Sunday, April 30, 2006

Day Six: Returning to Awareness

During the last five days, we have explored (1) opening the mind to observe whatever thoughts are arising, (2) attending to the physical movements we make when we eat, (3) the richness of the involvement of our five senses (taste, smell, touch, hearing, sight) when we eat, (4) the combination of awareness of physical movement and sensory experience, and (5) awareness of the fullness or spaciousness in our belly and the state of our hunger.

Today, we'll explore the arising of an intention to eat. When sitting before a plate of food, or sitting at home prior to driving to a restaurant, somewhere within us arises the intention to eat. Somewhere, an impulse to act is generated from which we lift the fork, or reach for our keys, or get up and walk to the kitchen to open the refrigerator or cupboard.

We began our journey five days ago by opening awareness to our thoughts. Today, let's be vigilant in our effort to be aware of the thoughts that pass through our minds that relate to food, and bring into being the impulse to eat.

In Practice

I awaken this morning, and the thought passes though my mind "I wonder what I should eat." I sit with this thought, not reacting to it by jumping up and heading to the kitchen, and ponder "where is this thought coming from?"

Upstairs, I am reading the paper and one of my children is eating a pancake. I look up from the paper and see the pancake. I think to myself, "What should I eat." I pause and reflect on whether I had even been thinking of food a moment before. It appears that the mere sighting of food encouraged me to want to get my own. But, am I even hungry? I place my hands on my belly and breathe deeply. There is a nice feeling of spaciousness. I feel no hunger pangs. I am, actually, at ease. Why ride the impulse into the kitchen. I breathe deeply for a few breaths and watch the urge pass.

I'm in the kitchen pouring myself a drink. I open the refrigerator and see a delicious treat. Hmm, I've labeled the treat "delicious." And a "treat." While not starving, I am not full either. Try as I might to bring awareness to this moment - to examine it from a place of balance -- I observe my hands reach for the baggy in which the treat resides. The baggy is opened. I reach inside. I sense my fingers prying open the bag. I sense my finger tips touch the cool treat. I breathe deeply. Who is in control here? I remove the treat and bring it to my lips. I open my mouth. Then, without expecting this, I pause. I stand motionless. What will happen next? I smile appreciating the mystery. I put the treat down, relax my shoulders and breathe deeply for several breaths. I wonder to myself, "do I want this treat?" I know it is from the health food store and not filled with chemicals. That is good. I know my body is longing for it. I know I am a little hungry. Surely, this is a good time to eat.

I find myself in that pivotal moment. It matters not what happens next. But the beauty of it is if I can make the next step I take one in which I am keenly aware of what is happening, as it is happening. I reach again for the treat and take a bite. A flood of flavor fills my mouth. I chew slowly and then swallow. I examine the fingers before my and watch them retreat to my side. I place the remaining treat in the baggy and return it to the refrigerator.

Breathing deeply, I feel my belly and smile. Not too full, not too empty. Just right.

Day Five: Experiencing Fullness

Today we direct awareness to the stomach. Does your belly feel full or empty, or something in between? Is it easy or difficult to take a full breath. Whatever state you are in at the moment, use this as an opportunity to expand awareness to this state -- one you probably find yourself in often. Don't think to much about it. Just sit comfortably, place your hands on your stomach, and breath deeply. Note to yourself with one or two words the feeling and mind states that arise -- stuffed, empty, ache, spacious. Don't dwell on any one state and try to not analyze it. For example, try not to follow noting "full" with "Full because I ate way too much food."

Today, at various times during the day, both before, during and after eating, perform the above exercise and take not of what arises at these different times in your eating cycle. It is also helpful to do this upon arising, at a random time during the day not associated with eating, and before going to sleep.

Day Four: Putting Together Awareness of Movement and Sensations

Over the course of the last three days, we have played with awareness in three fundamental ways: awareness of thoughts, awareness of bodily movements, and awareness of sensory experience. We have explored each of these separately so as to augment our receptivity to the deepening mind states that accompany the enhanced awareness that flows from each.

Today we combine the second and third -- awareness of bodily movements and awareness of sensory experience. This calls for a slowing down of the eating process so that we might more readily absorb the lessons our body will learn -- lessons that pave the road for the spontaneous movement toward mindfulness awareness.

To expand awareness, it is helpful to first recognize how we block out so much of what takes place around us. While you are reading this, are you aware of your heartbeat? Of your breathing? Of your feet touching the ground or curled up in your chair? Are you aware of the suffering taking place across the globe and next door? Are you aware of the awesome speed and paths of the stars and planets moving across the cosmos, including the Earth.

Are you aware of the small speck you represent as a living being somewhere on the Earth, somewhere in the solar system, somewhere in the Milky Way, somewhere in the vast reaches of the cosmos, somewhere -- somewhere.

Are you aware of the loved human being you are for another in this world. Are you aware of the important role you play for a friend, relative, colleague, acquaintance and the significant interactions you will come to have for one who today is a stranger?

In this moment, and the moment of your life, are you aware of these basic aspects of your existence, or are you, for example, aware mainly of the words you are reading on the screen and perhaps the event you have coming up next?

Mindfulness practice recognizes that we tend to put blinders on for much of what is taking place around us (and within us) and that through this biased scanning of our lives, we lose balance and perspective. As a result, the decisions we make, including what to consume, can be made without an appreciation of our genuine needs.

As we expand awareness to include more of what is actually happening, we naturally move in the direction of greater balance. Today, we'll do this by becoming mindful, while we are eating, of the movement of our arms, hands, fingers, and of our jaw, mouth and tongue.

There is no goal to this action. We are simply moving into states of greater awareness. In doing so, we become more alive.

In Practice
A plate of food has been placed before me and I begin to eat. It is almost automatic, how quickly I reach for my fork. The food enters my mouth and I swallow the first morsels practically unaware of what is happening. If I'm not careful, not mindful, the meal with be over -- all of the food and perhaps a second helping to boot -- before I know it.

Armed with this most powerful of tools -- awareness -- I begin to slow it down. My next forkful is emptied back on the plate. I rest the fork on the plate and, for the first time in a while, take note of the movement of my hand -- the lowering of my arm, the gentle release of my fingers, the sound of the fork again the plate. Conscious of this movement toward greater awareness, I relax my body and take a breath -- a nice full breath. Doing so, I feel the expanse of my belly and the spaciousness within.

Slowing down the process, my mouth begins to water and I take note. Wanting the wondrous parts of my body to collaborate, I observe my hand reach for the fork -- shifting almost imperceptibly between awareness and forgetfulness on this short journey from my side to the plate a dozen or so inches away. But, with sustained concentration, I succeed for the most part. I touch the cool metal of the fork and feel its weight as I gather together the food on the fork's three tines. I take a moment to observe the color of the food sitting on the plate and in readiness on the fork. Lifting the fork, I slowly -- very slowly -- bring it toward my mouth. In the "unnatural" slowness of the moment, I become aware of my heart beating. Is it anticipation? I can almost hear the breath flowing out of my nostrils. I feel my lips part as I being the food into my mouth and then hear my teeth as they close around the fork. My hand slowly retreats, depositing the food on my tongue, as I sense my arm (and watch in slow motion) retracing its movement returning the fork to its place on the plate. I feel the food's temperature, and how the same temperature feels different against my lips and tongue.

My mouth salivates, releasing enzymes to help digest the food. Since I can feel the flow of saliva, I appreciate even more the wonders of my body. This is not just the part of me I call myself eating. This is teamwork in action -- a thousand moving parts all working together, more sophisticated than the most intricate of timepieces.

I feel the muscles of my jaw working up and down, as the food is chewed, and then the instinctive clenching of my throat as I swallow it. While I don't feel the food enter my stomach, I know it is on its way.

Taking a slow steady breath, I reach for the fork prepared to continue the journey.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Day Three: Sensing

Eating involves all of the senses. We have the opportunity to taste, smell, touch, hear, and see the foods we eat. So often the distractions of the moment overwhelm these sensations and we're lucky if we even remember eating in the first place.

Today, expand awareness so that these sensations come alive. Place a piece of food in your hands to feel its texture. Position the food near your ear and squeeze it or roll it around between your fingers. Look at it carefully and up-close, bring it to your nostrils and inhale its aroma. Then, place a small piece onto your tongue, close your eyes, and allow the flavor to fill your mouth.

A wonderful food to explore this with is a raisin. You'll be surprised to find out the sound a raisin makes when you roll it between your fingers, close to your ear. If you experiment with these sensations slowly and with deepening awareness of what you are actually doing, you will find the experience awakens something deep inside of you.

As with the previous two exercises, there is no goal. Just open to the sensations. Even if moments pass in distraction, return to the sensations. The act of returning from distraction to awareness of what is actually taking place can be very powerful.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Day Two: Movement

The seemingly simple act of eating sets in motion a symphony of movement. Because we have been accustomed to eating as a matter of habit, we long ago stopped attending to the nuances. But they are there, just as they have always been.

As infants, learning the mechanics of eating took time and was a challenge. As we age, or suffer certain ailments or diseases, the challenge returns.

One of the foundations of mindfulness practice is to appreciate the impermanence of all of life, and this includes the state of our health and functioning. It can be a powerful exercise to slow down the process of eating so that we become keenly aware of the small and large movements involved in eating.

Today, as I ate dinner, I became aware of my desire to reach for the spoon. From where did this desire spring? Slowly, I lifted my hand and reached out for the spoon. I observed just how my fingers began to form in anticipation of touching the stem of the spoon. Then, I felt the weight of the spoon -- how heavy it was -- as I lifted my hand and brought the spoon to my mouth.

Then, how marvelous that my mouth began to open as I brought the food into my mouth and deposited it on my tongue, which responded to the touch of the spoon and then the warm food. My jaw then kicked into gear, automatically, and I slowed the process, moving my jaw up and down chewing the food with deliberation.

My body told me when I was ready, and, as if mediated by a power beyond myself, I began to swallow the food. Just then, my hand began to retract from my mouth with the empty spoon (was the spoon lighter or was that just my imagination?) and I reached over to return to spoon to the table.

Breathing deeply, I observed the thought arise in my mind to take another bite, giving birth to the impulse to reach again for the spoon.

Have fun trying to slow down the process, even if for just a bite here and there. You will find the experience tends to awaken present moment awareness.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Day One: Awareness of Thoughts

There are numerous ways to approach eating mindfully. There are also many different degrees of mindful awareness. It is a life long process that leads to deeper and deeper levels of awareness. For those just beginning, it is nice to know that what matters most is intention. If it is your intention to become more mindful, if you are taken by the path of greater awareness and insight, then welcome to the journey.

Mindful eating derives directly from mindfulness practice. Mindfulness involves the toning down of lively mind states so that we might approach life fresh, with an open heart and alert mind.

When you approach eating from this place of an open heart and alert mind, you will find that your eating habits shift and eating becomes more natural, healthier, and balanced.

Exercise for Day 1: Expanding Awareness by Observing Thoughts
This morning I entered the kitchen and began looking for something to eat. I let my mind wander as I looked over all the possibilities. Drawn to different items, I let go of any judgments of what I should eat versus what I should avoid. But, I was aware of the fact that thoughs and judgments were filling my mind. "Don't eat that, it will fill you up." "Eat that, it's healthy." "Skip that, you don't need the calories." "That's going to go bad, so better have it today."

These are the types of thoughts that so often fill our mind as we make day to day decisions. They are neither good nor bad. They simply are what arise in our minds. But, rather than blindly and automatically accept and act on them, today's exercise is to merely watch these thoughts. What I eat is not important for today is all about observing the arising and passing away of thoughts about food.

At lunchtime I went to a nearby park to practice yoga. There is a beautiful gazebo-like structure jutting out into a picturesque lake. Under the white wood with a warm but delightful breeze blowing off the lake and flowing around my body, I began with the yoga asanas, or positions. Midway though a posture, a fleeting thought of the juice in my car came and went. I'm not sure I was even thirsty. Where did that thought come from? And where did it go. In the past, I might have instinctively wrapped up my yoga practice and headed for the car for the drink -- mindlessly unaware of the power of the passing thought that caught hold of me and swept me away from the moment. Instead, I watched the thought pass and smiled as it floated out over the waves gently lapping against the shore.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

One Week Until Appearance on Dr. Fitness and the Fat Guy: Seven Days to More Mindful Eating and a Healthier Lifestyle

This Blog site is being created specifically so that listeners to popular radio show Dr. Fitness and the Fat Guy hosted by Lee Kantor and Dr. Adam Shafran, and visitors to The Mindful Parent website can observe my journal entries for the week leading up to my appearance on the show. The show's topic is Mindful Eating and will air Monday May 1, 2006 at 8:00 p.m. on AM 1620 or live on Radio Sandy Springs.

On the show, we will explore what mindful eating is and ways to cultivate this contempative approach to eating and drinking. For parents and other child-care givers, I will also share mindful parenting techniques that can encourage mindful eating.

In this blog, I will introduce the basic building blocks for developing a mindful eating practice. Each day I will share a new practice technique. At the same time, I will make note of events thoughout the day and post journal entries each evening, tying together theory and practice.

Bon Appetite.