Ram Dass is joined by a young Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield for a meaningful talk about mindfulness and food.
This discussion on mindfulness and food is part of the Naropa University Bhagavad Gita Sessions of 1974. We are given a new perception of what it is that we are eating. Ram Dass, Joseph, and Jack help us to understand that there is a connection between what sustains us and who we are.
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You and Your Food (Opening) – We start with an opening prayer from Ram Dass, a blessing for food. The prayer is a recognition that the eater and that which is eaten are both Brahman. This process is done as a sacrifice, so that it all may merge into Brahman.
There are strategies for dealing with food as a means of changing the meaning of the eating experience. One strategy is part of wisdom, a re-perception of what it is that you are eating. Another is a meditation exercise on eating itself.
Breaking Attachment (13:45) – Jack Kornfield shares a few techniques designed to break our attachment to food and end the illusion of separateness between us and what we eat. It is not what we eat that makes us wise or leads to the development of insight. Instead, it is the process of how we eat that will give rise to that.
Compassion (14:45) – The first meditation that is done in the Buddhist tradition is a meditation on compassion and the sharing of food with all the beings in existence.
The Elements (16:15) – Another technique is to consider the elements that are in play. The same elements of earth, fire, air, and water are represented in our food are represented in our body. As a result, we are just combining elements when we eat.
Emptiness (18:05) – A third meditation is focused on emptiness. Taking a piece of food, you see that the food is not self. There is no one there, just food. Next, you see that the hand holding the fruit is not you either, it is just a part of body. After looking at the mind that is thinking about the hand, you will recognize that the mind is not you either.
“Eating is like putting nothing into nothing.” – Ram Dass
Impermanence (19:10) – Another way to break down the illusion of separateness and permanence is to look at the whole process of eating in terms of change. The awareness of this change comes from understanding the cycle that our food goes through.
Sensation (20:45) – Being mindful of sensation is the basis for a lot of vipassana practice. Jack walks through the steps of becoming aware of all the sensations that come from eating. By paying attention to the sensation, you cut off the discrimination of your mind. In doing so, there is no room for judgment of the food. This cuts away the desires behind eating. The separation of desire from food allows us to look at food only as sustenance.
“The body is simply a vehicle to be cared for, and not to be pampered. Food is simply a means of sustaining life to continue your spiritual practice. You are not eating because you enjoy eating, but you are eating as a way to sustain your energy to continue your practice on the spiritual path.”– Jack Kornfield
Balance (24:40) – All of these meditations are merely techniques for developing balance in the mind. The whole of the Dharma is just a question of balance. These meditations counterbalance our habitual patterns of attachment to get us to a point where we are no longer attached. The balance of mind is the key. When there is a very strong imbalance, you need strong medicine to balance it.
Repulsiveness of Food (27:45) – Another meditation used to balance our eating habits is to contemplate the true repulsiveness of food. Doing so, you really begin to know the nature of food. It is easy to lose your desire for any food when you know how it got to be in front of your face. This practice is hard for many in our culture to get into, but it is one of the strongest methods to for getting us over our “food trip.”
Eating in a Meditative Way (33:00) – Joseph Goldstein discusses how to stay grounded in these different meditations on food, by developing a strong mindfulness of all the process involved in eating. When we learn to eat mindfully, much is revealed about our minds and our bodies.
During meditation, we begin to see exactly the point in which desire arises. Eating in a meditative way is a profound practice, doing so can even lead to the experience of enlightenment while eating.
The Process of Eating (36:05) – Joseph teaches us how to analyze the different processes involved in eating. By noting every step in the course of eating, we can remove attachment or desire from the act. In doing so, we can penetrate the very basic nature of the mind-body process.
“The entire exercise becomes a meditation. In this way, we expand the state of mindfulness to cover the entire experience of our activities and begin to live in a very meditative state.” – Joseph Goldstein
Eating and Sadhana (43:45) – We have gone so far overboard in our sense gratification, that our ability to understand food as merely sustenance has nearly been lost. Ram Dass talks about the pleasure we get from food, and how much it costs to surrender a little of that pleasure into having mindfulness of the process of eating.
“Anyone who has struggled with their weight knows that if you focus on getting thin, you suffer all the time. However, if you become mindful of eating, you will become thin.” – Ram Dass
Part of sadhana is experimenting with different facets of life. Eating is one of these aspects. By turning your attention to these aspects, you begin to bring them into harmony with the wisdom that has been unfolding for us in our sadhana.