Sunday, March 25, 2012


Last month, I read about the book Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung.  I was immediately interested, and since I had Spring Break coming up, I knew I'd have a little time to read (part of my Twelve for 12 Plan), I called my favorite local bookstore to order it.
Sure, I could have gone to Barnes and Noble, two of which are closer than Changing Hands, but I have made the decision to make the local bookstore my first option; only if they are unable to obtain a copy of a book will I seek out the "big boys," although I can't lie - I'll probably go out of my way to order from Powell's Books in Portland, the largest independently owned (and local... to Portland) bookstore in the country.
Anyway, it only took about a week for my book to come in, and I was all a-twitter to read it.
Even with Spring Break, it took me about a month to finish it - some nights I was just too tired to read, and I also had to finish a baby blanket on a deadline, so I sacrificed some good reading time for that, too.

Friday night, I finally turned the last page.

This where I have to go off on a (completely unsurprising) tangent and say that I miss being in a book club; I loved being able to meet up with other people once a month to discuss our "assignment."  Can you tell I was the quintessential student?  Even when it was book I didn't completely fancy, it was good to digest it with others, which helps my perspective and understanding (that's one reason I love having class discussions of aspects of books that last the entire class period - the students benefit from hearing the viewpoints of others).
That being said, I take to reading a book in a particular manner.  I take notes in a manner that are basically a simplified version of the Cornell Notes method.

Quotes on the left, my comments on the right
Yes, ladies, and gentlemen, this is what I do in my spare time.  I'm tons of fun at parties, too.


After a few days of thinking about it and looking back through my notes (because that's why I take notes), I'm not sure I loved the book.  I mean, it was an insanely interesting read, I would recommend it to someone were I to think that it were a good read for him or her, and some of the studies that the book cited about colon cancer have already been noted/highlighted/ for further exploration.
But the focus on the weight loss wasn't something that I needed.  I knew that it would be part of the discussion, but for some reason I didn't realize that it would be THE focus.
Thankfully, I don't need to lose weight.  Earlier this month I went to the doctor and was rather pleased to find out I'm pretty much back to what I weighed in high school.  Which was... actually much longer ago than I had realized until I just counted it... yikes.
Those pounds are certainly not distributed the same way they were when I was 18, and I'm working on making sure that my shape satisfies me as much as the number on the scale, which, honestly, is no big deal (insert comment about muscle being denser than fat, blah, blah, blah) at the end of the day.  I just want to feel healthy, my clothes to fit me comfortably, and to smile when I look in the mirror.  But I don't need to worry about weight loss like the target audience of the book may need to worry.

So, if my focus wasn't the same as the focus of the book I read, what did I get out of the book?


Probably the part of the book that practically had the soundtrack of the brakes screeching to a halt was this quote, on page 17, which means I was barely into Chapter 1:

"The crying baby needs the mother's loving care.  In a similar manner, your negative emotions and turmoil are crying out loud, trying to get your attention."

Wow.  Just... wow.
People, especially Americans, are constantly working to find new ways to ignore negative emotions.  Some people drink.  Others do drugs.  Others eat.  And yet others watch mindless TV.  We're always trying to dull negative thoughts and emotions and highlight the positive ones.  Even schools are being pressured not to give "negative" feedback because it might hurt someone's feelings (that "negative feedback" used to be called constructive criticism, but whatever - that's for another post at another time).
But Savor argues that we NEED to be aware of those negative feelings and work with them.
The analogy of the crying baby, of course, made the power of that statement like a lightning bolt.  Being woken up from a dead sleep because the newborn is crying is not fun.  Ask any mother.  But we get up, and we take care of the little one, changing the diaper, feeding, snuggling, rocking... working through whatever frustration that baby is having, and eventually, both of you fall asleep in the glider (that can't just have been me).
The mother addresses the baby, nurtures her, and the crying eventually ceases.

The negative becomes a positive through positive action.

That is the gist of the argument here - we can work through those negative feelings and come out of it more positively than if we had just covered them up with ice cream, heroin, or watching Toddlers and Tiaras in the first place.

Chew on that for a while.

Of course, the book works to teach people to eat mindfully, not shoving mouthful after mouthful into their mouths while watching Cedar Rapids (seriously, The Husband finds the most random and worst movies on OnDemand) instead of paying attention to what those mouthfuls taste like.
This is the lesson I am working to improve.
I've got better food habits with regard to what I put in my mouth.
Now it's time to work on the how.
So after the reflections that were scattered through the book (and I encourage you, if you do read this book, to complete them while you are reading - it's part of the process), I have a wonderful set of questions to ask myself each time I open the pantry:

  • Why do I want to eat?
  • Do I need it?
  • Do I want it?
  • (during/after eating) Am I satisfied?

Working from home, I have easy access to food whenever I want it, so snacking can be a dangerous ride.  If I can stop and check myself, I can be more mindful of what I eat all the time.

There are really too many thoughts and ideas swirling in my mind to post eloquently and concisely (although I'm pretty sure that ship has already sailed).  That being said, I can put together a list of Actions I Want to Take in regard to eating that can make it a more pleasurable and healthful experience:

  • Ask myself the aforementioned questions
  • Determine my support community (a sangha) for the healthful lifestyle I want to lead
  • Turn the TV off during meals
  • Honor the food (part of the 7 Practices of a Mindful Eater) before the meal (not exactly grace, but kind of)
  • Discuss the food - where it came from, why I chose that meal, what flavors we notice, etc.
  • Put down the fork between bites
  • Chew 20-30 times before swallowing
  • Nurture positive feelings while channeling negative ones into positive ones
  • Practice compassion
That last one is actually the last line on my RoadID as my mantra when I run.  I have chosen to run in events that help others, so I run, then, to help reduce the suffering of others.  I have had my RoadID for a little under a year now, so imagine my shock to read The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism and to see that, in my mantra and objective for running, I have already started working with those Truths on a daily basis.  There IS suffering in the world, but I can do something about it, both my own suffering and the suffering of others.
But what does eating have to do with reducing suffering?  I'm not going to come at it from a completely vegan perspective, although that's part of the argument of the book (because the book was written by a Buddhist teacher, the vegan diet is presented as optimal for both health and ethical reasons).  But being mindful of what I eat even before I eat it is part of the book, too.  So the more I can know about any animal products that I eat and the manner in which the flesh or the milk or the egg was "harvested" (for lack of a better), the better I can look toward reducing suffering of others, be they human or not.
Think about it this way - I saw this on a sign while driving a few weeks ago, and I think it succinctly says what I really can't here:

You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats others who can do nothing for him."

The quotation, attributed to businessman Malcolm S. Forbes, says it all to me here.  The chicken really can't do anything for me.  But how I treat that chicken says a great deal about me.
And how I give respect and thanks and honor to the apple - and the store clerk who rang me up for the apple, the stock boy who placed the apple, the truck driver who shipped the apple, the worker who picked the apple, the farmer who planted the apple tree - says a great deal about me, too.

So next time you sit down to a meal, plan on taking your time, reflecting on all those who helped bring that plate to the table, nurturing positive feelings, and enjoying the meal that much more.

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