Thursday, May 29, 2014

When Eating, Wash a What?

Last year, I went to this really amazing retreat led by Chozen Bays, a Buddhist mindfulness teacher who is also an M.D. It had such an impact on my life at the time, changing not only the way that I ate, but more importantly, my entire relationship with food. While I've slipped back into some of my tendencies to wolf down my dinner and do all sorts of things while eating (including thinking...), the principles still permeate our lives, and very clearly trickle down into Kaya's world as well.

Most recently, she and I were sitting at the table, eating breakfast before school. In the middle of our table, in and around the rocks surrounding a candle, live our Mindful Eating Reminder & Encouragement Cards--a small stack of cards on a ring that Chozen made to support us in our daily lives after the retreat. From this mini deck, Kaya, Geoff and I will often choose a card that serves as a reminder or inspiration for how to eat more mindfully. It's quite a fun game, actually, as we always choose them randomly, and there's never an obligation to participate. So, on this particular morning, I picked up the deck and randomly flipped it open to a card. We both laughed, as it landed on the same card that had come up for me multiple times in the last 4 days:

When Eating, Just Eat.

Clearly, a sign from the universe that I need to be a hell of a lot more present when I'm eating.

So, there I am, determined this time to hone in and be present. I look at the rocks, chewing my cheerios, swallowing my milk, noticing the multitude of textures and flavors in my mouth. And then, Kaya makes a noise that I can't even begin to explain with text. She was wearing her felted owl around her neck (which her teacher at school gifted her for her birthday), and apparently, she'd dripped some milk on his head. Being my mother's daughter, hearing her concerns about souring milk echoing in my head, I gently reach over, grab her owl from his nest, and assure her that all will be well. Nothing a little water can't cure. As I return from the sink, and sit back into my seat, Kaya says something that left me laughing incessantly:

Mama, du hast nicht gehort zu der Karte. Du hast "When eating, just wash a owl!" [Mama, you didn't listen to the card. You did "When eating, just wash a owl!"]

I couldn't believe how tuned in she was, to the card, to me, to the whole concept--and how she brought it all together into this cute little mixed-language statement. And perhaps, the part that had me laughing the hardest was how it sounded when she said 'a owl'. As you may recall, I come from quite the grammar-nazi family--the language nuances were drilled deep, including the types of indefinite pronouns that need to be used before nouns starting with vowels ('an' vs.'a'). So, while it's hard to explain why I found that so funny, and that I certainly wasn't laughing at my daughter for using the 'wrong' article, it added to the hilarity of the whole situation. I laughed so hard, and for so long, that Kaya kept looking at me sideways, saying nothing but "Mom!", pleading me to stop and wondering why I found it so funny.

One day, maybe I'll share more about the 7 types of hungers about which Chozen teaches (Eye Hunger, Mouth Hunger, Nose Hunger, Stomach Hunger, Heart Hunger, Body Hunger, Mind Hunger), as they are pretty fascinating and have definitely made a huge difference in our family. In fact, soon after I came home from the weekend retreat last year, and had taught Geoff and Kaya about the different types, Kaya made a comment one day at the table in which she told me, quite matter of fact, "Mama, ich habe viel Augenhunger in Moment!" [Mama, I have a lot of eye hunger right now!]  This is after days on end of whining to Geoff and I about her desire to eat: "Ich wiw Essen, aber ich hab' kein Hunger!" [I want to eat, but I'm not hungry!]. She would get very angry, screaming and sometimes crying because we'd tell her that we like her to eat when she's hungry because it's healthier, as opposed to just eating for other reasons (it looks good, smells good, seems good, feels good, etc).

There's another retreat coming up in early June, and while I would so love to go to another one and deepen my practice, I couldn't be happier that Geoff has chosen to go instead. I'm quite curious and excited to feel the ripple effects from a different perspective...


  1. This is a timely post!
    An Ayurveda practitioner told my mother-in-law a few years back something like, "I don't care if you're eating an Egg McMuffin, just as long as you are mindful while you eat it". She and her fiance loved to play cards while eating dinner but that wasn't the way the practitioner thought it should be done.
    I think that although the food we eat is important, sometimes we forget that how we eat it is more important. I struggle with "When Eating. Just Eat." Socializing and hurrying so I can clear the table and get things cleaned up is very important to me. I think eating is very social and should be social. Talking isn't the only way to be social, exercising good manners is social. I don't see good table manners very often and am not sure that it is even taught anymore. Perhaps manners would help us to be more mindful and to slow it down a bit. Chewing food carefully and with a closed mouth is one I don't see very often. Taking a pause between bites rather than shoveling it in would allow it to register what has been swallowed. I could take a few of my own tips!
    Jeremy and I were talking about this issue last night. Trinitee's school only allows 20 minutes in the cafeteria to get hot food if you want it and to eat. They are then allotted their 10 minutes of free time per day. The kids who get hot lunch don't have a chance at chewing thoroughly or eating slowly. Jordon's school allows kids to eat anywhere (probably because of a lack of table space) so they eat sitting on the floors in the hallways. I think the school is missing a big learning opportunity here about how food should be eaten. If we eat in a hurry it causes indigestion. It also doesn't properly register that we have eaten anything. I think setting aside time to eat at a table is very important. To share a meal and take your time is a luxury we don't often afford ourselves. I think we focus too much on what foods are bad and good without any thought given to how they are consumed.
    This turned out to be a long comment. Perhaps I'm off your point a bit, but it seemed to relate very well to the conversation we had last night. Keep fighting the good fight!

  2. Thanks, Maria, and how wonderful to see you here!! I didn't realize you came 'round these parts. =) Anyway, thank you for your comment, and I think it's very on topic--and I love the detail. Very fun to hear about the kids, and I've had a similar concern at Kaya's school, despite the fact that it's Waldorf. I think they do get enough time to eat, but Kaya will still often tell me that it's not enough time. I guess she's pretty used to us taking our time at home, at least most of the time. I'm admit that my food awareness comes from a concern of not wanting to pass my food issues on to my daughter...I want to give her some gifts that my family didn't know to give me. Hopefully, mindful eating (and mindfulness in general) will be a part of that. I wish I'd included in the post (maybe I will still) about Kaya's eagerness to be able to go to the mindfulness camp when she's 8 so she, too, can learn mindfulness... =)


I LOVE reading your comments, they make such a difference! Thanks for sharing!