Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Spirituality of Eating

Sharing a Meal
-A Buddhist Monastery in Seoul- 

A few days ago I was flipping through the book titles on my Kindle when I noticed that one book, downloaded a few years ago, had been hardly read - Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Living, written by the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. I have no idea why I didn't  take the time to read the book when I first bought it. Maybe I thought I was too busy. Anyhow, I'm glad I took it up again because, as usual, this great Buddhist teacher provided me with some rich insight that can be readily applied to everyday living.

We generally think that "fasting" from food is helpful discipline for the spiritual life. In fact, most of the world religions incorporate "fasting" as part of their regular religious rituals. Maybe that's why I was so interested in what Thich Nhat Hahn had to say about food. Instead of refraining from food, he recommends that we should joyfully and mindfully embrace the food we eat as an everyday spiritual practice.  

There is a great little meditation in the book about "eating an apple:"

Concentrate on the apple. Don't think of anything else, be still...look at the apple, what color is it? How does it feel in your hand, how does it smell?  Slowly take a bite and chew it. Be aware of your in-breath and your out-breath.  What is it like to chew and swallow it - sweetness, aroma, freshness, juiciness, crispness? 

As you become fully aware of eating the apple you become fully aware of the present moment. 

Thich Nhat Hanh concludes:
The apple in your hand is the body of the cosmos

What a powerful idea - mindful eating as a spiritual discipline - a practice of being aware and awake in the present -  a practice that helps me to move beyond my ego to an awareness of interconnection.  I'll take the "discipline of eating" over the "discipline of fasting" any day.  

I am probably the fastest eater in the world (especially when I am eating alone).  Generally speaking, for me everyday "eating" is a task to be accomplished- you get hungry, you get or prepare some food, you eat it- done. 

I enjoy cooking. At times (especially if the food is really good) I enjoy eating, but I never take the time to really "savor" the meal I am eating. I am never really fully aware of the food I eat; and so when I eat, I am never fully aware of the present moment.

That's why the practice of eating as a spiritual discipline is so helpful to me.

Most every morning we have exactly the same breakfast - Greek yogurt and fresh fruit. Once in a while we will change it up and have some eggs, but for the most part it's a daily dose of fruit and yogurt. Because this has become such a routine, there are times when I barely even realize I'm eating (especially when I'm alone) - daydreaming, making plans for the day's activities, the tasks that need to be accomplished. 

The last few days, inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh's advice about "apple eating," I have changed my focus when I eat my standard routine breakfast. 

Today, as I eat breakfast, I am aware of the smells of the yogurt, it's color, it's sweetly bitter taste. I am aware of the color and textures of the strawberries and the peaches. I am aware of their freshness in my mouth.  I also notice that, even though I am eating the same fruit as I did yesterday, it tastes different today. After all, the fruit has changed (it has ripened more).  My body has also changed from what it was the day before, so I taste it differently today than I did yesterday. Then, I notice that the air today is different than it was yesterday - a mountain wildfire is burning and there is a hint of smoke in the air. 

It may be the same routine breakfast, but now today it is something new -what a great practice for  becoming more aware of all the present moment has to offer.  

I am embracing a new spiritual practice - eating.

I recommend it.


  1. Paul,
    I enjoy your posts as well as your humility and passion for enlightenment. If you'd like, please follow this link for a read I believe you'd enjoy. Please don't consider this an attempt to dissuade you from your present master, but rather an offer to "drink the same wine from a different bottle". It's written by the same priest(ess) who gave me Buddhist precepts 17 yrs. ago.


  2. Thanks so much for the comment. I walk the path of Jesus but I also honor and I am informed by many different paths. I actually think of myself as a Christian BUddhist.

  3. We can learn so much from Buddhism and on my spiritual journey I have come to appreciate their teachings about life. Wonderful blog Paul!!

  4. Thanks so much for your comment, Rea