A Place for Grace

"Food is not a pleasure race, but a place to find grace.

"I admit it: I am a fast eater. I come from a family of fast eaters that could make a platter of food disappear more quickly than magician David Copperfield. But I'm working on it. Fortunately, the power of mindfulness has helped me discover how ritual brings other dimensions of food to life, such as fulfillment and grace.

"A mealtime ritual accomplishes four important things. First, it slows you down, giving you a moment of peace by loosening the stimulus-reaction cycle that drives desire and addiction. Second, it reconnects you with the divine purpose of food to sustain your body and consciousness. Third, it brings you into communion with the divine, the earth, and others. Fourth, it can help establish your food discipline. Even if you say a ritual blessing alone, your thoughts and prayer power connect you with others.

"Enjoy a desire-free moment as you say a blessing."
Meal by Meal: 365 Daily Meditations for Finding Balance through Mindful Eating

Eat for Your Soul

"Perhaps you have noticed that the wisdom traditions have several things in common to connect with the divine, such as ritual cleansing and prayer at mealtime. Some, like the Hindu and Indian traditions, focus on the idea of hospitality by putting the emphasis on sharing food during festivities and showing respect to guests.

"How do you 'eat for your soul'? Do you have a favorite mode for expressing your spirit through food? Even if you live alone, you can show hospitality by giving away leftover food — to a hungry person or the neighborhood critters and pets. Leftover and even spoiled food make for good compost so you can create more food, more abundance.

"When you think about it, everything gets recycled sooner or later. You are just recycling mindfully."
Meal by Meal: 365 Daily Meditations for Finding Balance through Mindful Eating

Appetizers for Your Mindful Meal

"You can think of a mealtime ritual as another table setting — an additional guest who brings a heaping of wisdom, truth, and hope. I have been lucky enough to say blessings many times.

"Personally, I like to combine ideas from many faiths. There is the Jewish concept of how food sustains us to reach another day. There is the Buddhist ideal of asking that all beings are free from hunger. There is the Islamic ideal of taking care that no neighbors go hungry. Then, there is the Christian philosophy on using the energy that food gives us to bring service to others. And, there is the Hindu idea of hospitality and giving thanks for bringing people together.

"Ritual blessings are appetizers for your mindful meal. Just as appetizers change, you need not have the same blessing each time.

"What mealtime idea is most important for you to express at today's meal?"
Meal by Meal: 365 Daily Meditations for Finding Balance through Mindful Eating

From Control to Love

"How do you feel when you try to control your eating? Do you ever get tired of forcing yourself to stick with a diet? Do you sometimes grow weary of counting calories? The truth is, it takes a tremendous amount of mental energy to control eating. No wonder so many dieters feel fatigued and exhausted.
On the other hand, you can let go of your power trip over your own mind-body and let your actions be 'motivated by love,' as Deepak Chopra wisely advises. For example, what if you relinquished the chains of control and instead channeled your energy into being mindful of the love that exists in your life around food?

"Be mindful of how food expresses love for your health and consciousness. You can change your attitude toward the foods you struggle with, such as moving from hatred and disgust toward an attitude of love and acceptance. Motivated by love, you can choose to stop fighting food at this moment and this meal.

"Shift your energy from controlling your diet to love for yourself and others at mealtime."
Meal by Meal: 365 Daily Meditations for Finding Balance through Mindful Eating

The Inner Meal as a Path of Heart

"For Hindus, food provides a means through which one may discover the true self. For Buddhists, it offers a path toward liberated consciousness, moderation, and loving-kindness. For Jews, food brings the innate holiness and wholesomeness of each moment to life. For Christians, it brings the essence of communion into the community through service and love. For Muslims, it provides a means for surrendering to Gods will. …

"The inner meal path is not so different from any other spiritual path with heart. I recall, for example, the story about a man whose path was the act of greeting people. Whenever there was a knock on the door he would say, 'The Lord is at the door.' He reached his faith's ideals by seeing God in everybody. The inner meal is like that; it lets us see the work of the divine in each morsel of food."
Art of the Inner Meal: Eating as a Spiritual Path

Benefits of Moderation

"There are many benefits to practicing nonattachment and moderation at mealtime. It bolsters our intuition about what kinds of food we need. It improves digestion. It teaches patience. It lets us avoid wasting food. It gives us a more accurate sense of how much food we require for optimum health -- no more and no less. Freedom of food choice brings true liberation from habit, and from such humble beginnings the soul takes wing."
Art of the Inner Meal: Eating as a Spiritual Path

Perform Mitzvah

"Mitzvah costs us nothing but the realization that all of us possess common needs and concerns. Ask yourself: 'What would a day with mitzvah be like? How would it change my own life and the life of others?' Once you perform mitzvah, you may wonder how you went so long without it in your life.
The inner meal practice of mitzvah offers many enduring benefits. It fosters living life in the present moment, because we never know how or when the opportunity to do a good deed will arise. It encourages improvement of our communities and neighborhoods. It promotes giving and feeds the hungry. It makes every day meaningful. And, not least of all, mitzvah gives each of us the feeling that we've made a difference and accomplished something very important — and we have."
Art of the Inner Meal: Eating as a Spiritual Path

A Ceremony of Special Significance

"According to the teachings of Confucius, it is our human calling — if not a solemn human duty — to transform the act of obtaining nourishment into a ceremony of special significance. It helps us discover our true dignity and grace. Ceremony is, after all, what separates us from other animals. We enable the sacred to exist by suing ritual to serve and ennoble others. When we serve others, ritual becomes communal, and it is here that we transcend the ego to become part of the holy community."
Art of the Inner Meal: Eating as a Spiritual Path

Make Everyday Moments Sacred

"Anything that you decide to recite and make sacred becomes so. You might want to find a prayer that blesses the food, acknowledges God, emphasizes the togetherness of your family, or recognizes any number of things. It can even be a moment of silence given as thanks. Try to learn the roots, the history, and the tradition behind the writings you take as your own. When you recite a prayer, you are invoking Word and Spirit as old as human language itself.

"Once you find a blessing that feels right, try making it part of your daily life. Wisdom traditions tend to use the same blessings over and over. The repetition creates a sense of shared experience that comes from knowing that your prayer or blessing is being used by countless others.

"There are many benefits in finding and practicing your own inner meal ritual blessing. It helps make an important, everyday part of life sacred. It unites the family through a moment of centering. It establishes a family or personal tradition. It offers strength, faith, and comfort. It encourages a sense of well-being that comes from keeping a commitment. It helps develop and deepen the connection to a particular faith. It brings a sense of consistency, serenity, and peace to daily life."
Art of the Inner Meal: Eating as a Spiritual Path

The Magic of Mindful Eating

"If prayer is the appetizer for the spiritual meal, then mindfulness is the main course. Mindfulness often seems elusive and invisible, like the air. But it is here, all around us. We only need to summon it by letting go of the mind that looks and examines and analyzes.

"To experience mindfulness means surrendering the mind of control, relinquishing the mind of learning, giving up the mind of opinions and desires and expectations. Through this process we find that there is another kind of mind — one steeped in deep observation, receptivity, intent, and action. When mindful eating occurs, magic happens, and we cease to dwell on the food itself. What's more, our ego-oriented patterns of eating and desire diminishes."
Art of the Inner Meal: Eating as a Spiritual Path

A Natural Doorway

"Each action — cleaning utensils, choosing ingredients, handling food, and cooking — can be done with full attention and awareness. To accomplish this requires letting go of the rational mind and allowing the power of the moment to fill us up. Whenever this happens we feel our aliveness, with all our senses able to operate freely and clearly. Simply by stating our intention to bring attention and focus to a meal, we are like the Zen cook who, according to Zen master Dogen, 'tries to build great temples from ordinary greens.' Food — because of its life-sustaining nature — is a natural doorway into the state of mindfulness. To enter, we need only awaken to the moment."
Art of the Inner Meal: Eating as a Spiritual Path

Noble Silence

"I know of a Buddhist monastery that posts the sign 'Noble Silence' on the dining room wall. Noble silence means setting an intention to remain silent. Words are used only when necessary. This does not mean there is no communication. On the contrary, not using words forces us to look around more, to pick up the cues of others without having to say the words. Most often, lunch was quiet in the monastery. If a monk's bowl was empty, another monk would pick up a bowl of rice or food and offer it without saying anything. I also find that silence promotes mindfulness and more care in actions."
Living Kindness: The Buddha's Ten Guiding Principles for a Blessed Life

A Day of Equanimity

"For this experience, begin by imagining what would happen if you put your pet "issue" on hold? What would it feel like to trust in the healing quality of equanimity? If you are up to the commitment, make a vow to suspend your opinions and reactivity for part of the day or an entire day. Let all the usual irritants pass through you as if you were so light and neutral as to be transparent. Go about your business, all the time knowing that the universe does not play favorites — everyone has good and bad times. At least, by experiencing equanimity, you need not try to add or subtract from what is.

"I know of a man, for example, who had difficulty meditating because his apartment was located on a busy street. Just when he would get focused there would be noise from outside — a car horn or children playing — to break his concentration. He became angry at the children and at himself for not having a quiet place to practice. He blamed these distractions for keeping him from meditating. In truth, he needed to realize these random sounds were not jumping through the window to grab his attention. Rather, he was reaching out and grabbing those sounds.

"You can also use this day of equanimity to experience speech and words in a new way. Because none of us is perfect, there is no perfect use of words. There are times when we will all say the wrong things, negotiate without knowing all the facts, jump to conclusions, interrupt others, and even try to compete by winning arguments at all costs. What you can do, though, is to become more equal and nondiscriminating in your treatment of others over time. Treat all persons, even strangers, with kindness and openness for what they think. Do not worry about measuring your words, but rather, think about how your words measure you. This, too, is equanimity. You may even want to repeat the following intention and blessing at the beginning of the day:

"May all my words and actions
be equally nourishing
to those who need them.
May my neutrality
bring me closer to the light of truth."
Living Kindness: The Buddha's Ten Guiding Principles for a Blessed Life

Numerous Giveaways

"One important tradition for many Native American tribes is the ritual 'giveaway.' It is through the giveaway that they encounter the full richness of giving. Here, giving is not simply viewed as an individual act of generosity, but as a mature period in our lives, a kind of winter season that brings to fruition all we have learned and attained during our journey. The process of giving back what we have taken — such as either materially or through sharing knowledge with others — is like replanting seeds in the soil.

"The giveaway acknowledges that there is a time in our lives to repay and give back, just as there is a season in nature for sowing, planting, and harvesting. Even certain animals, such as the buffalo, are considered as 'giveaway' animals because they bestow all of their parts, including their flesh, hide, and horns, for the benefit of others.

"Which giveaways have graced and benefited your life? Each day, the food on your plate gives away, or surrenders, all its energy to you. Numerous giveaways, from clothing to shelter, keep you warm day and night. From this perspective, is not everything that we use a kind of giveaway? Any of us who feels that we are not getting enough is missing just how much we really are given at each moment."
Living Kindness: The Buddha's Ten Guiding Principles for a Blessed Life

Giving Back

"The final part of this experience involves letting you get in touch with a new giveaway. This is something you could realistically give away within the next twenty-four hours. Again, it could range from an emotional or spiritual giveaway to a material one. Let yourself relax in full attention with the giving moment. Do not force ideas; let them come to you. See what giveaway, or gift, you have to offer.

"My wife's grandfather, for example, gave away half of his lunch each day of his life. He would either find someone to give it to or leave it for the birds and critters to eat. Giveaways do more than unburden us. They make us aware of what we can give back, all the time reminding us not to waste the precious gifts that are ours."
Living Kindness: The Buddha's Ten Guiding Principles for a Blessed Life

A New Mental Soundtrack

"Constant dwelling on negative clutter, or Velcro thinking, creates a well-worn groove in the brain that plays over and over just like a favorite song — one that we now know affects the body's health. Affirmations provide us with a means of blocking old negative songs while giving us a new and more positive tune to align with. A new mental soundtrack, created through a conscious affirmation, holds the potential to transform both our emotional and immune response. At the same time, we need to catch those mind whispers — the very subtle and almost unconscious commands — that can sway us and cause us to act robotically."
Clearing Emotional Clutter: Mindfulness Practices for Letting Go of What's Blocking Your Fulfillment and Transformation

A Top Ten Tip

"Keep a Top-Ten-Negative-Thoughts Journal, and list in it the negative thoughts rattling around in your head. You may not always be aware of these thoughts or even how frequently they appear. Notice what themes they have in common, such as blaming or criticizing. Do this for at least a week, knowing that your thoughts do not define you. This practice increases the ability to observe thoughts in more calm and neutral way, without letting them push you around."
The Mindfulness Code: Keys for Overcoming Stress, Anxiety, Fear, and Unhappiness

A Cosmic Hug

"Loving-kindness is also a mind training that helps us grasp the powerful notion that we are not alone in our suffering and pain. It gives us the tools to spread compassion outward, when and where we least expect it. Although the words of the loving­kindness meditation are simple, they powerfully prime the brain and the body for a completely new kind of experience. Loving­kindness is big enough to overcome our smallest and greatest fears. You can imagine the love coming from whatever source you are comfortable with -- a prayer, God, or someone you have known. Cultivating loving-kindness is like getting a great big, warm, cosmic hug. This hug can change how you feel each day, so you will want to use it often."
The Mindfulness Code: Keys for Overcoming Stress, Anxiety, Fear, and Unhappiness

A Brain Massage

"I have found the inward smile an ideal morning practice to counter negativity and turn the mind in a positive direction at the start of the day, though it can be used anytime during the day. This practice activates the motor and sensory cortex of the brain — it's kind of like massaging the brain from the inside out. It also introduces a centering practice into your life that strengthens personal qualities such as self-discipline and self-restraint. Discipline is sometimes mistakenly viewed as dampening joy, but as Buddhist monk Bhante Henepola Gunaratana points out, 'A well-disciplined life can also be a source of happiness.' "
One-Minute Mindfulness: 50 Simple Ways to Find Peace, Clarity, and New Possibilities in a Stressed-Out World

Reconnecting through Films and Books

"I am reminded of the film Under the Tuscan Sun, in which the heroine, played by Diane Lane, moves to Italy after her divorce. The things she wishes to have in her life — people to cook for, a family, and a wedding — manifest in such unexpected ways that she doesn't immediately recognize that they are present. When her realization dawns, she glows with peace, joy, and wholeness.

"Practice: Look for films and books that can help you reconnect with your wishes and recognize how they may already have bene fulfilled. Don't get stuck in old thinking; open to the little signs pointing you toward the gifts this minute holds."
One-Minute Mindfulness: 50 Simple Ways to Find Peace, Clarity, and New Possibilities in a Stressed-Out World