth, veined texture of the outer membrane. As I broke apart one section, I really looked at all of the tiny individual pieces of pulp, swollen with juice. When I finally put a piece of orange on my tongue, tingling sensations ran up my cheeks. All of my attention was on the taste of the orange, and as I began to chew, I felt a rush of sheer delight at the amazing taste of this orange. I had eaten many oranges in my life, but I had never tasted an orange in this way. And then I noticed that the distress I had been feeling was gone, and that I felt calm and at ease.

It’s amazing what can happen when we become present to something as seemingly routine as eating. Please try it out. Choose a snack or meal today and choose to put judgment aside for a moment and tune into the experience of eating. Notice the sensations, contemplate all the natural elements (e.g., sun, rain, earth) that have gone into the formation of this food and all the human work that has transpired to get this food to you today (including yours).

One note: The paradox here is that as you do this, it’s important not to expect miracles as this automatically places the mind in the future. The point  here is to just practice being present with the experience.

As always, please share your thoughts, questions and stories below. Your interaction here truly provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

Comments are closed.