Conscious Eating: Remembering Our Intimate Connections to the Earth

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society. ~Thich Naht Hanh

We have recently returned from a week-long retreat at the Buddhist monastery Gampo Abbey, along the western shore of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. While there we were engaged in meditation and mindfulness practices throughout the entire day – walking meditation, sitting meditation, eating in silence, and so on. Whenever we leave the patterns of our daily life behind – particularly because our dietary choices are different from the cultural norms – we try to prepare ourselves for changes that will challenge our intentions to eat healthy, local, and primarily raw meals. In this case, this wasn’t a significant issue for us as Gampo Abbey serves vegetarian meals, in alignment with Buddhist precepts. The fifth one, illuminated above by Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, speaks to the power of mindful and enlightened eating.

Thich Nhat Hanh believes that when we approach eating mindfully the healthy and unhealthy aspects of our food choices will be evident, and with this evidence we can begin to make choices that better serve our bodies, our minds, our spirits, the planet, and the cosmos. The key element that fosters this enlightened approach requires the recognition that we are connected with all beings from all times – he calls this interbeing. So the healthiness of the food we take in becomes us and, conversely, if we take in toxins, we become them – whether these be gross, as in pesticides, or more (seemingly) subtle, as in images or toxic words.

We believe that it is vitally important to become more conscious of how food can affect all aspects of our life – in physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual realms. One way we take in and transform the energies of the universe is by eating food. When we eat “fried” food that can be how we end up feeling!  We often opt out of foods that are imbued with the speed and expediency that runs rampant in our culture. When we choose to eat foods that carry residues of chemical products meant to kill other organisms, we experience their small deaths (whether we are consciously aware of this or not), as well as potentially impacting the other living beings within our body systems that make up who “we” are. When we take in foods that are grown and raised with an element of suffering – whether human or other than human – we can become inured to the facts of how it came to be on our plates and are acting counter to our natural impulse for compassion for all life. And, of course, when we eat “fresh and alive” food that too is how we feel J! At this moment these may just be words on a “page” for you written by someone else and easily dismissed. But taking even a few moments before eating to sense the experiences brought to us by our food can change our behaviors and the choices we make.

In order to manifest lasting changes we likely will need to work with deeply ingrained hegemonic (and false) beliefs (e.g. long standing cultural messages stating that eating animal products is necessary for good health; media-driven subliminal communications that implant ideas that our lives would be better with this or that product, etc.). Yet, there is much research demonstrating (for example) links between ingesting animal products and degenerative diseases (http://www.socakajak-klub.si/mma/The+China+Study.pdf/20111116065942/) In fact, societies that eat predominantly veggies and fruits (e.g. Hunza Tribe — http://www.organiclives.org/_blog/OrganicLives_Blog/post/Secrets_of_the_Hunza_Valley/) enjoy the greatest health and longest lives. While there is a steady accumulation of evidence of the benefits of life-affirming choices in terms of how we choose to produce our foods, process them, and eat them, making lasting change happens on a deep level and over time. Generosity and compassion to ourselves and others is a crucial element in this physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual re-patterning. This is a lifelong journey calling us to explore how our food consumption rests on the connections between these elements of who we are, and how who we are can manifest care for all elements of the web of life.

Being at the Gampo Abbey was wonderful in terms having a supportive environment in which to eat mindfully. Remembering to offer gratitude for the food we eat; eating without distractions (e.g. TV, internet, reading, etc.); focusing all of our attention on the aromas, colors, textures of the food; and slowing down enough to thoroughly chew our food, all contributed to a truly enjoyable and satisfying experience. These are not new practices for us. They are deep and longstanding commitments which support our remembering that we are so intricately connected to other beings – to all the plants, water, earth, sun, and human effort that contribute to making each meal possible. And yet, we are eternally grateful for any time we are blessed to be in the company of others who have similar practices. Though dedicated to this way of relating to the food we ingest, it is so easy to forget – to momentarily lose awareness – when living in a culture overflowing with messages of hastiness, handiness, and commodification of the basic elements needed for life. As we now sit to eat a meal we visualize our friends at the abbey doing the same and know that the energy of like minds is there, albeit at a distance.

Gampo Abbey

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