A Zen’s-Eye View: Mindful eating is a great teacher

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Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Creston’s ZenWords Zen Centre. For more information

Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Creston’s ZenWords Zen Centre. For more information

Mindful eating brings many benefits that go beyond finding balance and satisfaction with our food. It relieves us of the fear of hunger. No longer will we say, “Well, I’m not really hungry,” and then eat a whole meal so we won’t be hungry “later”. Mindful eating teaches us to be willing to be empty. When we feel the sensations of emptiness, we usually move to quickly put an end to them by eating or drinking. When I ask people if they are OK with feeling empty, they usually answer, “No.”

This unwillingness to be empty speaks to the first noble truth of Buddhism — dukkha. Life brings discomfort. We humans have a very low tolerance for discomfort and our culture has insured that we never have to experience the discomfort of hunger. Car manufacturers build snack trays into vehicles, food is packaged and preserved so we can take it with us wherever we go, water bottling industries have made a fortune ensuring that we never have to experience the emptiness of thirst.

But if we look deeper, we are empty, whether we experience it or not. Every atom in our body is, in essence, empty. We are empty of independent existence because we could not exist without all other beings. We are each soap bubbles in the midst of a huge mass of soap bubbles. We are nothing other than the interactions that we have with others, and so are they. To be willing to be empty is to align ourselves with the eternal ebbing of the ocean, the waxing and waning of the moon, the steady beating of our hearts. Life depends on continuous change. Emptying the lungs is as important as filling them.

If we allow ourselves to be empty, our digestive organs get a rest and our enjoyment of food increases. It’s a paradox. The more we eat the less we enjoy food. If we allow hunger to arise, and eat slowly and mindfully, our enjoyment increases. The same is true for an empty and quiet mind. Life-changing insights arise when our minds are empty of incessant thought. The equations of relativity flashed into Einstein’s mind while he idly watched a passing train. Mental health, creativity and true productivity depend upon resting and emptying the mind. So does our spiritual health. Our survival does not depend on being full. For the sake of your physical, mental and spiritual health, are you willing to be empty?

Suggested practice: Before eating breakfast, sit quietly in an upright posture and bring awareness to your body. Are there places that the body feels empty? When you discover them, do you have an impulse to immediately fill that emptiness? Imagine your mind as a room in which thoughts accumulate like dry leaves, which the out breath blows away so the room returns to its natural state: empty and quiet.

This is Kuya Minogue’s final column on mindful eating. Her next six articles will be about mindfulness, stress and chronic pain.

Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Creston’s ZenWords Zen Centre. For more information, she can be reached at 250-428-6500.