Monday, November 16, 2009

Eating Meditation

“We never eat on the run,” my friend explained. Annie~~pronounced with the accent on the last syllable in that lovely French way~~was speaking of her native culture’s approach to food. “In France,” she continued in charmingly accented English, “we set the table beautifully, sit down together, and we take our time. We enjoy the flavor, discuss our food, say “ooh!” and “ah!” We enjoy it more~~a lot more.”

Many of us have lost such a pleasurable relationship with food. In fact, it seems a rare person who eats with full enjoyment and presence, including listening to the body’s internal cues regarding food selection, hunger, and sufficiency. Luckily, we have opportunities galore to reorient ourselves to a wholesome relationship with food.

When we think of meditation, certain stereotypes often come to mind~~for example, people sitting in the lotus position on the floor, backs straight, eyes closed. But actually, we meditate in any activity to which we bring our full, undivided awareness. This can include eating.

Jan Chozen Bays, physician and author of Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food, describes eating meditation as “an experience that engages all parts of us…in choosing, preparing, and eating food. It allows us to be curious and even playful as we investigate our responses to food and inner cues of hunger and satisfaction.”

With this in mind, I arrange mixed greens on a plate. I add slices of red pepper, mushroom and tomato, a few baby carrots cut lengthwise, top it off with grated cheese. I allow myself a few moments to appreciate the vivid colors~~red, orange, cream, earthy brown, and varying shades of green~~beautiful against the black plate.

This dazzling array tells of the beneficence of sunshine and rainfall. It brings to mind the cows whose milk became the cheese and bees who pollinated the fields. The varied efforts of numerous individuals~~farm worker, trucker, grocer, and others~~are here, too, responsible for bringing these gifts to my table. I whisper a heart~felt thank you.

I dress my salad lightly. As afternoon sunlight flows through the kitchen window, I begin to eat.

From the first mouthful, I awaken to a variety of textures~~the hard crunch of carrot, tender spinach leaves, the soft burst of tomato. Sounds of chewing, seldom noticed, fill my head. Distinct flavors mingle, joined by olive oil and vinegar. Yes, this is good.

For dessert, I unwrap a bar of Lindt dark chocolate, a friend’s gift from her daughter in Germany. I break off one small piece~~oh, that smell!~~and note its deep brown color against the beige of my palm. I place the chocolate on my tongue, press it gently to the roof of my mouth, move it around a bit. I open to the rich subtleties of taste and texture. The chocolate softens as it melts. Long after the morsel is gone, flavors remain.

The second piece is similar, though my experience of it is somehow less satisfying. When that piece is no more, I realize I’ve had enough. I am finished.

As Bays explains, “Mindful eating is not directed by charts, tables, pyramids, or scales. It is directed by your own inner experiences, moment by moment.” Eating in this way, in contrast to consuming quickly and with minimal attention, can, “help us tap into our body’s natural wisdom and our heart’s natural capacity for openness and gratitude.”

Each meal offers an opportunity to cultivate presence and appreciation. May we all 'show up at the plate' more often in the coming weeks. What an appropriate attitude to foster as we receive the bounty offered us!

Loanne Marie

Monday, November 2, 2009

Love as a Crucible for Soulful Transformation

This weekend, my husband and I celebrate our 35th anniversary of loving one another. When I look back over the years, I recognize how intricately we have been woven together, and I cannot discern who we each would have become without the other's presence.

All important relationships offer us a crucible, a container for the fiery work of soulful transformation. However, a life partner invites us into a truly unique and multifaceted alliance.

Here, romantic fervor foreshadows a sound devotion that deepens and matures with time. Dreams for a common future are woven through the routine events of daily life and unfold within the context of a shared history. A primal, physical intimacy coexists with a closeness nurtured by shared joys and sorrows. And this bond of a lifetime grows amid the knowledge, at times felt quite viscerally, that one or the other will leave, through death if by no other means.

When one embarks on a relationship such as this, one enters unknown territory. As Jungian analyst and author Thomas Moore describes, “The heart is a mystery—not a puzzle that can't be solved, but a mystery in the religious sense: unfathomable, beyond manipulation, showing traces of the finger of God at work.” When we travel in such realms, we're in for quite a ride, indeed!

To be sure, delights are scattered along the way, and we are wise to embrace each one of them fully. But this path is not for the faint of heart. Through daily contact in all kinds of emotional weather, our baser qualities awaken as well, rising to the surface to greet us and our partner.

As Moore puts it, “Relationships have a way of rubbing our noses in the slime of life—an experience we would rather forego, but one that offers an important exposure to our own depth." And this is as it should be, for only by dancing with our demons can we move forward into the process of transformation.

My husband and I are both strong-willed individuals who came into each others' lives with a full array of the usual baggage. Things, therefore, have not always been easy or smooth. Yet we nurtured an evolving commitment to do what our love required, each and every step of the way. Greater depth, healing, and an enlarged capacity to cherish ourselves, each other, and life itself have been the result.

Now we arrive at the 35th anniversary of those first steps on this path of love. And when I turn into the driveway after a long day of work, see the light on in the kitchen, and know he is there, my heart sings still.

This man is indescribably dear to me. He knows my strengths and my secrets. He loves me as I truly am, not in spite of my flaws, but because he has seen me vulnerable and transformed through them. And I try to love him with the same steady devotion he has taught by example.

Thomas Moore again: “A soulmate is someone to whom we feel profoundly connected, as though the communicating and communing that take place between us were not the product of intentional efforts, but rather a divine grace.”

Yes, my husband and I have worked hard at this loving, but there does seem to be something of divine grace involved as well. For this--precious jewel--I am very, very grateful.

Happy anniversary, my sweet, sweet man!

And may blessings flow to each one of you through the heat engendered within the crucibles of your own life.

Loanne Marie