By Lorena Monda As a psychotherapist for 18 years, I have encountered many people—including myself—who need to heal their relationship with food. Though I have studied and practiced many ways to help this healing come about, I discovered that mindful eating is one of the simplest and most powerful.
At Plum Village, I found eating in mindfulness quite difficult. So when I returned home, I started a "Mindful Lunch Group." Every Thursday, we gather and eat our lunch together slowly and mindfully, for 45 minutes. It is an opportunity to slow down and just eat. Though we do not talk to each other, we are mindful that we are eating as a community, and we acknowledge each other's presence. We are aware of our food—how beautiful it is, how it was alive, how it has come from the earth to support our being. We are aware of how much we have in quantity and variety, and of people less fortunate than we, for whom a small portion of what is on our plates would seem like a feast. We are aware of all the elements involved in getting the food from the earth to our plates—sun, rain, soil, farmers, pickers, truckers, grocers, and our own efforts preparing the food.
Members of the group have become aware that Mindful Lunch does not begin at noon Thursday, but in the grocery store while selecting the food, and in the kitchen preparing the meal. Slowing down and paying attention while eating has made some of us aware of how uncomfortable we are to let others see us eat and take time to taste our food and chew slowly. We practice returning to our breathing when we feel uncomfortable and allow ourselves to be fully present.
Afterwards, group members often gather outside to share their experiences. One chronic overeater noticed that she needs less food to feel satisfied when she slows down and is present with herself during the meal. Another member is able to taste his food and feel its effects on his body. He has begun to choose foods that are more supportive of how he wants to feel. Another described the panic she feels while eating, related to stressful times with her family at the dinner table, when she avoided eating or ate very rapidly to keep herself from feeling this panic. She has learned to eat quietly with others who are practicing the same way, and that has left her feeling peaceful.
In the course of our practice, eating has become a sacred, healing act. By eating what is good for us, and eating it in a way that is conscious and supportive, we affirm life. And we are not alone. The earth, the heavens, the farmers, our loved ones with us at the table, and everyone in our Sangha who practices mindful eating are supporting us in our affirmation of being alive.
Lorena Monda, True Perfect Way, lives in Placitas, New Mexico.