Here’s an odd sounding idea for you: Mindful Eating. Think of it in terms of the spiritual side of the Slow Cooking movement that’s been so popular the past few years. In Living Buddha, Living Christ, Thich Nhat Hanh describes the practice of being completely in the present moment when you eat. I can hear some of you, especially those with young kids, laughing now. Thay says, “In Buddhist monasteries, we eat our meals in silence to make it easier to give our full attention to the food and to the other members of the community who are present.” For the monks, it is a practice of appreciating the pleasure of community and the beauty of food to its fullest, in every moment. So each bite of food is chewed at least thirty times, and the person meditates on the blessing of food, the goodness of it, and feels compassion for those who are hungry.
That’s an amazing discipline, and when I imagine trying to do it when our kids were little, I too laugh. But Thay’s larger point in that chapter is about living in the presence of God. He ties that idea to the practice of piety. “Piety” is a much maligned word these days, probably due to our misunderstanding and misapplication of the Puritans’ use of it. Honestly, it’s a word I don’t like because of its unloving connotations for me. But Thay points out the importance of the word “piety” in Judaism, “because all of life is a reflection of God, the infinite source of holiness.” Buddhism has a similar concept based on the “interbeing” of all things. In the end, Thay defines “piety” as “the recognition that everything is linked to the presence of God in every moment.” Okay, that is a definition I can love and work with.
The reality is that everything is linked to God in every moment. Piety is our recognition of that reality. Not a one-time recognition, like “okay, I agree with that.” Not “being a believer.” Jesus said something about the demons believing. The Buddhist concept of mindfulness calls us to orient ourselves each moment to true reality, to be aware–when we breathe, or eat, or touch someone–that the Spirit is there, that each moment itself is a gift from God. I think of mindfulness as the mind full of ness (ness being the true nature of things–God as reality in every moment).
Thay points out that in Christianity the best example of this orientation is the Eucharist. “When we celebrate the Eucharist,” he says, “sharing the bread and the wine as the body of God, we do it in the same spirit of piety, of mindfulness, aware that we are alive, enjoying dwelling in the present moment.” I would add that it makes me stop and experience incarnation, the presence of God in that moment, in this world.
I’m going to finish with one last thought from Thay. After lamenting that humans often, instead of eating mindfully, simply “ingest” our worries and anxieties, he says, “If we allow ourselves to touch our bread deeply, we become reborn, because our bread is life itself. Eating it deeply, we touch the sun, the clouds, the earth, [those things that nourished the grain] and everything in the cosmos. We touch life, and we touch the Kingdom of God.”
And so we come full circle, back to Mindful Eating. The Kingdom of God in bread, meat, water, fruit, vegetables, wine. I think that’s a pretty good place to start.