It’s been 2 or 3 years now since I gave up what I call “dessert sugar.” Funny, how I’m not sure how long it’s been. Funny how it doesn’t even really matter. When looking back, individual years acquire a different sort of time stamp in our memory, which dramatically lessens the significance one experienced while actively living it.
I’ve been a life-long sugar addict. One for whom chocolate and cookies stir a deep adoration no other food product comes close to matching. Those were my DOC’s (drugs of choice): chocolate and cookies. On the addiction scale I’d say I was somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, edging my way over the line into the “Danger, Will Robinson” zone.
I came up with the “dessert sugar” phrasing in an effort to find a quick way to explain myself in response to the inevitable quizzical look that would follow after turning down a sugar filled offering. Apparently, people often find it curious when someone doesn’t partake in sweets, which is similar to what used to happen when I would decline libations before I fashioned a largely sober friend base. It would be easier for people to understand if I were, say, a diabetic trying to watch my carb intake, or an alcoholic on the wagon, but as someone who chooses to voluntarily avoid both substances, I become the equivalent of a talking unicorn found serendipitously in the woods on a long hike.
“Dessert sugars” mean just that. They refer to the eats one would commonly consider a dessert product: cookies, cake, brownies, ice cream, pie, and anything having to do with chocolate. If I weren’t limited to explaining myself in the time frame of someone’s minuscule attention span, I would further add that I’ve given up both dessert sugars and junk-food sugars. Junk-food sugars being: candy, breakfast pastries, funnel cake, sugary cereals, and anything else one tends to eat large quantities of and is socially allowed to have at any hour of the day. For a reason I have yet to pin down, I feel it necessary to report to anyone who’ll listen about how I’m not foregoing ALL types of sugar, just the sort that might trigger my particular proclivities. I continue to eat fruit and granola bars most every day. I even drink juice, un-caffeinated sodas, and sweet tea every so often. I guess I just don’t want people to get the wrong idea and wind up stewing in a falsely held judgement about how I’m a hypocritical wind-bag, when next they spot me sipping on a smoothie.
An image I put together as a handout for my class on the topic of mindful eating
As part of the mindfulness and meditation series I’ve been teaching our next class will be, in part, about mindful eating. So once again I’m taking to my blog to write out some ideas as to what I’ll say in regards to this topic.
Just as there is no one right way to be mindful about anything really, there is no one right way to practice mindful eating. In any given moment we have the opportunity to direct our attention in a myriad of different ways that would all classify under the umbrella of mindfulness (hence the image I put together above :). For instance, when we sit down to eat a meal we could practice mindfulness by looking deeply into the food in front of us. We could become inquisitive and ponder questions about where our food came from and do our best to imagine all of the causes and conditions that went into its creation. We could use our mindfulness to get in touch with the energy inherit in our food and how it wouldn’t be possible without the sun, soil, and water. We could tune into our senses taking special notice of the textures, smells, taste, feel, and colors. We could connect with our gratitude for the gift of food we are afforded, knowing that many people will not have enough to eat today. Or we could practice by slowing down and putting our undivided attention on the process of eating, instead of hurrying through a meal or multi-tasking while eating. And if we spent our meal time simply practicing to enjoy our food and have a pleasant time while eating that would certainly be a wonderful way to water our seeds of mindfulness as well.
Last year I began offering what I call teaching talks (I’m careful not to use the term dharma talk since I’m not a dharma teacher) at my local sangha. Not too frequently, as I don’t want to turn my sangha into the Nicole show, but a couple times a year seems doable. I’m scheduled to give a talk in mid-September and I’ve decided the topic will be on gratitude. So, much like my recent post on August 27th, I’m using my blog as an opportunity to write out what I’ll talk about in order to help me process and filter through some ideas. Here goes…
I’m a volunteer with hospice and currently meet with a woman who’s 100 years old. As a hospice volunteer our primary role is to to visit with patients socially and simply spend time as a friend. This particular woman has great long term memory and has told me stories from when she was as young as three years old, in 1918. However, she has very poor short term memory and often tells me the same things and asks the same questions over and over again in the span of our visits together. When telling me about her upbringing or married life she’ll often stop mid-sentence and lean in a little closer to me from her wheelchair and say, “You know, I’ve had such a great life. I am so grateful. I had great parents, a great brother and sister, and a great husband and kids.” I can tell she’s really connecting with her gratitude when she reiterates these words to me. The spirit and energy of gratitude is alive within her and radiates outwards when she talks about it – I can see it in her eyes. Her strong sense of gratitude is what ties all of her memories together – and if I had to guess it’s also part of what allowed her the capacity to live to reach 100 years old with many of her faculties about her.
Gratitude is often undervalued as a practice to cultivate in order to live a happier, healthier life. Our ability to experience gratitude is one of the determining factors in our overall quality of life. Developing a daily practice of gratitude is not only helpful but necessary if we have a desire to make the most of each moment and live with more joy and ease. Learning how to be present in the here and now and strengthen our mindfulness practice requires a certain amount of gratitude – if we are not able to connect with how much abundance and beauty surrounds us, at least on some level, it will be very difficult to live in the here and now. The stronger our feelings of gratitude are the more able we are to ‘Be Here Now’ with whatever it is we’re doing.
The more we practice gratitude the more we keep practicing, the stronger our practice gets, and the easier it becomes. But what does it mean to actually practice gratitude? How do we practice? There are many ways, of course, but as I can only speak from my own experience here are a couple of ideas that I personally do and find helpful:
I posted this on our sangha’s facebook page (Be Here Now Community) this morning and thought I’d share it here too:
Before every meal I take a moment to give thanks. Even if it’s only a brief inner moment. I give thanks to the earth, the sky, and all the hard work that went into the food: the workers, time, energy, resources, transportation, infrastructure. To honor the precious gift of food I give thanks. In respect to the millions of people across the world that will not have enough to eat today I give thanks. To not take for granted the bounty that I am afforded I give thanks.
Fresh organic produce for juicing
Tonight is my start of a 3-day juice fast. I’ve been doing juice fasts 2-3 times a year for the past few years and find that they help to cleanse and reboot my system. I’ve also found that they are very beneficial in getting me back on track with eating better when my strong habit energy of consuming too many sugary foods sends me off balance (as in my tendency).
I’ve tried other types of fasting in the past and have found that my body responds the best with juice fasts. I have a great Champion Juicer that a good friend lent me years ago and hasn’t needed back yet which I’ve been using happily. To do a juice fast you need a juicer that can separate out the juice and the pulp most efficiently.
In the interest of time and energy I only prepare juice once a day, rather than making individual fresh juice for each meal and snack. So I make a big batch of veggie juice and a big batch of fruit juice at the start of the day (although I made them up tonight for tomorrow since I started my fast tonight) so that I am not having to prepare produce and clean the machine multiple times a day. I read in a juicing book long ago that it’s best not to mix fruits and veggies in the same juice while fasting (due to how they are digested) so I keep them in separate juices and alternate between them during the day.