Beauty & Connection in Everything Around Us: Eye Hunger

As I stood in line at the grocery store waiting for the gentleman in front of me to finish his order, I sensed I was mildly irritated. He was taking too long, and I had things I needed to get done. I quickly noticed my mind and body – the tightness in my shoulders and jaw and my thoughts racing. I decided to experiment and expand my awareness as I waited, using my sense of sight to see what was in front of me.

I had placed several fruits and vegetables on the counter, and in particular, beets with their greens still attached. The bright red veins running through the brilliant green leaves stood out the most. The unusual speckling of brown imperfections on the leaves caught my attention next. In the few moments standing there, my body had softened, my mind had settled, and I was at ease. I was astonished at how rapidly I was nourished by this brief experience.

beets-1-300x200.jpg

I decided to set out over the next week, to experiment with Eye Hunger, to pause and look deeply at objects, people, all things with awareness and become curious with what was arising. There was a snowfall that covered the many branches of trees in my yard and a brilliant red cardinal flew by and perched on one of them. Just resting and watching, my heart was filled with joy.

There was a bowl of oatmeal with plump red strawberries, shiny blueberries and blackberries sitting on the table. I felt thankful for the food that I was about to eat.  I noticed the faucet running with water, this mundane object, as I was preparing to wash my hands. Thinking about all those around the world who don’t have running water, I was so appreciative to have it. In each instance, I was filled with an immense sense of gratitude.

In Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food, Jan Chozen Bays writes, “When we are distracted and not really looking at things, we feel vaguely dissatisfied and disconnected…When we stop and look with awareness, we connect. A brief connection like this can lift our mood, feeding our hearts for hours.”

girl-eyes-300x300.jpg

I began to wonder, how often I take for granted what or who I am looking at, even if I am gazing into the mirror? William Shakespeare wrote, “The eyes are the window to the soul.” The common interpretation is that others may see deeply into us through our eyes. With this exercise, his statement took on a new, deeper meaning for me. My eyes allowed the visual perspective to resonate within me, without judgment or labeling. Through my own sight, I was deeply connected to myself and in turn connected to the greater world around me.

With each encounter of embracing what I was seeing, I felt nourished, my mood lighter and my heart fed with beauty. This perpetual lesson of heart nourishment and connection through the senses is available at any moment with awareness. Beauty and connection abound in everything around us, if we take the time to truly “see” what is there to see.

Do you ever notice the heart being satisfied by the mere gazing upon something?

Have you ever noticed that often times “nourishment” is not about the food?

The Shimmering Quality of All Things: Beginner’s Mind

We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are.
— Anaïs Nin

Awareness shines a light on all that can be felt and known. So often our own thoughts cloud the direct experience of what is truly present in our own lives. Recently, while teaching a mindful eating class, I was asking my participants how their home practice was going. I was particularly interested to hear how the pausing or “Put the Fork Down” exercise had gone.

watermelon-11.26.18-200x300.jpg

Mouth-watering watermelon

One participant shared her experience about setting her fork down and pausing to pay attention to what was going on in her mouth as she ate a piece of watermelon. She described it in such incredible detail – how the texture changed as she chewed, how the flavor burst in her mouth, and how the juice was so sweet. She exclaimed that she had never eaten a piece of watermelon that was that good. Then she added that if she only paused more often and paid more attention, her enjoyment of food and life would be amazing. She said she didn’t think she had ever eaten any food this way. Her enthusiastic sharing of her experience and the connections she made for herself revealed the attitude of “beginner’s mind.”

Wisdom through the body’s senses

Recently I had a similar experience was while teaching a group of medical students. The group was practicing pausing and they were amazed at how much information they received from their bodies. They marveled at how this kind of knowing from the senses allowed them to openly remain with the direct experience. One person said he wasn’t “thinking” of anything else, but the sensations of the food in his mouth, the changing textures and tastes and the eventual shift to swallowing. He said it was as if it was a brand-new experience even though he had eaten pears many times before. A gentle shift from thinking into knowing. This is a kind and wide-open perspective of the present moment.

What’s going on here?

These experiences are pointing to something so simple, yet profound. When a person’s attention is focused in the immediate sensory experience, the mind’s natural tendency to judge, analyze or criticize settles down and is quiet. The present moment experience is all that there is.

Concepts and memory cloud the very nature of things. Once the mind knows something it can’t be unknown. It immediately places a definitive categorization of pleasant, unpleasant or neutral on everything which the mind returns to in order to guide coping and decision making. Mind Hunger perpetuates through the constant reliance on rules like, “I should eat this kale, because it is good for me,” or “I shouldn’t eat this cookie so late, because it will be stored as fat.” This creates a narrowing of perspective and a loss of connection with the body and the experience with the surrounding environment. This narrow view causes stress and confusion.

shimmering-11.27.18-300x200.jpg

Using the body’s wisdom

With kindness and trust, the wisdom of the body and the natural world around us informs what is happening now. There is no need to do anything, to fix or change anything. One of my teachers uses the phrase, “the shimmering quality of all things” which highlights a way to “see” and “feel” what is present without conceptualization. This is the beginner’s mind – a freshness, a newness – a way of being in the world which can be returned to over and over again. This willingness to be aware of what is here right now, without words or judgment, provides the space to be inspired and awed by life. A taste of watermelon without the overlay of the mind’s habituated categories becomes a new, vibrant experience to be celebrated.

Have you ever eaten a new food with a beginner’s mind? 
Have you ever eaten a familiar food with a beginner’s mind?
Have you ever noticed when you are fully present to an experience how connected you are to your body and to the surrounding environment?

What the heart longs for: Does more lead me to enough?

Recently I was speaking with my younger brother. We were reminiscing about our childhood and telling old stories. He and I were and are very close. So, when he reminded me that as a child I never shared my food with him, I was taken aback and noticed irritation immediately. My thought was, “I am a generous person. How can you say that I am greedy and selfish?”

I wanted to argue, but after taking a moment’s pause, I knew that there was truth in his statement. This made me begin to look at some deeply embedded habits, especially as they pertained to food. Where else has this shown up in my life?

Is this enough?

Lisa-R-peanut-butter-4.18-150x150.jpg

As I look into my pantry right now, I can see cans and bottles, multiple different types of flour, teas of varying flavors, bags of beans, and boxes of grains, bags of pretzels and chips. There is a plethora of food. How interesting this is. What am I saving up for? Why am I collecting food?

Whenever I make food for our family, it is always plentiful, and most times much more than we need. I never want anyone to go away hungry. I am sharing my love through food.

A few weeks ago, I heard an interview by William P. Young, the author of The Shack, and something that he said resonates so loudly within me now. He said, “More is the opposite of enough.” Here in my pantry I have more than enough, but do I think it is enough? I am aware that I would gladly share my kale salad, but when it comes to my comfort foods, those foods that soothe and calm, am I as giving?

As I sit with this, I recognize the fear, of not having enough. This points to the heart of the matter, because I have both access to, and the ability to purchase the quality and quantity of food needed to nourish my body and my family’s.  This fear is sometimes called, “Scarcity mind” even though it is a hunger coming from the heart for most people. By turning the light on in my food pantry, my awareness illuminates my fear that I am lacking in comparison to others, or at other times, just not good enough.

Lisa-R-love-paint-hands-150x150.jpg

How intrinsically connected our behavior is to our emotions and our thoughts. My heart longs for love, peace, and balance. What my heart longs for isn’t more. More doesn’t lead me to “enough” — to love or peace or freedom. As Saki Santorelli, author of Heal Thy Self, has said, “We can only long for something we have and must remember.” Through awareness and compassionate curiosity there is an opportunity to release the burden of needing more or the fear of not being enough. In the stillness of silence with an attitude of generosity, trust, and gratitude, there is space for what the heart longs for.

What is your heart longing for?

Have you ever connected compulsive or over eating with other places in your life where there is never “enough” or you think you are never “good enough”?

Surfing the Waves of Life: The Tides of Craving

Craving can feel like a tidal wave

Craving can feel like a tidal wave

How do we practice mindful eating amidst the ever-present movement of life?

This is a question that arises for me personally and for many participants learning about mindful eating. It is such a powerful question. Recently, I had two interesting situations that reinforced my understanding of how I mis-use food when emotionally upset.

When life becomes hectic and harried and I am stressed and overwhelmed, my cravings can be incredibly intense. My cravings can feel like I am being hit by a ten-foot wave– sucked under the ocean and tossed about. Noticing that this is a pattern, just like the ocean’s tide is a pattern, I decided to become curious with these cravings. Surfing the Crave is a practice that is used in the Mindful Eating-Conscious Living program. I have begun to think of it as surfing the crave wave, because for me, it is one of the most difficult practices and one of the most beneficial. Knowing it is important to start with a small step, I chose to try to notice my craving mind when the waves were gently lapping on the shore, not tsunami-size!

Here is one example. Last week I was late for an appointment with a client. I hate being late. I feel anxious and worried that ­­­those waiting will be displeased, and since I was running behind schedule I didn’t have time for my morning cup of tea. Sipping it mindfully has become a centering and nourishing way to start my day, a little ritual I look forward to each morning.

We can surf a wave of craving until it passes

We can surf a wave of craving until it passes

Since I wasn’t able to have my tea on this particular day, there was no mindful pause and I charged into the day. By the time I was in my car, craving was crashing me into attention. “I need caffeine” a Voice in my head demanded, “And make it a Coke Zero right now.” My way of Surfing the Crave is to use brisk movement, which settles my craving mind and the physical sensations of craving in my body. Since I was driving, I couldn’t jump up and down so I became curious and playful. What would it be like to imagine that I was literally surfing a huge wave? It felt liberating and I began to laugh. Within moments the craving thoughts and sensations were gone.

My second example is about Chelsea. Recently, we adopted a new puppy and for a month Chelsea was full of life and love and brought much joy and laughter into our home, but she became very sick and had to go to the veterinarian for testing.

The call came at dinnertime that Chelsea was born with a genetic defect that was inoperable and incurable. Grief and the thought of euthanizing our puppy knocked me over like a storm wave in the ocean.  Suddenly I heard myself announce, “I need French fries and a quarter pounder with cheese.” I recognized an emotional and visceral need for salt and fat, my comfort foods. I had to have it. The old pattern of using foods to soothe painful feelings was loud and clear in this heart-breaking moment. My exclamation came as a huge shock to my family and me, since I am a vegan. It was such a surprise for me that there was a moment of space– just enough of a pause for me to recognize that Voice in my head. I made a conscious decision to trust and care for myself.  I placed my order and my husband went off to purchase our dinner choices.

Nourishing Heart Hunger by giving and receiving love.

Nourishing Heart Hunger by giving and receiving love.

I ate the whole veggie burger and all the sweet potato fries with Chelsea by my side. I did my best to stay present while eating. The rest of the night Chelsea sat on my lap, her little warm body curled into a ball. Just being near her satisfied my heart hunger. I was relishing in her presence with all of our family around, recognizing life’s impermanence, and surfing the waves of emotion.

How do you surf the craving wave?

What helps you take care for yourself in times of great emotion – pleasant or unpleasant? 

Letting Go of the Outcome: The Wisdom of Mentorship

As a new teacher there is so much to think about…logistics, following the curriculum, using the scripts, maintaining the container, and so many other aspects of the Mindful Eating practice. My goal was to be present, patient, and to let go of the outcome even amidst the ever growing list of questions that I had. Would I be able to guide the participants of the group like Jan and Char? What if I wasn’t skillful during inquiry?  Am I doing this right? Letting go of the outcome was in direct competition with my need for order, for all things to have a resolution, and my desire to be a good teacher. Yet, listening, patience, presence, and mentorship were the tools necessary for acceptance.

feet-150x150.jpg

The principles of mindfulness and mindful eating are so supportive and useful in my own life, both professionally and personally. It is what propelled me to embark on this journey to teach mindful eating. I have regularly returned to the practice of letting go of the outcome, because of the compassion that it imparts to live in the present.  The practice of letting go has relieved my own suffering, so my hope has been to impart this same wisdom to my mindful eating participants. At first, I likened the idea of letting go of the outcome to stepping off of a cliff. Later I learned, this frightening visual was in direct contrast to what letting go really is- a way of being with and allowing for what is already here. Letting go is no longer scary to me, it’s welcoming and freeing.

Mentorship helped guide me like the roadmap I so desperately needed. The guidance and wisdom that organically arose when Char would ask questions allowed for clarity so necessary with this work. One vivid example occurred during week six of mentorship. I felt the classes were going well and that personal growth seemed to be arising for the participants. Char asked one simple question about the group inquiry and “pleasing” behaviors.  It dawned on me that I had been so focused on all the participants getting something out of the classes and being “okay” that I had missed the key element of letting go.

Char suggested during inquiry in my next class that I “plant my feet as if standing barefoot in the dirt and settle in.” This image resonated so deeply. I could relate it to the words of the poet, Kabir, “Stand firm in that which you are.” As a new teacher, it was so freeing and empowering to be able to allow and accept the outcome and to bear witness to the participants and their experiences. To firmly root myself in the present moment, opened space and brought clarity. There was no longer teacher and participants, but shared humanity. To let go of the outcome was to stand with feet firmly planted, not losing my footing and falling, but accepting life’s experiences as they arose.

Mindfulness Meditation: Why It’s So Important?

Mindfulness meditation is one form of meditation that has been practiced for thousands of years. It has been passed down from teacher to student through a long standing oral tradition. Meditation has numerous benefits but when I was recently asked why it is so important, I had to pause before answering. The answer is in the descriptions of those who practice as they describe their personal journeys. Their reflections usually end with a similar phrase; “It saved my life.” This isn’t uttered with a hint of melodrama. It is said with the strength that it just is. I would have to count myself among those uttering the same words.

I have been practicing mindfulness meditation for four years.  I have experienced my own personal benefits leading to a shift in my professional career as a nutritionist and mindful eating teacher. Scientifically proven, mindfulness meditation when practiced consistently decreases stress, reduces anxiety and depression, as well as ameliorating pain. This practice also increases mood, executive function, body satisfaction, and memory. These are all impactful truths, empowering for those practicing, and important for emotional well-being. I am blessed to have experienced many of these benefits, but what I find so incredible are the subtler, positive benefits. I find that I am able to sleep better enabling better food choices. I can respond to family situations with greater compassion. I am able to be kinder to myself during moments of stress, and therefore make better decisions. My life feels more real, more whole-heartedly lived. I am able to relate to my family, friends, and clients with greater compassion and connection. Isn’t this what we, as human beings, are striving for in this life? For these powerful reasons, I affirm that meditation saved my life.