Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Discipline of EatingTogether

A Buddhist Monastery in Seoul
-sharing a meal-

Yesterday I was listening to a local radio broadcast - people were calling-in and expressing their opinions about whether or not stores should be open on Thanksgiving Day. I found one response to be especially disturbing to me.  A young man reported that he knows lots of people who could care less about Thanksgiving. He (and he claimed many others like him) would not be attending some big, phony, stress-filled family feast on Thanksgiving Day. He would prefer to be home browsing the web, playing video games or hanging out at the mall. 

I was disturbed by that young man's response, not because I feared it was symptomatic of a culture that was losing interest in an important family holiday in American society; but rather because I think his response was touching on a deeper problem.  It seems more and more today that we are abandoning the important ritual of "eating together."

Throughout history and in all cultures, gathering together and sharing a meal around a common table has been the "primary" way in which human beings have celebrated and developed "relationships" with one another.  Gathering around food goes hand in hand with forming bonds. I think it's probably also true that nowadays there are less and less people who take the time to gather at a table and share food together. 

I know many families who very rarely have dinner together. The hectic work demands of contemporary life sometimes make eating together on a regular basis practically impossible. Of course, if you live alone, other than the occasional meal in a restaurant with friends, eating together just doesn't happen.

So maybe it's true that many people would rather occupy themselves in front of a computer or tap at their various electronic devices than to gather with others and eat together - even on Thanksgiving Day.

I recall a two-hour lunch I once shared with friends at a Buddhist monastery in Seoul, South Korea. It was a life-lesson about the value of eating together that I will always remember. Obviously Korean was the language spoken at the table and since I do not speak Korean, a friend of mine served as a translator. But the truth is, very few words were actually spoken in that two hour lunch which consisted of incredibly delicious vegetarian fare.

Throughout most of the meal we simply sat in one another's presence and "mindfully" savored the moment. We slowly ate the delicious food, from time to time some of the monks would smile and nod. The monastery's abbot who sat next to me would occasionally reach over and assist me in gripping some of the trickier foods with my "chopsticks." The meal was peppered with conversation, but words were never forced.

Interestingly enough when that lunch ended, I honestly felt that in those two hours, I had made lasting new-found friends at that Buddhist monastery on the other side of the world. We formed a bond by simply taking the time to sit down and "mindfully" eat together. It is a memory that I vividly recall on this Thanksgiving Day.

This morning I read something of what the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, once said about Thanksgiving Day in America.  He advised people to use the opportunity of eating together on Thanksgiving Day as a practice session for "eating together' every day. At the Thanksgiving feast,  practice the "discipline of eating together." 

Take an extended, non-rushed period of time to sit together with one another at the table.  Be "mindful"- awake and present in every moment of the meal. Savor the moment - no rushing off to football games or shopping at the mall.

As you eat,"honor the food" (I actually love that expression). Honor the way each bite tastes, honor the texture, the color, the smell. Honor the person(s) who prepared the meal. Honor the farmers who grew and harvested the food and picked the crop. Honor the truckers who brought the food to the market and the cashier who sold it.

Today is indeed a great day to shut down the email and turn off the phone. It's a great day to "practice" the discipline of eating together.  

Then go out and "eat together" every day. 

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