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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

 

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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!

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basket of fresh fruit

Yuanwu writes, “You must not cling to wrong knowledge and wrong views. You must not mix poison into your food. You must be uniformly pure and true and clean and wondrously illuminated to step directly into the scenery of the fundamental ground and reach the peaceful and secure stage of great liberation (page 24).[1]

From the day we were born we began learning.  We learned good and bad things, right and wrong things, true and false things. We began adding poison into our lives, thoughts, and relationships when we followed the path of fear, anger, lack, and limitation. Food is angulose to our thoughts and actions here. This is true in your life and mine.

How are those thoughts and actions affecting your life? Is your life filled with wonder, peace, security, and liberation?  Or is it filled with old habits, fears, anger, and pain?  Are you poisoning your mind, body, and spirt or filling it with goodness?  Remember it is all up to you.

I would equate “wrong knowledge and wrong view” to anything that is hurting and/or hindering me.  Or negatively affecting the lives of those around me from family, friends, strangers on the street, and co-workers.  When the expression on a person’s face is wide eyed and filled with fear, or tears are welling up in them (and not from laughter), or their eyes are focused on the ground—that is because the words you were “feeding them” were poisonous.  Each time you feed them this poison you damage your relationship with them and you damage their level of self-worth and self-esteem. Thus, they end up believing those things and begin to poison themselves and others even after you are long gone.

That is why Yuanwu says, “You must not cling to wrong knowledge and wrong views.” That may seem hard if you were brought up with the “wrong knowledge” and you should not punish yourself for the “sins of others.”  There is a recipe for curing this circle of pain and suffering.  Simply do not mix poison into your food [thoughts/words/deeds].  When you catch yourself doing it immediately adjust your thoughts and actions.  Remove the poison and replace it with love, compassion, and peace for yourself and others.

It may not be easy at first to undo the pains that you have been feeling for years, but all things are possible for those who wish to live a different life–who wish to live a life filled with loving friends, peace, and happiness.

If you saw someone picking up a can of lye you would run toward them screaming NO- NO-NO don’t drink that! How about for us NO-NO-NO don’t THINK that!  Changing your thoughts will change your actions which will change your life for the good and the food you will be eating will be filled with love, peace, and compassion and your life will be transformed.

Great liberation is yours for the asking! Let me know how that goes!

In gassho

Shokai

[1] Cleary J.C. and Cleary, T. (1994) Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu. Boston & London: Shambhala

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