I Am How I Eat
How often is family dinner a spiritual time? In our household, not nearly as often as I would wish. Especially now, with only one child at home, it is so easy for the conversation to devolve into an inquisition of that object of my wife’s and my parental affection and obsession – how was school, what did you learn, is your homework done, do you see how you’re sitting….blah, blah, blah. Add onto that a type-A personality (me) coming home after a day commuting into the city for work, and you have – to say the least – a recipe for…stress? Irritability? Strain? All of the above.
So I read with great interest an article in last Wednesday’s New York Times titled “Mindful Eating as Food for Thought.” I commend it to you wholeheartedly, which is the right way to approach anything related to mindfulness – b’khol l’vav’kha. I especially commend it because I am starting to think a great deal about mindful eating. I was raised in a Classical Reform Midwest home in which kashrut was, literally, one of the main things that distinguished us from our Conservative and Orthodox extended family members. All that I knew about Jewish eating was that there were Jewish foods (yes, we did have bagels – not very good ones! – and pastrami in Omaha!) and blessings, the motsi and birkat ha-mazon. (I should mention, in full disclosure, that we recited those only when at Temple events.)
In raising our own family, we’ve wrestled over the years with these questions, dealing with issues such as forbidden foods, eco-kashrut and such. And we’ve introduced the blessings into our family meals from the earliest years. But I don’t think we’ve brought mindfulness to our dining practice – not yet.
Yet Judaism has much to say on mindful eating. Consider the recent CCAR publication, The Sacred Table, edited by Rabbi Mary Zamore and a nominee for Best Jewish Book of the Year. For me, the point of mindful eating was taught, if not fully absorbed, in the first days of my engagement as a member of the 4th Rabbinic Cohort of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. There we engaged in an exercise of profound impact – thought it may sound silly to hear of it. We spent half-an-hour eating raisins. No, not just popping them into our mouths, though I would happily do that! No, we experienced them – one raisin at a time; savoring texture, smell, appearance, taste and even the sound of our own chewing and swallowing. A whole world opened up from a single tiny piece of fruit. And in those moments of awareness, I was all about gratitude for the moment and the gifts. And there was a calm that went with that awareness, and an awe I would never have expected to have felt. If I could bring that awareness to the family meal, how might our discourse and experience and companionship be changed, enhanced, blessed.
So, in partnership with my family, I’m hoping we’ll start to do just that and experience the difference it can make. I challenge you to do the same, if you don’t already. Happily, there are great resources available – including a wonderful chapter by Rabbi Bennett Miller in The Sacred Tableon the spiritual meaning of our blessings for food. And, with the permission of IJS, I share with you this meditation by Norman Fisher:
As we make ready to eat this food We remember with gratitude The people, animals, plants, insects, Creatures of the sky and sea Air and water, fire and earth All turning in the wheel of living and dying Whose joyful exertion Not separate from ours Provides our sustenance this day. May we with the blessing of this food Join our hearts To the one heart of the world In awareness and love And may we together with everyone Realize the path of awakening And never stop making effort For the benefit of others.