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buddha-quote-thinkingWe feed our mind with many things and what we feed it with can determine who we are, how we treat others, and what will manifest in our lives.  Words can be sweet like the taste of a ripe apple in Spring or sour like a pickle that has been soaked in brine for many weeks or months.  But it is always up to us which we will eat and which we will share with others.  And how we share it…

While I was going through my mail from the prison ministry the news of the bloody massacre of the Muslims in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand came on the news. As I listened I opened an eight-page letter from one of my pen pals “behind the fence.”

My pen pal had a lot of words rolling around in his head about the principles of Zen until he got confused.  I quickly came upon two poems that I thought he could use in his time of contemplation of Zen principles and how he uses them in his life.

Asukai  Masatsune (1170-1221)

I walked among stones
Through mountains of mountains,
Paying no mind
Until the flower-trail behind
Turned into drifting white clouds (page 117).[1]

Dogen Kigen (1200-1253)

Cast away all speech.
Our words may express it,
But cannot hold it.
The way of letters leaves no trace,
Yet the teaching is revealed (page 119)[2].

Had the killer paid no mind to his thoughts and the writings he was reading about hate for others of a different faith and had he cast away his hate filled words and left no trace of it and replaced it with peace and love for all human life those people would be alive today.

Be aware of your thoughts and words as being “food for the mind” they can give life or take it away. How many times has someone said to you “you’re going to eat those words someday?” Simply use your words of peace, love, and compassion for all and the complexity of life will winnow down to simply loving life and all humanity.  And you’ll never have to eat your words again because they will have turned into “drifting white clouds.”

[1] Hamill, S. and Seaton, J.P. The Poetry of Zen. Shambhala Boston & London 2007

[2] Ibid.

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cookie with sunglassesJan Chozen Bays in her wonderful book Mindful Eating writes about something she calls “heart hunger.”   She wrote, “I became aware of heart hunger through the comments of participants in our mindful eating workshops. They talked longingly of foods they had eaten for family holidays, foods their mothers had made for them when they were ill, foods eaten with people they loved.  It was clear that the particular foods were not as important as the mood or emotion they evoked.  Hunger for these foods arose from the desire to be loved and cared for.  The memory of those special times infused these foods with warmth and happiness (page 60)”[1]

I know that this idea has worked both in a positive loving way sometimes and also in a negative fearful way in my life depending upon the person who made the food and/or the way it was cooked, what it tasted like, or what ingredients were involved in the dish.  I’m sure you have had similar relationships with food throughout your life as well.

So this may be a great time to stop and take a look at your relationship to food, why you have that relationship, and what can you do with the things you discover from this personal inquiry.  I only had very limited relationships with my two grandmothers.  My maternal grandmother lived in Kansas and we lived in New Jersey I only saw her twice once when we visited her in Kansas and once when she visited us in New Jersey.

When we went to Kansas, I finally found out why my mother was a such a bad cook.  The first night in Kansas my Grandmother told us she was going to make chicken for dinner.  I thought, great I like chicken.  So I decided I would watch to see how she made hers.  First thing she did was take out some flour and cover all the pieces.   Yeah, we’re going to have a wonderful fried chicken dinner!  NOT! She then proceeded to put it in a pot of water throw a few veggies in and turn on the stove…yikes.

My heart was still there for my Grandmother, but my hunger quickly disappeared!  I asked dad for some money to go to the Dairy Queen for supper!  That Dairy Queen hotdog was the best I’d ever eaten!

Our feelings are held deeply in the darkest part of our psyche.  Are yours helping or hindering you?  Don’t let your past affect your present moment—especially if they are based on fear, anger, or ignorance.  Decide where you want to focus your thoughts—in the now or on that silly pot of chicken so long ago?

Be here now! The choice, of course, is fully yours. Lunch time is here for me, where is my “heart hunger”—chicken or hotdogs…hmmm.

[1] Bays MD, Jan Chozen. Mindful Eating. Shambhala, Boulder, 2017

 

In the The Little Book of Zen the editors have taken this wonderful yet simpperson eating reading newspaperle koan to illustrate the importance of being mindful all day—even when you are eating. I might say “especially” when you are eating since this is a series on food.

Joshu’s koan goes like this:

A monk said to Joshu, “I have just entered this monastery.  Please teach me”
“Have you eaten your rice porridge?” asked Joshu. “Yes, I have, “replied the monk.
“Then you had better wash your bowl,” said Joshu. With this the monk gained enlightenment.[1]

It seems that the young monk was to start each day with a good bowl of porridge eaten quietly and then begin his meditation time.  So what was the motivation for Joshu to ask that question to the young man? The editors indicate that Joshu was saying since the monk was no longer eating, he should be paying attention to the now moment or his meditation or his breath, and not that sometime in the past he had eaten breakfast.

As silly as that may seem one of the great teachings in Buddhism is “being here now!”  Once your breakfast has been eaten, or dishes washed, or relationship has ended keep moving forward. You do this by staying in the now moment and experiencing what is in the here and NOW.

Alas, we spend so much time going backwards in our lives ruminating over the failures of the past or bragging about the successes we’ll have in the future.  When we do this we are not enjoying this current moment hearing the sounds around us, smelling the smells, tasting the food that is in our mouth, or feeling the touch of our friends’ hand in ours.

Stop for a minute and close your eyes: can you hear the voice of someone that you love, feel their laughter vibrating the air, or hear them praising the cook for the fabulous meal? Were you really there or were you simply thinking about the past or the future during your time with them?

We miss so much each and every day because we are not being present in this now moment. What have you missed today when eating with your friends and family?

Now go wash your bowl.

[1]Manuela Dunn Mascetti (editor). The Little Book of Zen. Fall River Press, New York, 2001

basket of fresh fruitThere are many variations of the prayers that the Buddhist communities use before they eat to bless their food.  This is the one we use at the Southern Palm Zen Group.  I like it a lot as it is simple and to the point.

“Earth, water, fire, air and space combine to make this food, numberless beings gave their lives and labors so that we may eat, may we be nourished so that we may nourish life.”

Thus we focus not on the “food” but the reason that we eat: to nourish our bodies and minds.  It’s really that simple.  As humans became more social beings we began to eat for pleasure and times of sharing, fun, and celebration with our families and friends. We created reasons to eat and to give thanks before the meal to show our gratitude for the food, our families, and our friends.

Brown encourages us to do a little less “picking and choosing” when it comes to food.  He says, “So instead of picking and choosing, as students of life we might at times choose to practice acceptance, gratitude, enjoyment, thanksgiving (page 145-6).” That is easy to do by always blessing your food before you eat.

I used to teach the kids in Sunday school when we had snack time to say, “Ruba dub dub thank you God for the grub.” Some of the parents did not like it but the kids loved it and it started them off on a great practice of giving thanks for the food they had been given–even if they disliked it.  It can also be a time when you can share with them that many children have no food to eat and to be grateful and happy that they have food on their table.  To value the food that they have will help them have compassion for those who have none.

Giving thanks is something we all do at Thanksgiving with our families and friends sitting around the table, but I hope you’re doing it every day not just one or two days out of the year.  You’ll be surprised how much better the food will taste, and how much less Pepto-Bismol you’ll have to take after the meal.  Regardless of who cooked it–the  worst or the best cook in your family–giving thanks will make it go down easily!

Just remember what Mary Poppins said: Just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down or Uncle Joe’s chili…well maybe not Uncle Joe’s chili…but giving thanks may help!

round white and blue ceramic bowl with cooked ball soup and brown wooden chopsticks

Photo by Buenosia Carol on Pexels.com

I really believe that first I eat with my nose!  Yes, with my nose.  Whether I am doing the cooking or someone else is doing the cooking when I get near the kitchen or the dinning room or the restaurant the first sense that inspires me is the things that I smell.  When I walked into my house as a kid if my dad was making a big pot of stuffed cabbage I could smell that great aroma all the way from the front door.  If mom was cooking a batch of cookies, we’d run down stairs to get the first hot cookie that came out of the oven.  These are wonderful memories triggered by smell. I’m sure you have hundreds of them in your life that you respond to without even thinking about it.

Jan Chozen Bays in her book How to Train A Wild Elephant writes a whole section #31 titled “Notice Smells.”  She says that “…smell can evoke emotion, desire, and aversion (page 130).[1] Chozen reminds us that not all smells bring happy feelings and thus some remind us of painful life experiences like a fire in your home, or the burnt smell of your first and last batch of cookies that you ever made.  For some it could be the smell of a perfume or aftershave of a person that was either a light in your life or darkness.  So when you encounter a particular smell the visual begins to appear right along with the smell.

Chozen goes on to write: “One reason incense is used in meditation halls is that over time a strong link is forged between the fragrance of incense and a quiet concentrated state of mind.  As you enter the scented hall, your mind automatically settles (page 132).”[2]

Foods are famous for having wonderful smells and bringing wonderful memories.  Let’s stop for a moment and take a deep breath.  Close your eyes and think of some wonderful smell that has made you happy, or giddy, or glad.  What comes to mind for me is our family dinners when growing up.

On Sunday we would have a special family outing—going to the Chinese restaurant for dinner.  Dad would choose one item from column A and two from column B and we all waited with great expectations for the food to begin to arrive. I just loved the smell of the wonton soup and the fried rice. But most of all I loved those almond fortune cookies that I used as an edible spoon to scoop up the delicious chocolate ice cream!  What a great ending to a great food adventure—I experienced a beautiful harmony of fantastic smells indeed! How about you….

 

[1] Bays MD, Jan Chozen. How to Train a Wild and Other Adventures in Mindfulness Elephant. Shambhala, Boston & London, 2011

[2] Ibid.

tea and typewriterWhen I was growing up my mother would never allow us to have coffee, not sure why, but she said not until we were in high school? Hmmmm

So we could have water, milk, juice, soda, and yes tea!  Hot tea or cold tea and Lipton tea, of course.  I learned a lot about tea, as I’ve said, from Aaron Fisher’s book The Way of Tea Reflections on a Life with Tea.  Thus this blog post…

Once I was allowed to drink coffee, I decided that I would try it.  Mom had an old metal coffee pot with a glass window in the top so you could see the coffee perking.  Not sure why that was there but it was fun watching the coffee going up and down in the pot.  Kept me out of trouble for a few minutes anyway!

The day finally came, and I got the coffee cup and the hot pot of coffee off the stove and poured some into the cup.  I saw mom put cream and sugar in her coffee so I figured that was how it was to be fixed before drinking it.  It was very hot and so I figured I’d better blow on it a little before taking my first sip and finally I jumped into the coffee with great expectations.  Yikes!  Was I shocked it was awful, it tasted like mud to me.  It was not light and flavorful like the tea or transparent enough to see to the bottom of the cup. It’s kind of like life our “great expectations” don’t always turn out as we had expected…

Thus I did not drink coffee until I was grown up…I mean really grown up!  I was working in the Emergency Room in the local hospital as a Unit Secretary.  My shift was 3-11 PM on weekends and holidays.  Thus the cafeteria closed at 7 pm and if I wanted a hot drink, I had to drink what was in the nurse’s lounge.  Yes, you guessed it!  A giant old coffee pot filled with that nasty dark concoction!

Such is life and how it affects our eating, drinking, and way of living.  Fisher writes, “The Chinese, always so fond of making lists—of virtues, of bests and worsts, and even of benefits—made a list of the ten virtues of tea and it became common knowledge:

  1. Tea is beneficial to health, as the “Qi” clears all blockages and cures ailments.
  2. Tea helps refresh one after a night of drinking alcohol.
  3. Tea, mixed with other things like nuts or even milk can provide nourishment.
  4. Tea can cool one off in the heat of summer.
  5. Tea helps one slough off all fatigue and drowsiness, promoting an awakened mindset.
  6. Tea purifies the spirit, removes anxiety and nervousness and brings ease and comfort, conducive to meditation.
  7. Tea aids in the digestion of food.
  8. Tea removes all toxins from the body, flushing out the blood and urinary system.
  9. Tea is conducive to longevity, promoting longer, healthier life.
  10. Tea invigorates the body and inspires the mind to creativity (page 54).”[1]

So for me I’m going to drink more TEA!  Can’t wait to see if the benefits of tea can make me healthier, live longer, be more creative and inspired by life!  How about you? Care to join me!?

 

[1] Fisher, Arron, The Way of Tea Reflections on a Life with Tea, Tuttle Publishing, North Clarendon, Vermont, 2010

[2] Picture is from Pixabay website

Dogen How to Cook Your LifeI was looking on my bookshelves for something to start a new blog on and I noticed how many books I had that had something to do with food and eating from Aaron Fisher’s great book, The Way of Tea, Edward Espe Brown’s book, No Recipe Cooking as Spiritual Practice, and Jan Chozen Bays book, Mindful Eating, and finally Zen Master Dogen’s How to Cook Your Life, From the Zen Kitchen to Enlightenment.  Since we have so many people that are studying Buddhism I thought this might be a different, fun, and informative topic to dive into since we all have to EAT.

Let’s see how we can add some additional Buddhist practices to our lives around the food we eat and share and make.  Shunryu Suzuki Roshi is quoted in Edward Espe Brown’s book, No Recipe, as saying:

“You’re the cook.
When you wash the rice,
Wash the rice.
When you cut the carrots,
Cut the carrots.
When you stir the soup,
Stir the soup.
When you cook, you’re not just working on food—
You’re working on yourself,
You’re working on other people (page xi).”[1]

Thus you can use the opportunities you are given each and every day while you are cooking, or reheating, or eating, or writing a recipe, or choosing something from the menu at a restaurant to practice “working on yourself.”

Aaron Fisher writes in Chapter 1 of The Tao of Tea:

“The best tea sets are in harmony with each other; the best tea is made when the water, tea, and one brewing are in harmony; and the best sessions are created when the host and guests are all in harmony with the environment, tea, water, and teaware. Harmony, more than anything else is how we steep the Tao, brew the Truth, and pour it for others (page 21).”[2]

Finally, Jan Chozen Bays writes these words in her introduction for Mindful Eating a guide to rediscovering a healthy and joyful relationship with food:

“And with a huge and sometimes obsessive preoccupation with health and eating in this brave new world, it is equally easy to fall into a certain kind of ‘nutritionism,’ which makes it difficult to simply enjoy food and all the social functions that revolve around preparing, sharing, and celebrating the miracle of sustenance and the web of life within which we are embedded and upon which we depend (ix-x).”[3]

Thus we begin our adventure into the world of the Tao and the tea, and the food that sustains our lives, our minds, and our bodies. Bon Appetit!

 

[1] Brown, Edward Espe, No Recipe Cooking as Spiritual Practice, Sounds True, Boulder Colorado, 2018, p. xi.
[2] Fisher, Aaron, The Way of Tea Reflections on a Life with Tea, Tuttle Publishing, Singapore, 2010, p. 21.
[3] Bays, Jan Chozen, Mindful Eating, Shambhala, Boulder, Colorado, 2017, p. ix-x