Jan Chozen Bays defines mindfulness as intentionally being aware of what is happening both inside your body, heart, and mind – and outside in your environment, without criticism or judgment. Mindful Eating is a form of mindfulness. The need for food is universal, but eating customs vary across-cultures. The range of rituals around eating is an expression of our adaptation to the environment and the conditions around us. Whenever we enter a new culture, or work with a culture that is not ours, we must keep this in mind.
I am currently in India disseminating the practice of eating more mindfully, as I did last November in the Dominican Republic. I am becoming more aware of the power of food to spark conversations about culinary and ritualistic differences and the potential richness of such exchanges for growing more conscious of our relationship to eating.
It is worth investigating how a culture influences its people’s patterns of behaviors and habits. For example, the easy accessibility of food in urban, affluent settings, together with the faster life and increased levels of stress have broken the “stomach meter” of people. As a result, some eat compulsively and frequently without even being hungry. I have observed this phenomenon in most countries I have visited. Eating mindfully is an invitation to stop and observe, to become curious about the inner and outer experience of the moment. Eating with attentiveness rather than on autopilot brings about a joyful re-connection with food.
The kind of food people eat might stay the same, but the rituals of preparing and consuming it can differ dramatically or subtly. Have you noticed changes in your own culture’s relationship with eating over a period of time?
In one of the workshops in India, with young women in Bangalore, they shared how each one of them was trained to eat only with their hands. They described feeling awkward when they had to use cutlery at the convent where they reside. They indicated that it was hard to taste the food, because they were too distracted by the challenge of using forks and spoons.
To hear this was striking, but more shocking was to hear them say that when they eat with their hands they do it un-mindfully, rushed, and that they wished to learn to slow down. They commented that the lack of dexterity in eating with cutlery forces them to slow down. Their account made me pause and ponder. In America, in the ME-CL™ program, we encourage people to use their hands to eat, as a way of slowing down.
Is it that the way we eat is not what matters, but the level of awareness and mindfulness with which we do it?
The Power of Silence and Stillness
These young women live a life centered around prayers and devotions. I marveled at the extraordinary ease with which they embraced the practice. There is something about the discipline of monastic life that is conducive to mindful eating, no doubt. For them to step into silence is as normal as breathing. They seem to be able to tap into their innate stillness. The silence and slowing down of daily living seem to allow them to investigate their private experiences; thoughts, feelings and sensations with less criticism and more curiosity.
In contrast, teaching individuals in the Dominican Republic and the diaspora communities in the USA how to eat more mindfully I have had to tone down the use of silence and meditative exercises and increase the use of mindful movement, to which they seem to respond with great facility.
Have you noticed your mood when you are introduced to culinary novelty? How about when you introduce others to your cuisine?
Isn’t it true as a mindful eating teacher, that rather than going in with a set agenda, we are best served if we stay flexible, curious and open to another culture and particular situations?
Marianela Medrano, USA
Jan Chozen Bays, Mindful Eating: A guide to rediscovering a health and joyful relationship with food Revised Edition, 2017.