Sunday, March 30, 2014

Enlightened Eating: A Blessing that Extends Through Your Entire Meal

Have you ever been so hungry that the instant you get your food, the first instinct is to go into devour mode?  Many of us do not necessarily "inhale" our food, but we do focus on addressing those hunger pangs.

Jay Michaelson, author of  the book God in Your Body, urges us to treat our food with reverence. In an article entitled Eat Your Way to Enlightment, Michaelson offers us a set of a meditation guidelines to go along with this practice borrowed from the Buddhist tradition and adapted into Kabbala tradition of Judaism.

Michaelson points out that the practice is now widely taught among the people who gave the world the bagel & shmear. "But more than almost any other practice I teach, it works for people of any or no religious background, and with a lot or no meditation experience. Admittedly, it's not quite instant enlightenment -- but it is a taste of the World to Come," said Michaelson.

When we say grace or say a blessing before a meal, we tend to go on to conversations with our dining companions. And that is natural. Michaelson's practice gives us a chance to offer our blessings throughout the entire meal when we eat by ourselves or to offer an extended blessing when we share food with others.

"Very simple practice -- not much Kabbalah, not many moving parts; just waking up to the body, to fulfill the injunction of v'achalta, v'savata, u'verachta (you will eat, you'll be satisfied, and you'll bless) with the same intensity our ancestors might have had. I like to think of it as the prerequisite for authentic blessing," said Michaelson.  (This is another way to practice  what Rabbi Min Kantrowitz told participants at the Jewish-Catholic Dialogue's Spring Colloquium in Albuquerque in March).

Eight Steps to Mindful Eating
So where do you start? Michaelson tells us how.
"Begin by selecting a piece of food. A bit of fruit or vegetable is good, though I often teach this practice with a potato chip -- really, almost anything works. Take a moment to focus on the object before putting it in your mouth."

And then we are prompted to use the Kabbalistic map of the four worlds to assist us with the practice. The descriptions that follow are abbreviated.  Read the entire article to get the full eight steps.

    •  First, on the level of the body, you might feel the food with your fingers, or just gaze at it with focused attention. What does it feel like, or look like?
    • "Check in" next with the heart. What desires do you have? Are you hungry? Nauseated? Thankful?
    • On the plane of the mind, consider for a moment all of the people involved in bringing this food to you. Farmers, truck drivers, factory workers, storekeepers -- there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people whose labor created the simple occasion of this food arriving in this moment.
    • And, on the level of the soul, consider all the conditions necessary to have created this food. The four elements of fire (sun), water, Earth, and air; the genetic information in the plants (or animals), which I see as part of the Divine wisdom (chochmah).
    • Then -- finally! -- place the food in your mouth. Before chewing and swallowing, experience the tactile sensations of the food on your tongue, the tastes, the feeling of the mouth watering.
    • Then, bite into the food and chew, trying to omit any automatic movements. When chewing, know you are chewing.
    • Swallow after the food has been thoroughly chewed, probably twenty or thirty times (don't bother counting; it's not a quiz).
    • As your tongue cleans your mouth after this mindful bite of food, try to maintain the attentiveness that you've cultivated; don't let it be automatic.

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