By Suzanne Lenzer
I refer to one close friend, affectionately, as a tea bag. She needs time to seep. She moves more slowly than I do, her stories take time to come out (they’re worth the wait), and it’s remarkable that she hasn’t missed more flights over the years, meticulously and methodically packing her bag as the clock ticks ever closer towards departure time.
I am not a tea bag––my inner rhythm is more coffee than chamomile. Being naturally caffeinated can be a blessing (I rarely miss a deadline), but in moving so fast I’m sure I miss important things along the way.The truth is, while people who move slowly can make me anxious, I have begun to yearn for the sense of calm they seem to have. Their (evident) inner peacefulness, I’ve come to believe, may be a saner, healthier way to live.
So I started meditating. Or rather, I started to try to learn how to meditate—again. I’ve toyed with it before, but would almost immediately own up to the fact that I can’t sit still. And if I can’t sit still, how could I possible get my mind to focus on nothing? It was futile; so went my repeated experiments in meditation, each ending as quickly as they began.
A few months ago a friend (also born caffeinated) told me she had started to meditate and mentioned a book that had helped her, and that she was slowing down, opening up, moving towards a quieter place. So I decided to give it another try. I bought the book she recommended and within just a few days of regular practice (that’s what we meditators call it–practice) I thought I was feeling the benefits of mindfulness.
I was more patient—in the grocery store, a woman at the cash register ran back for tomatoes and I smiled instead of rolling my eyes and groaning with the rest of the people on line. I was sleeping better, and I was surprised to find I enjoyed the time each morning that I sat and struggled to stay present and fill my mind with lovingkindness.
Everything was going well––until I got to one of the last chapters in the book : “An Eating Meditation.” I love eating and I was beginning to like meditation, so it all sounded very promising. But then I read on.
This meditation instructs you to sit before your food for a full minute before eating. To just sit and think about what you’re feeling: desire, hunger, anticipation. After sitting for a full minute in front of the food, which is begging to be eaten (and often getting cold), the exercise instructs you to eat slowly, in slow motion no less. It suggests that you lift your fork gradually and thoughtfully, feeling every movement and bodily reflex fully.
Then as you take a bite, you are supposed to examine, unhurriedly, what the food feels like on your tongue, what your mouth feels like as you chew, and how your throat reacts as you swallow. The idea is to eat the entire meal mindfully, to be truly present, to pay attention not just to what you’re eating, but to your relationship to the food, and to the notion of sustenance in general.
This is pretty tough when you just want to eat dinner.
But I’ve stuck with it, at least once a day. Savoring each bite takes focus and restraint, but it also feels good for me. It’s teaching me how robotic my instinct for gratification is and how fleeting satisfaction can be.
I’m still a newbie, and I know I’ll never be able to eat mindfully at every meal, but for what it’s worth I think the regular practice is helping me slow down in other parts of life too. I’m still not a tea bag, but I’d like to think I’m becoming slightly de-caffeinated. (Photo: House of Sims Photography)