A Moment Before Eating

mindful-eating-2I wanted to share about my practice of pausing before I eat, in order to connect with the spirit of connection and gratitude for the meal in front of me. I have two different verses that I use, depending on what meal it is. Each morning, before I eat my standard breakfast of two hard-boiled eggs and a banana, I say this verse inwardly to myself:

This food is the gift of the whole universe,
the earth, the sky, and much hard work.
May I keep my compassion alive
by remembering that there are many people
who will not have enough food to eat today,
who will suffer and die from starvation and malnutrition.
May I accept this food with gratitude
and reverence for the life I am afforded.

This verse is a compilation of my own words mixed with those from the Meal Contemplations, generated from my root practice tradition with Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s a verse that arose for me while on retreat one year at Deer Park Monastery, which I’ve carried with me ever since. As you can see, there is a certain weighted gravity associated with this verse that I recite each morning. It contains an uncomfortable energy, and rightfully so.

With this verse I am practicing to get in touch with the energy of interbeing and also the nature of suffering, the kind in which I will most likely never personally endure. In fostering the awareness of how the plague of hunger affects countless people all over the world, I am opening my limited perspective and tender heart to the reality so many of our fellow co-inhabitants of this planet face. And then, out of a sense of respect for those who suffer, I step into a deepened energy of gratitude and reverence for my own precious life, and all of the resources, abilities, and opportunities that I have to live and thrive. Not developing my own sense of appreciation for the life that I am able to live and the food that I am so generously afforded – taking it all for granted: food, water, proper housing, life!… – would be a grave dishonor to all of those who struggle to have enough to eat and clean water to drink. I practice for myself and I practice for the world.

Before eating my lunch and dinner meals I recite this shortened version:

This food is the gift of the whole universe,
the earth, the sky, and much hard work.

This verse is much more uplifting in its motivation. It may also be a better place to start, if you’re drawn towards taking up the practice of pausing to say a few words before eating. I remember encountering heavily toned meal gathas (mindfulness verses), similar to my own breakfast recitation, when I first began practicing mindfulness. They served as huge downers that I struggled a great deal with. There was one I can recall that went something like this: This food so delicious, also contains much suffering. It would be propped up on a little card situated on the table as I ate my meals while attending local retreats. If I were facing that particular gatha I had a hard time feeling worthy enough to even deserve, let alone enjoy, the meal I was eating. My practice was not yet strong enough to envelope the deep looking that was necessary to carry the spirit of suffering without getting consumed and overwhelmed by it. So we would be served well to start where we are and do what we are able. If any practice is too heavy for us it is good medicine to listen to our own experience and adjust accordingly, as needed.

Of course, in true Zen fashion, the key here is the word “too.” As in too heavy. A certain amount of heaviness is a good thing. As I was reminded by someone this past Wednesday night, at a local Interfaith Global Warming Summit: our faith groups should be a little uncomfortable, otherwise we’re probably missing the mark.


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