Wobblyogi Wednesday: Raisins and Meditation

Eating meditatively takes us beyond focused sensations of the tongue. Eating becomes an expansive experience of smells, textures, coordinated movements mediated by the body and received by the mind. What would it be like to “taste” everything for the first time?  Here is an excerpt from Full Catastrophe Living that explains the practice of mindful eating:

The first introduction to the meditation practice in MBSR always comes as a surprise to our patients. More often than not, people come with the idea that meditation means doing something unusual, something mystical and out of the ordinary, or, at the very least, something relaxing. To relieve them of these expectations right off the bat, we give everybody three raisins and we eat them one at a time, paying attention to what we are actually doing and experiencing from moment to moment. You might wish to try it yourself after you see how we go about it.

First we bring our attention to seeing one of the raisins, observing it carefully as if we had never seen one before. We feel its texture between our fingers and notice its colors and surfaces. We are also aware of any thoughts we might be having about raisins or food in general. We note any thoughts and feelings of liking or disliking raisins if they come up while we are looking at it. We then smell it for a while, and finally, with awareness, we bring it to our lips, being aware of the arm moving the hand to position it correctly, and of salivating as the mind and body anticipate eating. The process continues as we take it into our mouth and chew it slowly, experiencing the actual taste of one raisin. And when we feel ready to swallow, we watch the impulse to swallow as it comes up, so that even that is experienced consciously. We even imagine, or “sense,” that now our bodies are one raisin heavier. Then we do it again with another raisin, this time without any verbal guidance, in other words, in silence. And then with the third. The response to this exercise is invariably positive, even among the people who don’t like raisins. People report that it is satisfying to eat this way for a change, that they actually experienced what a raisin tasted like for the first time that they could remember, and that even one raisin could be satisfying. Often someone makes the connection that if we ate like that all the time, we would eat less and have more pleasant and satisfying experiences of food. Some people usually comment that they caught themselves automatically moving to eat the other raisins before finishing the one that was in their mouth, and recognized in that moment that this is the way they normally eat.

Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Full Catastrophe Living (Revised Edition): Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness (pp. 15-16). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.



Wobblyogi Wednesday: Happy Place Escape


Has yoga helped me find my “happy place”? Will it help you find yours? Confessedly, my definition of happiness has shifted from being associated with joy, laughter, passion to being associated with ease being in my own skin and ease being with others in this often unkind and unpredictable world. Today I ended our morning yoga practice with the words of my grandmothers. I’m sure some of my readers have heard the phrases: Shuke Thako, Bhalo Thako. Stay in ease (or happiness, here is the confusion again), Stay in goodness.  I feel bad now for taking those words so flippantly or sometimes even mockingly.  The simple advice to “stay” is basic yoga. Afterall, we are all trying to stay in our bodies, in our minds, in our hearts, in our world, through moving, breathing, focusing and meditating.

Most of all, I’ve learned that yoga is not about escaping to a “happy place” but about being able to just stay in unhappy, uneasy places without becoming unhappy or uneasy. There is unhappiness and there is happiness but I am not happy or unhappy. I am more than my feelings at a given moment, more than a sum of my feelings, more than my existential condition that gives rise to those emotional responses. Meditation does not help me escape my feelings but rather helps me sit with them without being constrained, defined or imprisoned by them. I watch my feelings and say, there is sadness, there is worry, there is joy, there is love, there is anger and so on and so on. Congratulations, I’m human. I’m alive and aware. By tagging and releasing the feelings I emerge lighter. The nagging emotions that refuse to fly away and keep returning to take up space in my mind and heart need more attention, more meditation and sometimes more action. The amount of emotional energy I release always amazes me. So few things are worth lingering over. If I can’t change it, devoting my mind to it won’t help. If I can change or affect it then my concern shifts to practical struggles of how:  from awareness to thinking.

I’m working through Jon Kabat Zinn’s book, Where you go, there you are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. I found the chapter titled, “Meditation: Not to be confused with positive thinking” particularly helpful in relation to the notion of  a personal “happy place.” First, a food reference:

“Not only is it [our fundamental nature] not limited by the potpourri of our thinking mind, awareness is the pot which cradles all the fragments, just as the soup pot holds all the chopped up carrots, peas, onions, and the like and allows them to cook into one whole, the soup itself. But it is a magical pot, much like a sorcerer’s pot, because it cooks things without having to do anything, even put a fire underneath it. Awareness itself does the cooking, as long as it is sustained.You just let the fragments stir while you hold them in awareness. Whatever comes up in mind and body goes into the pot, becomes part of the soup.”

Kabat-Zinn concludes the section with these words about the limits of positive thinking,

“If we decide to think positively, that may be useful, but it is not meditation. It is just more thinking. We can easily  become a prisoner of so-called positive thinking as of negative thinking. It too can be confining, fragmented, inaccurate, illusory, self-serving, and wrong. Another element altogether is required to induce transformation in our lives and take us beyond the limits of thought.”

Don’t get me wrong. I often retreat to my happy place (usually when threatened by loud places filled with restless children and rushed adults like, amusement parks). But, that is not meditation. That is escape. I want to be able to escape from my life less and less. So I try to meditate more and more. Become more aware of my pot of soup instead of the peas and carrots.

I want to tweak the  Socratic dictate to,  the unaware life is not worth living.  The difference between the examined life and aware life is worth exploring in another post.

For now, I wish you easy awareness of your own unique pot of experiences,

The Wobblyogi

For a look at the Image and a good article about escapism and meditation visit: http://melbournemeditationcentre.com.au/articles/is-your-happy-place-really-a-happy-place/