I’d like to tell you the story of my Buddha. This Sunday, I’m giving a sermon on Bodhi Day, the anniversary of the Buddha’s enlightenment. So I’ve been sitting with my Buddha a bit this week, thinking about my journey as a Buddhist and meditator (among, of course, other things).
First of all, he was a gift from my friend Cole, who happens to be Pagan, not Buddhist. I thought initially I would repaint him, but I haven’t done that. Yet? I may still. But I like him as he is, too.
The important thing to note here is the rock he is holding. I found this rock on the shores of Lake Erie when I went to see my parents after my brother committed suicide in 2017.
After Anthony died and I rushed to get a plane ticket and get home for whatever funeral arrangements had to be made, as the plane circled to land and I saw the lake, tears suddenly flowed. I don’t like crying in public places. Disembarking a plane wasn’t a comfortable place to cry. But the lake holds a lot of memories, and my brother at the heart of a lot of them. Dad had a boat out near the islands (Kelley’s, Put-in-Bay, etc.) and on the weekends he had us, when the weather was good, we would go out to the boat and spend the entire weekend on it, fishing, swimming, visiting islands, sometimes just tooling around. So many memories.
I live now in land-locked Tennessee, and there are lakes, but nothing like Erie. When I landed and my dad picked me up, the first thing I said was, I want to go to the lake. So mom, dad, my aunt, and I went the next day.
When we got there, I wandered away from the others and sat by myself on the rocks with the wind whipping through my hair, crying. Erie doesn’t have an enchanting salt air smell like the ocean does. It smells like fish. But it’s a smell I love. Eventually, I returned to mom and dad, and pulled out my phone and put on “Sailing” by Christopher Cross, which was sort of our on the boat anthem. Dad cried. I cried. It’s good to cry together sometimes, even if it is public.
Finally, I strolled along the sandy part of the beach and picked up a couple of rocks. This one was the smallest, the smoothest. It was perfect, really. And then, in my carry-on bag on the way home, it cracked in half.
I kept it anyway. In fact, somehow it seemed more significant, cracked, than the other stones that stayed perfect in my bag.
I didn’t find comfort in the story that my brother is in heaven, and my Jehovah’s Witness parents couldn’t even say with certainty that he would be resurrected to live with them in their New System/Paradise. Instead, I found my comfort in Thich Nhat Hanh’s book No Death, No Fear. This is among the many passages in it that comforted me and still comfort me:
“When I make a pot of oolong tea, I put tea leaves into the pot and pour boiling water on them. Five minutes later there is tea to drink. When I drink it, oolong tea is going into me. If I put in more hot water, making a second pot of tea, he tea from those leaves continues to go into me. After I have poured out all the tea, what will be left in the pot is just spent tea leaves. The leaves that remain are only a very small part of the tea. The tea that goes into me is a much bigger part of the tea. It is the richest part.
“We are the same; our essence has gone into our children, our friends, and the entire universe. WE have to find ourselves in those directions and not in the spent tea leaves. I invite you to see yourself reborn in forms that say you are not yourself. […]
“You do not have to wait until the flame has gone out to be reborn. I am reborn many times every day. Every moment is a moment of rebirth. My practice is to be reborn in such a way that my new forms of manifestation will bring light, freedom, and happiness into the world.”
One day I was rearranging the altar where I meditate each morning, and I set my Buddha at the center. I realized that he was holding his hands as if he was holding something. I looked down on the shelf and there was my broken rock, the broken pieces of me. I gently placed them into the Buddha’s hands and trusted that if I sit there and practice looking deeply, I will see that the broken rock is both the same as it has always been and that it will never be the same again.
It seems like, at least some years here in Tennessee, we go along, and it’s summer way past the end of summer. I don’t know about you, but at that first cold snap I run into my closet and pull out flannels and cozy sweaters, and put the kettle on for a cup of hot chocolate. And then summer comes back for another two months. Then, overnight, it goes from 90s during the hottest part of the day to 30s and 40s at night. Tennessee is not a land of happy mediums when it comes to weather.
Pagans observe what we call the Wheel of the Year. In some parts of the year, the wheel turns slowly, but this year it seemed like we turned that eighth-turn from Mabon to Samhain all in one go. But with it getting darker earlier, and the leaves swirling around you, and the chill in the air, and the storm clouds, you can definitely feel it turning, can’t you?
In pagan tradition we consider Samhain the end of the year, which, because the cycle is a wheel, means it is also the beginning of the year. The Wheel has eight pagan sabbath or holidays — Yule and Litha at the solstices, Mabon and Ostara at the equinoxes. Pagans also observe four cross-quarter holidays at the midpoint between each solstice and equinox. Samhain is one of those cross-quarter holidays in Celtic tradition, between Mabon and Yule.
Because these traditions come from agricultural societies, the observance of each of the festivals is closely tied to what is happening in the natural world at that time of year. They’d celebrate the planting at Beltane, the first harvest at Lughnasa. Samhain is the last of the harvest, when everything is dying on the vine, and people made some careful decisions about which parts of their herds to cull so that they could survive through the difficult winter.
Samhain and Halloween have always been associated with death. As people considered the plants and animals nearing the ends of the cycles of their lives, they naturally thought about the cycle of their own lives. It was believed that at this time of year, the veil between this world and the world of the dead was thinner, and therefore ghosts could cross over, or you could speak with your ancestors. Many traditions practice dumb suppers in which they set places of food and feasted with their dead.
When Christiansen converted Celtic peoples, they moved All Saints or All Hallows’ Day from May to the first of November so that it could coincide with the celebrations the pagan people were already doing, so Christian tradition honors November 1 with consideration of those who have gone before us, too.
This year, I want to expand a little bit on the meaning of Samhain or Halloween in a way that it could apply to our lives, not as a holiday or Pagan observance or even necessarily a time to honor our dead.
Samhain is often described as a liminal time, or liminal space. Liminal is defined in the dictionary as “relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process,” or “occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.” The term comes from the Latin word limens, or threshold. In anthropology, the term is defined like this: “the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete.” This is according to Victor Turner, who studied rites of passage among African societies. So liminal space is a little limbo, a pause between what has passed away and what is yet to be.
How does this time of year fit that definition? This idea of thinning threshold between the world of the living and dying, that is liminal it’s. In practical and agricultural terms, we are at a transition between the plenty of summer and a difficult winter, a time when we honor what is gone and think about an unknown future and how we might plan for it. People at this time of year will often put on costumes and blur their identity or experiment with the idea of being someone else. That, too, is liminality. These portrayals sometimes represent the deepest-seated fears of our species.
Sometimes in meditation we’re asked to pay attention to the space between our breaths. It’s a little bit of a challenge, because we don’t often acknowledge a space between our breaths at all. But if you’ll follow your breath for a moment, you’ll notice that at the peak of each in breath and before each out-breath, there’s the tiniest gap. Sometimes, this gap is bigger. Imagine someone surprises you, and you gasp. Humor me for a second, pretend that Bigfoot just walked in the door and give me a good gasp.
You notice how big the pause is after that sharp breath? You’ve sucked in enough air to fill your lungs for fight or flight, but you haven’t quite figured out what to do with that lungful of air. It’s liminal. And, naturally, since this is a UU church, what we’d do next is welcome Bigfoot and offer him refreshments.
Sometimes, liminal spaces happen in our lives like that. Sometimes the unthinkable happens. We lose a job we were depending on, a long-term relationship ends, we lose someone very dear to us in death, we receive a serious diagnosis, we find out we’re going to be parents. The shock of these things is like that GASP — What now? We have no idea. We know things are never going to be the same, but we have no idea what comes next. Your very sense of identity feels uncertain. If I’m not a husband anymore, who am I? If I’m not a pharmacist, what’s the next step? If I’m not childless, how do I keep this very big, very important role of Parent from eclipsing all of the other roles that are still important to me?
In these liminal spaces, the moment between then and now, between teh past and the not yet, we are NOT comfortable. Franciscan friar Richard Rohr says, “It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run… anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.”
But sometimes these moments in our lives are the defining ones. Sometimes we see with the perspective of years that we could not have become who we are now without these crises, and the liminal moments that followed, the times when we did not know what was next and we had no choice but to wait and see what the Universe was going to bring us.
Each week we recite together our mission statement, and one very important facet of it is Spiritual Growth. It’s also the third principle of Unitarian Universalist, “encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.” We’re not talking about religious doctrine when we say that, we’re not talking about learning some fact that will make us better Unitarian Universalists, and it’s not some kind of mystical revelation. And it’s a simple truth that if we aspire to spiritual growth — then by definition we have to outgrow our comfort zones. You might realize that your beliefs about yourself or about how the world works are not true, or not in line with the person you want to be. It’s a little shocking sometimes. *GASP*! Well, if this isn’t who I want to be, who do I want to be? What’s the next step? Liminal space.
And if we don’t develop the capacity to, in Richard Rohr’s words, live with that ambiguity, hold that discomfort, and just sit for a time and see what develops, then we missed an opportunity. We can run back to the last phase of spiritual comfort. We have probably all done that, like toddlers exploring and suddenly realizing that we’re far from mom and running back, not quite ready for the next phase. That’s okay. But growth demands uncertainty sometimes. It demands anxiety. It demands letting go of what’s behind.
“More often than not,” says Irish poet John O’Donohue, “the reason you cannot return to where you were is that you have changed; you are no longer the one who crossed over.” He says threshold is a better word than transition for the changes we endure. Threshold is related to the word thresh, which was the separation of grain from husk. It includes notions of entrance, crossing, border, beginning. To cross a threshold is to leave behind the husk and arrive at the grain (ah, another reference to our time of year).
In this essay in To Bless the Space Between Us [Liminal!], O’Donohue goes on to say that our culture has little to offer us for crossings; we have “ritual poverty.” “Many people are left stranded in a chasm of emptiness and doubt; without rituals to recognize, celebrate, or negotiate the vital thresholds of people’s lives, the key crossings pass by, undistinguished from the mundane, everyday rituals of life.”
So here, in this safe space among friends, we can practice sitting with ambiguity. We can practice letting go. We do this at our Burning Bowl ritual at the beginning of the calendar year. Samhain is another good time to do it.
So I invite you to the space between breaths with me. Take a moment, ground yourself with your feet on the ground, turn your palms up in a receptive gesture, and notice for a few moments the tiny pause at the top of the inhale and at the end of the exhale. At Samhain and Halloween, we hold sacred these in-betweens, these thresholds. We honor what has gone before and allow it to pass on.We honor those who have preceded us in crossing death’s threshold, and hold their memories gently and tenderly.
My intuition speaks in strange ways sometimes. This morning, first, in the song “What a Feeling” which is a song I’ve never been particularly fond of. “First when there’s nothing but a slow-growing dream that your fear seems to hide deep inside your mind.” And then, I chased a lead: where does the phrase “still, small voice” come from? What? The Bible? I haven’t found inspiration in the Bible since before I was another person. It doesn’t matter where the words come from, though, does it?
“The Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the lord was not in the fire, and after the fire, a still, small voice.” — 1 Kings 19:11-12
It made me think of trauma. Whether you think God is testing you or just shit happens, you’ve been through the wind and the earthquake and the fire, haven’t you? Maybe you resisted the wind and thought, Damn it, why does this shit always happen to me? And you couldn’t see the purpose or if there even was one. And then more stuff happened, and more stuff, and by the end you’re standing in what seems like a wreckage wondering whyyyyyy, and then you realize that it all needed to go anyway, and there’s nothing left…
…. but the still, small voice. When you’re rubbed raw from all the fire and fury, and you stop resisting and just witness, get quiet, breathe, listen. I don’t know if it’s God’s voice or something from inside me, but I’ve heard it. Have you?
My World Literature professor gave us an assignment to write a haiku based on a photograph. I’ll be honest, I’ve always sort of hated haiku, because it always felt like an elementary school poetry to me. But age has brought me full circle to appreciate the brevity of words, and I loved this assignment so much, and I have so many photos I adore, that I couldn’t just do one. So here are a few drawn from my extensive photo library (all photos taken by me).
Beautiful dog glowing
In the late-afternoon sunshine
Is how I will remember you
My dog Rascal is 19 1/2 years old, and can’t walk anymore. We only have a short time left with him, but this is how I will always remember him, enjoying the sunshine and surveying his yard.
Tiny jeweled bird
Hovers to look me in the eye
Gift of her attention
I am fascinated with hummingbirds. They are so bold, zooming loudly across the yard, and hovering in front of me, as if demanding to know what my intentions are, then flickering away to sit in a branch and wait to see if I’m going to refill the feeder.
Rumble of hoofbeats
Noble creatures come at my call
Bringing their hearts to mine.
There is nothing in the world that sends chills down my spine like the sound of hoof beats echoing across the valley as my horses charge toward me for their dinner. Sometimes, I think they run just for my enjoyment.
Still waters ruffled
Rhythmic dip of my paddle
Peaces flows into me.
This is from City Lake in Coookeville, where I love to paddle because the waters are so calm and it’s filled with wildlife. It does not matter how stressed I am, when I get on the water all the knots fall out of my muscles and I reconnect with nature and myself.
All the world unfolds
This is a photo I took at Stone Door overlook in Grundy County, of my son. In particular I love waterfalls and overlooks, and I am so thankful that Tennessee is full of both of them. Our state and national parks are places I can go to find myself again when I have chased my tail enough times to get lost.
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound of fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go lie Dow where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come to the peace of the wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
— Wendell Berry
On Saturday I went alone for a paddle on the Falling Water River, whose stillness seems complete and belies its name. I was in no hurry. I had no one to keep up with, no particular destination or goal, other than presence. The water was so slow-moving as to almost seem stagnant, its surface covered in the fluffy pollen of some tree, which pollen was also dancing in the air, lending the scene a dreamy quality.
Being on a kayak and unhurried, you are somehow at once connected to earth, water, and sky, the denizens of all three within your notice. As I paddled, deliberately seeking out the pretty little painted turtles stunning themselves on the exposed branches of half-submurged trees, a leviathan paddled past me beneath the surface, its ridged shell recalling ancient things, its slow movements making me hold my paddle to watch him for a long moment. Further on, a monstrous carp that seemed half the length of my boat curved among the sun-shadowed river weeds below me.
If I’m honest, I spent far too much time trying to photograph the stately blue herons whose fishing I was disrupting, and not enough time just admiring them. Again and again, they would watch me as I pulled up my paddle and drifted slowly by,
trying not to bother them, but also trying to photograph their pterodactyl-like takeoff as they winged upriver ahead of me. The kingfishers skittered their in-flight songs as the drifted from tree to tree, and families of geese watched me warily, concerned parents herding their fuzzy children away from the neon orange intruder.
The Falling Water is a suburban sort of river, not at all wide where I put in, lined with manicured, sloping lawns on either side. It was a Saturday, so there was no illusion that I was really alone with nature, with almost-unnoticed background music of traffic and lawn mowers. And yet, I actually saw no human as I paddled practically through their back yards. This is one of the things I love best about rivers and streams. The edges of the water were not as impeccably manicured as the lawns were, trees allowed to grow as they will, dipping roots in the nourishing muddy silt, arching branches delicately reflected in the placid water. Were I to wander on foot through these close-clipped greenways to get a better look at a bird, someone would surely call the police, but the river belongs to everyone, and no one, and only itself.
It belongs to that whitetail doe who paused and lifted her dripping muzzle to regard me, before turning a flashing tail and bounding up an embankment. It belongs to the flurry of swallowtails flitting across the narrow waterway, gracing mud puddles with gossamer yellow wings like flowers born one moment, to vanish the next. It belongs to the half-ounce titmouse who, when I was once again on land, darted past me on swift wings to go about her business of bug-hunting for a brood that was well hidden in the knot of a tree right next to the pier, peering around the rough bark to see if I was still interested in her activities. It belongs to the leviathan turtle and the indignant heron. Their scatter at my approach reminds me: even if I owned one of these houses and paddled here every day (wouldn’t that be a meditation practice!), I would still be a guest and must always be respectful and polite.
My eyes snapped open at 6:18 this morning. I’d considered, last night, maybe I’ll get up early and try for some sunrise photography. Then I thought, nah, it’s after 11 and I probably won’t get up. But I got up. I glanced at the slate blue light coming in my predawn window, then checked my phone, when is sunrise? 6:52.
If I thought that was photographic destiny, I was wrong. Bandit and I packed up in the van and I headed up Spencer mountain, hoping for a vantage point to overlook the pretty farmland below, lit by a sky-blue-pink sunrise. Instead, it rained a little, and the sky was an undulating grey, and three minutes to sunrise there was no hint that I was even going to see the sun. My confused dog was looking at me with deep concern.
We ducked down a road or two marked “Dead End”, hoping for a view off the mountain anyway, for future reference and more attractive mornings, but mostly what we saw was a lot of trailers and some country that would’ve done Deliverance proud, and teaser glimpses of distant registers of mountains (there wasn’t even a decent mist this morning!) through trees silent, gray, and shorn of leaves. Bandit put his paw on my arm. “Fine,” I said, “we’ll go home. I want to look at one more thing.”
I’d seen a blip on my kayaking app that said you could put in at Spencer City Lake, a place I hadn’t known existed before that. I thought I’d check that out for more future reference and as a potential place to put the kayak in, before we headed home. The road was in fairly poor repair, ending in gravel-mud that looked like the denizens of Spencer had used it for mudding (driving a four-wheel-drive vehicle through wet mud). The put-in for the lake was gravel, not a bad spot to put a kayak in, but it didn’t look like there was much to see on a paddle. I may try it for a quiet drift some time anyway.
There was a gaggle of Canada geese not far from my van as I grabbed my camera and hopped out. Maybe, I thought, I can at least get a few wildlife shots. My wildlife lens, a 75-300 mm for you photography geeks, is okay but really woefully inadequate for wildlife photography. At least, it’s not the $9000 camera-dwarfing zoom that I’d really love to try out some day. I don’t expect to ever actually buy one unless I somehow strike it rich on a picture I take with this one. The geese were uncooperative, paddling to the other side of the lake with honky geese-chuckles. They’re awfully shy, I thought, remembering the noisy, gregarious flocks that shat all over my elementary school playground with little to no regard for the small, equally noisy humans who coinnhabited it twice a day, sliding on goose guano while trying to play hopscotch.
Bandit bee lined out of the van for a pile of leaves and promptly did his business. Ohhh, I thought. That explained his look of concern. Poor dude, I rushed him out of the house in the dark and into the van before he’d even had a chance to let his bowels wake up.
Once that was taken care of, since there was no one around, I unhooked his leash and let him explore. I must say, it is a glorious thing to have a dog who will come when he is called, that I can trust him to enjoy himself in the woods. He zigzagged from smell to smell, and I wondered if he was searching for other dogs or small, interesting, furry thing smells. There was a trail up the bank and around the lake, and I thought, what the heck, let’s stretch our legs. Maybe I’ll even get a critter to take a picture of.
Sometimes, when you are looking for The Photo (or, really, anything else), you forget to just be present. I found nothing photo-worthy at 6:53 a.m. today, but there will be snapshots in my mind. Bandit, still not really awake but joyfully exploring the smells in the woods. I heard a noise and stopped in my tracks, looking up. The tall cedars above me nodded their heads at one another, discussing the gray dawn, perhaps, making delightful creaking noises that called to mind other forests, other evergreens. I stood dwarfed by them, admiring them, for several minutes. No photo could hold them, or their voices. I walked on to a different edge of the lake and stood, listening to the lap of waves against a reed-forested shore. A kingfisher called in the distance, teasing: I’ve never been able to get a satisfactory shot of a kingfisher. I never saw him, but by now, I had come back to the present and it didn’t matter. Bandit gazed over the water with me, and eventually, we made our way back along the little trail to the canoe ramp. The geese called excitedly to one another and I knew they were going to take off, but my camera settings weren’t ready for flight speed and I missed that, too. I have’t looked at the pictures yet but I think the only photo I’ll probably bother with is an abstract one of the reed patterns in the water, distorted reflections dancing on the surface. I don’t mind. There are other mornings and this one reminded me how exquisite quiet mornings can be, in full living color or in grayscale.
Every night before I go to sleep
I say out loud
Three things that I’m grateful for,
All the significant, insignificant
Extraordinary, ordinary stuff of my life.
It’s a small practice and humble,
And yet, I find I sleep better
Holding what lightens and softens my life
Ever so briefly at the end of the day.
Sunlight, and blueberries,
Good dogs and wool socks,
A fine rain,
A good friend,
Fresh basil and wild phlox,
My father’s good health,
My daughter’s new job,
The song that always makes me cry,
Always at the same part,
No matter how many times I hear it.
Decent coffee at the airport,
And your quiet breathing,
The stories you told me,
The frost patterns on the windows,
English horns and banjos,
Wood Thrush and June bugs,
The smooth glassy calm of the morning pond,
An old coat,
A new poem,
My library card,
And that my car keeps running
Despite all the miles.
And after three things,
More often than not,
I get on a roll and I just keep on going,
I keep naming and listing,
Until I lie grinning,
Blankets pulled up to my chin,
Awash with wonder
At the sweetness of itall.
— Three Gratitudes, Carrie Newcomer
For most people, this holiday is about gathering, family, and way too much food, but my wish for you is that it is also about actual giving of thanks, whether you thank the people who loved you this year or give thanks to the divine. It doesn’t matter. Gratitude changes us in wonderful ways, and I firmly believe that it should be among our regular practices not just one day a year, but every day.
My mother recently told me that she and my father, who has a great deal of problem with anxiety, have begun a daily Gratitude Practice together, each sharing three things at the dinner table for which they are grateful. She said dad called her up one day to tell her he “had a thing!” to share with her that evening. For me, I keep a journal, and each day I write three things (at least) for which I am grateful.
When you make this a yearly practice, you hit the big ones: family, health, home, well-being, friends, community, employment, gathering. When you make it a daily practice, everything changes. You start looking for little things to be grateful for, that you can write or share at your daily ritual. You start to focus on what is right with your life when it is so very easy to focus on what is wrong. And I believe, when you focus on the positive, you invite more of it into your life. People are attracted to positive people. You start to like the grateful person you see in the mirror every morning. You gain confidence that good things WILL happen.
It truly is life-changing. I beg you to try it, for a month at least. Share it on Facebook or Twitter. Write it in a journal. Make it a ritual in your family.
I’m not sure what the magic of three is. You don’t have to do three. You can do one. But for some reason three makes me push past the one big thing in my day that makes me smile, and encourages me to find more. There is always more. There is poetry in it. Yes, the sun is shining today, and it’s nice to notice that, but I can be grateful for the cheering glow behind my eyelids while I’m basking in it. I can be grateful for the long golden shadows at the end of the day. I can be grateful for the relief I feel after many gray days when the sun greets me and makes me realize that I didn’t know how much I needed to see it. Push your gratitude farther this year, dig into details and your feelings, let it really make you present. Why is the sunshine good? Why is your marriage good? Why is your job good? What is good about gathering with family, today? Yes, there is stress about the gathering, but you keep doing it year after year. Surely it’s not solely out of a sense of obligation. You’re not obligated, not truly. Find the joy in every small thing, the reason you keep doing it, and if you can’t… why are you still doing it? There is truth in gratitude, as well. Honesty. Maybe a wake-up call.
I am thankful that you are here, reading my words. I have known since I was small that words were my blessing and my craft. I have written a lot of words in a lot of journals since then, but now I am honored to bring them to the Internet, and more honored that you took the time to stop and listen to my thoughts. May this holiday season bring you joy that you have been forgetting to look for. ❤
This morning at breakfast, I noticed the sky in my spoon.
I guess this requires some back story. Like many people, I have an off-again on-again relationship with eating well. I do well for a while, fall off the wagon, then get back to it again. I track it for a while, lapse, decide I hate tracking. I’ve never been a fad dieter — that’s my mom — but it’s so much easier to just eat whatever comes along, slap something on the table when it’s you that’s responsible for what’s on the dinner table… if you eat at the table at all. Right? When I decide to eat “right,” I simply choose to eat clean and eat things in moderation.
I’ve been in an off-again, off-the-wagon phase since vacation and starting college (did I mention starting college? I guess that’s a topic for another post). And then last week I had an IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) flareup at the same time as a cold, and that was no fun. Okay, back to the wagon.
But this time, I decided I’m not going to worry so much about what I eat, as how I eat. I’ll wager you’re like me and most of the time when you’re eating, you’re also doing something else. Surfing the web, watching TV, reading. Talking to another human kind of counts and kind of doesn’t. It definitely does count if there is another human present and you are both doing separate things at the same time while also eating. Don’t do that. Look at your loved ones once in a while. Across a table is a good time.
Anyway, this time I decided not to “diet” or even “eat better/clean/whatever.” I’ve been exploring the benefits of mindfulness and meditation in so many ways, and I thought that this time around I would change only one thing: I will eat mindfully. I will really think about whether I need that ice cream and whether I know what’s in it. If I’m unwilling to sit still and savor that thing I think I’m craving, did I really want it? Or did I just want something to mindlessly shove into my face to fill a different need? Am I actually hungry? If not, why am I eating?
A long time ago I came across something in a Thich Nhat Hanh book about mono-tasking. About taking the time to do what you’re doing and paying attention. I played around with that for a while but I discovered that it was really hard for me to just eat when I was eating.
Last time I was at McKay used book store I picked up a book called Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food by Jan Chozen Bays, MD. I’ve barely started reading it, just the last day or so. The irony is that I was sorely tempted to read it while I had breakfast. Heh.
But I know how to be mindful. So this morning while I was making my breakfast, which was a bowl of bulgur hot cereal with dried cranberries a sprinkle of granola, slivered almonds, raw milk and honey, I paid attention to everything. It’s 25 steps from my bedroom to my kitchen. My refrigerator could use cleaning. I filled the bowl about one third with the cereal. Honey is beautiful, I love transparent things that catch the morning sunshine coming in my kitchen window. Cold, clear water readily available from a tap in my house, that also is a miraculous thing, have you ever thought about that? Not to mention ice. Imagine an ancestor even three generations back plopped into the middle of your kitchen. We have running pure water we don’t have to go anywhere for, and lights with the flick of a switch, and ice.
I sat down to eat. I actually set my meditation timer with background music, because I wanted to remind myself not to just let my mind wander, but focus on where I was and every sensation. Eating is the only time, really, that you can mindfully indulge every sense: smell and taste come into play in a way that is much more powerful than at any other time, and you can notice the sensations of the food, the sound of your crunching and any other sounds that are in your environment. Sight really starts to take a back seat, which is why your brain tries to get bored and find other things to do, because sight is so prominent for most of us all the time. Entertain me.
Maybe that’s why I noticed, as I sat at my desk in my dimly lit bedroom, that as I lifted my spoon to my lips, the sky outside my window was reflected in it.
I’m pretty sure that if I was reading that book, or anything at all, I wouldn’t have noticed that. Here’s an excerpt from John Kabat Zinn’s foreward to the book:
“But just like Blake’s grain of sand and his wild flower, you can see the entire world in one raisin, hold the universe and all of life in the palm of your hand, and then, of course, in your mouth too, as it soon becomes a source of nurturance on so many different levels, energy and matter and life itself enlivening and replenishing the body, the heart, and the mind.”
So it was pretty poignant that the sky was in the handle of my spoon and all the world and all five senses were in the sweet goodness at the end of it as I put it in my mouth.
I’m convinced that mindfulness is the answer to everything. Even if my IBS isn’t cured, or if I don’t lose weight, I stepped a little nearer to the center of being this morning while I was eating breakfast. And if those two things do happen, that’s a win all the way around.