"When understood, the Buddha’s universe..is anything but alien and inhibiting. It is a world full of hope, where everything we need to do can be done and everything that matters is within human reach. It is a world where kindness, unselfishness, non-violence, and compassion achieve what self-interest and arrogance cannot. It is a world where any human can be happy in goodness and the fullness of giving." ❦ Eknath Easwara

July 16, 2013

Questions You Can Ask to Bring Mindful Eating into Your Life

This weekend I worked with two questions in regards integrating mindful eating into my life—an area where I've made huge progress but also still have much healing and awakening.

The first question was, when feelings of "hunger" arose was simply, "Am I really hungry?"  Rather than being reactive, non-aware, and assuming that feelings and thoughts and images that might arise were, or are, ipso factor, real physical hunger, I resolved to look into that arising.  I stopped, and looked into it.  What did I feel? Where did I feel it? Was this feeling I was calling "hunger" in my stomach?  Was it in my mouth?  Was it in my throat? If I stopped and just sat with what was arising, under my full, compassionate attention, did the feeling stand up as being a physical need—actual physical hunger?  (If one has become out of touch with what genuine hunger feels like, then compassionately but courageously looking into the reasons and motives for that can be extremely helpful—indeed, necessary—in bringing eating and the body back into balance.)

Interestingly, of course, I saw that sometimes I was in fact hungry, with a physical hunger, or need arising out of the body's biological needs.   But more often, the hunger was seen to be, with mindful attention, something else entirely—an emotional thing, a feeling, a craving, an emptiness, that had little if anything to do with what actual physical hunger feels like.

Then, my second question was this: "What do I need to do to take care of myself?"  If I really did need food, then I would seek out food, but mindfully, and with awareness of what was going on with the food choices, and mindfulness of when I was actually full from eating, giving my body time to register the food and send the signals to my brain that I was satiated.  (Science tells me that this chemical signal is not instant but takes at least 10-15 minutes from the time you start eating; which is why it can be easy to over eat if you are not also listening to how full your stomach feels and what feels "just right.")  I also often found that the "hunger" was really thirst and that what drinking some water or having some green tea was just what I needed.

If, on asking,"What do I need to take care of myself?" I see that food is not what I really want, or need, then I stopped and looked into what the craving was all about. What did I really need?  Often I would find that I was very tense, and that a "habit energy" (a term my teacher Thich Nhat Hanh often uses) of eating to get rid of stress and attention had arisen.  The seeming "hunger" was in fact a call to take care of some "crying baby" in my feelings or emotions that needed my attention.  It was clear that eating food to quell the emotional need, or stress, was a big mistake, bad for my general health, and did not feed the "crying baby" but rather only made it more ravenous and frustrated.  (In my case, I know that this is how binge eating has arisen in the past.)

In any even, the point of "What is it that I really need" is to stop the causal chain of action and reaction and to become aware of what's arising and the causes and conditions that led to that arising (insofar as you can see that with even a little attention.)  Sometimes I found that what I really needed was to stop and take a short walk, and just relax, and let go. At other times, I sensed what I needed to do was to take care of something I had been avoiding, instead of eating to narcotize my stress and anxiety.  And so on.

The important thing in all of this was to *stop* and become mindful of the causal chain one was caught up in when the feeling of "hunger" arose and to look into that arising.  That skillful response to hunger helps bring balance into one's life by helping one to get rid of the mental and emotional toxins that lead to addiction and loss of self presence.  (In my experience, emotional hunger and needfulness tend to arise out of a lack of being present for oneself; when we lose track of ourselves and don't show up for our own life, so to speak, we tend to be swept along by powerful emotional and mental forces that are, in fact and according to the buddhadharma, not-self.)

I hope what I've shared has been helpful.  For most of us, eating and self-nurture are tied to very powerful feeling and memories, good and bad. Mindfulness is a powerful tool for awakening, and it all begins when we stop and pay attention to what is really going on.

Asking skillful questions like "Am I really hungry" and "What is it that I really need?" can further our investigation into what's happening and what's going on below the surface of things.  Mindfulness and skillful means illuminate the road to freedom and foster a genuine self-control that is the result of letting go of thoughts, feelings, and actions that are, in fact, not-self, but merely transient self-fabrications.

Enhanced by Zemanta

July 8, 2013

Thich Nhat Hanh's Wesak Call for Buddhist's to Walk the Walk

Every year millions of Buddhist around the world celebrate Vesākha -- also known as Wesak or Vesak or Buddha Purnima.  People sometimes called it "Buddha's Birthday,” but it is actually a commemoration of Gautama Buddha’s whole life — his birth, enlightenment (nirvāna), and death (Parinirvāna).

My heart teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, always gives a Wesak message, and this year’s was a stirring, powerful call for Buddhists to wake up and move beyond a “devotional” Buddhism, which reduces the Buddha to a kind of god to whom one prays to grant blessings.  He calls on his fellow and sister Buddhists to rouse themselves to practice in their own lives the Noble Eightfold Path which leads to liberation.  Here is the powerful conclusion of his message:

“...Today we celebrate the appearance of Siddhartha on this planet. However, the majority of us only worship Siddhartha as a supreme sacred power with the ability to bless and to protect us from danger. Not many are able to walk the path he has walked, to handle suffering, generate happiness, reestablish communication and touch Nirvana in the present moment. Our Buddhism of today mostly is a Buddhism of devotion. What the Buddha advised us—to let go of such things as fame and sensual pleasures—we now ask him to grant us.

Practicing mindfulness, concentration and insight, walking the Noble Eightfold Path as the path of happiness in the present moment, has become only a very small part of Buddhism as it is practiced today. We did not inherit the most precious parts of the spiritual heritage that Siddhartha left. Our Buddhism has become corrupted, unable to play its original role. We need to put all our heart into renewing Buddhism, so that it can continue to play its role in generating peace for individuals, families, countries and societies. By only practicing devotional Buddhism, bowing our heads amidst incense all day long, we will not able to do that—and not be worthy to be called descendents of the Buddha—the Great Conqueror of Afflictions.”

Thich Nhat Hanh
Excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh's 2013 Wesak Message