Thursday, January 17th 2013
What we ingest and how we ingest, should be of importance to us….because it is important.
How we eat is one part, a very important part, of how we can live our life in a connected way, in a way that is whole. How we eat – what we ingest, is not only important to our physical health, but can also be a way of building community and experiencing fulfillment and joy.
This is so foreign to many of us who have, in many ways, been conditioned to experience eating as just one part of our multi-tasking lives. In the rush to be busy, often a mark of our success and achievement, we have made eating a task…something we do, while doing other tasks. We eat driving down the highway from one destination to another. We eat while walking, while watching TV, quickly as we run out the door, or right before bed. This has been our practice for so long that it has become the pattern we see all around us and one that we participate in.
How can we change this pattern?
Awareness is the key.
What are we eating? Where did it come from? From whom has it been taken? From whom has it been given? Taking time to ask these questions, to look honestly at our food, will undoubtedly benefit us. Taking time to ask these questions, to look honestly at our food, will undoubtedly lead us to growth, to change, and perhaps to an alteration in how we look at food and our relationship to it.
This growth will manifest differently for each of us, as we are all unique. Each of us approaches food and our relationship to it, informed by our family experience and traditions, our culture, and our religious practices. We all eat for various reasons outside of pure physical nourishment. Some of us use food for numbing pain, for calming fears, or easing anxiety. As our awareness grows, so does our clarity of why we eat what we eat…and what it is we are eating.
This awareness and then the growth from it, begin with mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a practice that brings us to the present moment. Mindfulness is a practice that can help us to clearly see what we are eating and how we relate to it. Mindfulness is a practice that can help us to slow down, to appreciate, and to benefit not only us, but all life around us.
“With mindfulness we can see that many elements – the rain, sunshine, earth, the labor of farmers, drivers, food sellers, and the cook – have all come together to form each wonderful meal. When we eat in mindfulness, we can see that the entire universe is supporting our existence.”
Born out of this mindful-awareness, comes great gratitude. We are grateful, because we realize that this isn’t just a piece of bread in front of us. It has within it, the merchant who sold it to us, the farmer who harvested the wheat, the soil rich with nutrients, the rain and sun that brought nourishment. When we look at an orange we see the tree, its blossoms, its roots and the seed from which it began. They are all there, present within the orange. The orange, just like us, is a combination of a multitude of phenomena co-arising – coming together to form what we recognize as an orange, or as us. We have within us, a multitude of organisms that form us. We have our ancestral DNA passed down from generations. We have within us, the very same need for nutrients, for water, for sun. How humbling! How miraculous! What a gift!
What a responsibility…
Not very many of us have thought of it this way or even like to entertain thinking of ourselves in this way, but if we begin to see that we are not just us…but a community of organisms, we may feel a responsibility to feed these organisms the very best of what we can gather for their survival. After all, the survival of the cells that make up our organisms that make up us, is our survival as well. And as we begin to see that life supports life in such a way as this, then we begin to see how precious it is and how sacred it is that we are careful in how we consume such life.
This is mindfulness, this is awareness.
This doesn’t necessarily manifest for everyone the same way, as I said before. Not everyone will become a vegetarian or vegan. Not everyone will immediately seek to eat only locally grown or locally raised food sources. But once we are aware, we should think about all of this. Once we are aware, it is hard to forget.
For me it was a clear conviction of heart. I had always loved animals in a way that saw them more as equals under heaven than as objects of service or consumption. Even as a kid, I saw myself as a bit of a St. Francis –
– talking to and relating to animals as kindred. Who wants to eat friends and family? But it was watching some videos of how horrific the food industry is in their treatment of animals that turned me for good. It was an immediate and lasting decision, made some nine years ago, this spring. For me it has been beneficial not only in my physical health, but more importantly for me, in my sense of communion with all of Life. It has been an inevitable outgrowth and inextricable companion to a life devoted to peace. If I am offering my life as an instrument of peace, as service to compassion and love, then in my heart I know I am no longer able to eat animals if given the choice.
Although this cuts to the core of my spirituality, I am not very political about it, other than trying to live by example and giving money to organizations that share this view. It would seem contradictory – even hypocritical – for me to espouse a path of compassion, yet withhold compassion from those I disagree with. Compassion is compassion. So I exercise and practice a view that is long in its vision, seeing societal transformation as something to nurture and grow rather than force. This is just me, though. Many moved by the horror and tragedy of how animals are treated (for which I am no less grieved) exercise their passion more politically. I am thankful for them, and know that they are needed. I also feel that those with a contemplative approach, living their truth persistently – if quietly – are also needed. This is balance. And at this point, even if the industry were to be completely transformed into an industry that exercised humane living conditions and lives of dignity for animals before their lives were ended for consumption, I will still remain vegetarian. Part of this is my spiritual belief, from the Buddhist approach of non-harming. Practicing to live a life that does not harm, knowing full well that life consumes life – even if it is plant life, and that it is impossible to not harm on some level. This is part of life. This teaches and opens us to grace. I also know that I am fortunate enough to live in a place where I can access alternative food choices; I have an income (even if modest) that allows me to afford to make alternative food choices. This is not the case for everyone. To practice one’s beliefs while having understanding of this and working towards a resolution, while respecting differences of belief and tradition. This is compassion.
For others, and I have many friends who feel this way, who don’t see animals as equals, there is still room for transformation and beneficial action. I have friends who from a more traditionally-western-religious view see humans as set apart from animals. In this view, animals can certainly be seen as a source for service and consumption. However, these same friends also see humans as having a responsibility towards animals. They see themselves set apart as stewards of the animals’ care. This can also be mindful and compassionate. This can go a long way, perhaps in an even more effective way, toward changing the norm for the animals in the food industry as we know it. People who eat meat, mindfully, who choose to buy from local farms where they can meet the farmer, see that the animals are treated with dignity and affection in their lives leading up to death – these people also can make a significant difference. People who eat meat, but choose to eat less for the benefit of health and environment, are also exercising compassion. People who eat meat with a sense of gratitude, with a sense that this is a sacrifice and sacred act – perhaps offering prayers of thanks and prayers for the benefit of the animal’s life that has been sacrificed, this is also a way of eating with compassion.
Ultimately compassionate eating is eating in a way that looks at consumption and what we consume honestly. It is about practicing consumption in a way that sits well with one’s heart. It is about practicing consumption in way that not only appreciates life, but benefits life – not only ours, but that of our animal friends, our families, our community, and the environment.
Wishing all of you, dear friends, much happiness and peace as you travel your journey into compassionate eating.