Our mouth is the gateway to so many kinds of karma. What goes in (food, drink, etc.) becomes inextricably linked with who we are and how we feel. What goes out (speech mostly) has a lot to do with how our relationships with others and with our world take shape.
Mindfulness is a big topic these days. I think there are different meanings, different takes on what exactly it is, but for the sake of this article let’s keep it simple and just say that mindfulness means actually paying attention to what you’re doing. When I’m teaching mindfulness in Japan I sometimes say – “let’s go watch the sushi chef next door – watching him, we will learn much of what we need to know about this topic – he is so present, so fully there with what he is doing.”
Mindfulness also has the connotation of being aware, in a clear but non-judgmental way, of your current experience – thoughts, emotions, sense perceptions and bodily sensations arising and dissolving – just seeing those come and go while staying with some present sensation like the breath to anchor us into a feeling of nowness – vivid yet impermanent.
My meditation teacher, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, after attempting to teach us heathen western students the art and benefits of mindful living, finally said “OK, now we’ve got to relate to one of the biggest sources of your gap in mindfulness – YOUR MOUTHS!” So he introduced mindful eating systems, including a Japanese monastic practice called oryoki, as well as western style dining etiquette; and also – believe it or not – elocution – so we could begin to work with mindfulness of speech as well.
As the years progressed and now, long since his passing, one cannot help but notice how astute an observation this was. Eating and speaking present huge opportunities to practice mindfulness in everyday life and to be “practically mindful” as the title of this book suggests.
For those of us who are seeking to extend our meditation into our everyday lives, and also for those of us who are not inclined to practice the seated forms of meditation, here is an opportunity to simply relate to our food and our speech in a mindful way. Huge benefits can come from this effort!
One of them is actually conquering what we Buddhists call poverty mentality or the “hungry ghost” syndrome; when we are in the hungry ghost realm (see my book “Awakening From the Daydream: Reimagining the Buddha’s Wheel of Life” for a more in depth description) food, or any other object for that matter, becomes a replacement for an often uncomfortable feeling of open space, which we are anxiously trying to fill with something. Food can be, as we all know, a major source of comfort and security. In the hungry ghost realm we find ourselves stuffing our face in a mindless attempt to achieve a sense of contentment and satisfaction that continues, ironically, to recede as we gorge.
There are many benefits from the mindfulness practices around paying attention to what goes in and out of our mouths – including appreciation, contentment and the return of a sense of humor and balance – which the endless cycle of craving and binging can obscure and obstruct.
Interested in an online course on the foundations of mindfulness meditation and it’s practical application to your day-to-day life? Click here for information about David’s online course “Meditation For Everyday Life”.