Posted by Jen Seal who works at Victoria Hospice and meditates at Fernwood Zendo.
I recently attended a Mindful Eating retreat at Great Vow Monastery in Oregon: it taught me that I can hear what my body is asking for. The monastery setting and eating oryoki style made it easy to hear the signals. What am I hungry for? If it’s not stomach hunger, what is it and how is it best nourished?
The most valuable exercise for me was exploring what feeds the heart. We took about an hour to walk around by ourselves and engage in activities that feed our hearts. I didn’t know what feeds my heart but as I walked around outside, I was surprised to discover that simply paying attention to whatever I was doing, was nourishing my heart. How accessible is that? I can do that anytime and it costs nothing! Paying full attention to the sensations of eating reveals the exquisite flavors in ordinary food. The same can be said for any activity: when we are fully present, everything is enhanced. I’ve had glimpses of this before but attending the retreat allowed a full experience of it.
Returning home though, I became aware of how difficult it is to hear the signals from my body in my everyday life. I felt bombarded by conversation, music, distractions everywhere, too many food choices and insanely large portion sizes. From this I learn self-compassion. No wonder it is difficult.
The retreat participants comprised a wide variety of people, from the very athletic to the obese, from healthy to very sick; those who practice Zen and those that don’t meditate at all. Our teacher Chozen Bays Roshi, a long-time Zen teacher and medical doctor, cultivates a light and caring atmosphere. I enjoyed hearing my stories in others’ words and there was much laughter of recognition. Looking back, I’m reminded how easy it is to lose sight of the sacredness of eating and feel fortunate to have had this experience.
suggested reading: Bays, J.C. (2010). Mindful eating: a guide to rediscovering a healthy and joyful relationship with food (includes CD of guided exercises). Boston: Shambhala. Autographed copies available from http://zendust.org/zenworks/media.htm or ask your local bookstore.