The Meditation Diet

Here we are in the third week of January. This is the time when most of us who made New Year resolutions are already slacking off. Statistics show that only eight percent of people who make New Year resolutions actually stick to them, and most people abandon them after just one week.

Weight loss is the number one resolution we make, and I was no exception. I decided to try a low carb diet to lose ten pounds, and started January 1. After three weeks of it, and not losing a single pound, I got discouraged and gave up.

My other resolution was to change not just what I was eating, but how. I’ve always been one of those people who likes to read while I eat. I like classified ads or small bite-sized information that I can read between glances at my plate. Maybe it’s a habit from living alone. Not sure. But I do know that it disconnects me from the eating experience.

I don’t have a dining table. Well, actually I do, but it doubles as my sewing table and it always seems to be covered with fabrics and notions and knits being blocked. The table used to do double duty but I’m still reeling from the time I tripped and spilled an entire plate of spaghetti marinara over my sewing machine and project. Since then I’ve moved to the worst place of all to eat: at my desk in front of the computer.

Yep, one hand on the mouse, the other holding a fork. And is if it couldn’t get any worse, while I eat I surf the internet for those bite-size nuggets of information, typically news. And what’s usually in the news? Bad stuff. Death. Destruction. Suffering. Not really what I want on my menu.

I looked over at my bunny, Gilligan, and how he eats. He’s focused. He eats one piece of cilantro at a time. He chews, he swallows, then he starts another piece. His eyes half close in contentment. When he’s full, he stops.

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When I teach my mindfulness classes, we eat a single raisin as slowly as possible, using all the senses and observing what happens when we slow down and focus on the task at hand. Eating becomes a meditation in itself.
Evidence is emerging that the best approach for long term, healthy weight management is mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation reduces stress, bridges the mind-body split that is at the root of most disordered eating, and puts you in touch with your natural hunger and satiety cues. It also frees you from the influence of emotions and thought patterns that provoke you to eat (when you are not mindful and conscious of them).
You can practice this yourself, using a single food like a raisin or a handful of nuts or an orange. Then extend it to your whole meal. Then expand it to the steps in cooking your meal, savoring it, and even cleaning up afterward. I love the idea of washing your dishes as if bathing a baby Buddha. With practice, your whole life becomes a practice of mindfulness.
Here are a few tips to explore mindful eating:
  • Eat in a place free of distractions such as TV, computer, phone. Before the first bite, take a few deep breaths to get settled.
  • Appreciate your food. Take a moment to ponder where it came from, who grew it, who transported it to your table, even your own efforts to prepare it.
  • Notice. Are you feeling impatient? Are you mentally distracted? Don’t judge yourself; just notice what’s happening as you prepare to eat.
  • Use your senses. What textures, colors, smells do you notice in the food you are about to eat? Observe.
  • As you take your first bite, keep noticing what’s happening in your mind. Are you making judgments about the food (too hot, too cold, too salty…)? Notice how easy is it for the mind to make comparisons.
  • Chew thoroughly. Savor all the textures and flavors you experience.
  • As you continue to eat, the mind will likely wander off into thoughts. When you notice this, bring your attention back to your food and the experience of eating.
  • When you feel full, stop eating and spend a few moments breathing quietly before moving on to the next task.
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The Magical Laundrymat

Yesterday was laundry day, which meant a trip down to the Magical Laundrymat. Yes, that’s what it is actually called, an unassuming place with a name that always makes me laugh. Magical? Laundry? My experience there had always been absolutely mundane.

Laundry is one of my least favorite chores. I put it off as long as possible. Then I find ways to spend the least amount of time in the actual laundrymat. I put my washer load in, set a timer on my phone for 28 minutes, then go run an errand like mailing a letter at the post office, or washing the car. At minute 27 I go back in and move the clothes to the dryer, reset the timer for 32 minutes, and find something else to do. Usually I go sit in my car with a book.

Except this time I forgot my book. Doh!! I thought about walking the couple blocks home to get my book, but by the time I got back the laundry would be finished anyway. My familiar bugaboo, boredom, loomed large.

A little voice in my head went off: “Hey, Mindfulness Teacher! What if you just did nothing?” I sat down on a bench and crossed my arms, resisting the idea. I saw the timer on the dryer: 28 minutes to go. Sure seemed like a long time to do nothing.

A spiritual lesson just waiting to be discovered.

A spiritual lesson just waiting to be discovered.

I drew a few deep breaths and gazed at the dryer, the tumbler going round and round and round. Round and round and round. I felt mesmerized. The rhythm of the motor began to take over the buzz in my head. I picked out a piece of clothing, a red top, and watched it circling around and around. Then another piece caught my attention, my pink bunny-print pajamas, and I followed its circuital route with my eyes. Then a black sock took over.

Suddenly it occurred to me: this is like meditation! Thoughts flit across the tumble dryer of the mind like clothing. We latch onto these thoughts and follow them, churning them around and around. But we don’t have to.

I softened my gaze, letting the image of the dryer go blurry so it was just a wash of color like an Impressionist painting. I could still detect movement, but instead I focused on the image as a whole. Clothing coming and going, thoughts coming and going, breath coming and going. I felt peaceful.

A buzzer went off and the tumbler stopped. My laundry was done. I was surprised by how quickly the time had passed. I realized then why the place was called the Magical Laundrymat, and how little moments of inner sight can come from the most mundane of chores. I vowed to leave my book at home the next time, too.

Lost and Found

It was the day after Christmas and I was ready to take a break between massage clients. I thought I’d walk down the street and get a hot chocolate. I reached into my purse for my wallet, but the wallet wasn’t there. Huh, that’s odd, I thought to myself.

I began to retrace my steps. I’d last seen it the night before in a restaurant when I paid cash for dinner. I called the restaurant. “No, no wallet has been turned in here.” I texted the friend who had given me a ride to dinner: “Any chance my wallet is in your car?” “No, I looked under the seats and it’s not there.” I walked out to my own car and looked under my own seats. No wallet. Please let it be at home on the table where I usually put my purse, I said to myself all afternoon, an uneasy and vulnerable feeling seeping into me. I lost my appetite for the hot chocolate.

I got home and looked everywhere. Still no wallet. I then called my bank and cancelled all my accounts. When I called I said, “My wallet’s been stolen,” noticing that I couldn’t say that I’d lost it, taking responsibility for possibly making a dumb mistake somewhere. I’m usually so organized and together, I thought. This couldn’t possibly happen to me. But it had.

I knew I’d be okay. My accounts were safe, and I could get copies of all my membership cards. I could print out new photos of the bunnies. My driver’s license photo needed updating anyway. Yet I still felt uneasy. Why did this happen to me?

A friend left a loving message on my voice mail: “Remember, you are not your wallet. You are whole and complete. You cannot be separated from what is yours. The meaning of this event will become clear in time.”

Yes, I wondered, what is the meaning of this event? I reflected on how before Christmas I’d made a list of the different organizations that I wanted to tithe to, those that I felt had uplifted and supported me over the year. Yet I only made one contribution to one organization. I felt tight fisted. My spousal support payments would be ending very soon, and I still hadn’t found enough income to support myself. I couldn’t let the money flow outward, and wondered if that might be blocking the flow of money coming inward.

Another friend gave me a prayer technique that she said had worked for many others who had lost objects. “Picture the object in your mind, and say, ‘Reach!’ It will probably show up in a few days.”

I practiced the prayer. At first I kept thinking, “This seems like New Age mumbo jumbo. How is this going to help?” But then I set my doubts aside and tried to pray with faith. I began to see the image of a Dumpster in my mind’s eye. Huh. Maybe my wallet was in a bin somewhere. I kept praying, “Reach!”

Three days later I got a phone call from a stranger. “Hi, you don’t know me, but I was cleaning out my recycling bin and found your wallet at the bottom. Give me a call so we can connect.”

I burst into tears of relief and gratitude. I was so glad to see my green wallet, which I’d bought for myself during my divorce as a reminder that I could fill it with green on my own. All the cash was gone, although all those pennies I’d picked up on the street were still there. I took out the cancelled credit cards, and in the little plastic windows I inserted two reminders to myself:

PRAYER WORKS!

and

THIS IS AN ABUNDANT UNIVERSE! GIVE MORE MONEY AWAY!

I added up all my pennies, and saw that I had enough for a hot chocolate. I walked down to the cafe, grateful and willing to let the money flow.

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