Enlightened Munching

There is so much advise “out there” about food and diet that it can be mind boggling. Just to get an idea of the weird and wonderful world of diets, click here to see just a partial list of the varieties of culinary restrictive mayhem. We’re not trying to replace the information here, we are merely attempting to bring to mind a sensible way of viewing the food we consume. For the purposes of health and meditation, a holistic view, the diet has to be right for you. No one can tell you what would be a perfect diet. If you’re not eating it, it’s not perfect. If it’s killing you then it too is less than perfect. The food we eat will definitely “impact” us – no pun intended, or maybe there was…
Food and the four primitive urges: There are four “primitive urges.” We call them primitive because they are common to all species of animal. These are the desire for
  • Food,
  • Sleep,
  • Sex (thank you Sigmund Freud for reminding us — often), and
  • Self-preservation.
It is wise to watch all of these urges because they all affect us in a moment-to-moment cycle of tension, pleasure followed by more tension.
It would probably be good to remember that food is for cells, not “me.” Recalling this principle will certainly help to develop a frame of mind that will help us maintain a healthy diet. While it seems that food is for someone called me, making me think I want this or that, or we convince ourselves I need this or that. It is estimated that there are 10-50 trillion cells in the human body. That’s more cells in one human body than there are dollars in America. The nutrients food possesses are meant for the cells, not my personal instant gratification. The food is not being taken in for the benefit of our personal identity. Maintaining a constant, though gentle awareness that, “Food is for cells, not me” will keep diet decisions in perspective.
When we say, “I want this or that food,” who is it that is making this statement? Even if we accept that food is for cells, we are still stuck with the fact that somebody inside is wanting to eat that food. The question is who is that wants? It’s not anybody really. It’s only a habitual thought pattern. It’s the desire itself craving to express itself through consuming food. If we look at it deeply, this craving is not just about food. This relates not only to food, but to all of our inner wants, wishes, desires, attractions or aversions. It is true that we’re talking about food, but if we recognize that the desire itself is what is wanting to be gratified through food, then we have another valuable principle to keep in mind. Food is for the cells, and desire stands alone – it is its own motivator.
Understanding all this we also have to understand that
there is the reality that many “foods” are lacking in basic nutrients. If the cells are not getting sufficient nutrients from the foods we eat, the inner system trying to get nutrients from deficient foods drives us to eat ever more. We can be fat and still be starving. We need to pay attention to eat healthy, whole, quality, nutrient rich foods. When the cells are receiving proper nutrients, there is less desire to keep eating.
Something we should think about is that we eat food, not ingredients. When we talk about carbohydrates, proteins, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Diet can be confusing. One reason for confusion is that we don’t set out to eat these ingredients. Rather, what we eat is food. If we think about the foods we eat the whole process of eating becomes easier and straight forward. It’s not that we don’t think about the ingredients, which is quite useful. We ought to learn to think of the food itself and not necessarily about the taste, ingredients and all the chemistry but rather just think about the food. We train ourselves to eat fresh vegetables, not just ingesting a list of nutrients that are supposed to be in the vegetables.
Keeping these things in mind makes life simple. Eat a mixture of fresh vegetables, a variety of beans, and whole grains, such whole grain brown rice, along with some fresh fruits, doing this every day. There it is–the core of a good diet for meditation and health in one sentence. Almost everybody knows this knows this. Diet is not complicated.
  • Vegetables: A mixture of green, yellow, and other vegetables provides nutrition. Common sense leads to a balance of these.
  • Beans/legumes: Beans are loaded with nutrients and fiber helping greatly with digestion. They are also an excellent source of protein.
  • Brown rice or equivalent: Whole grains such as brown rice or basmati rice provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
If the mixture of vegetables, beans, and grain sounds just a little boring and you’re having trouble living on the principle that food is only for the cells), it is extremely useful to experiment with different seasonings to provide more. There are hundreds of brands and combinations of seasoning packages. Some of these can be bought in bulk, such as one pound or one kilo bags. With some creative seasoning the basic meal can take on any flavor you like. Some of the spices can provide nutritional value. Some people may argue that heavy spices are not useful, but it is better to have the healthy core foods, even if one finds it necessary to use spice things up.
Don’t forget to drink a plenty of water. To take two full glasses, about a liter or quart of room temperature water first thing in the morning. If you are not used to this work way up to it. Just drink down the water somewhat quickly, but avoid drinking to quickly to avoid bloating. The morning water practice will clear out many of the toxins in the system. It will also start peristalsis, the muscular movement that clears the bowels. It is later that you should take the first food of the day. One sign of having enough water is the urine flowing clear, except after a long sleep, during which there was no fluid intake.
If I tell you, “Don’t think of a pink elephant.” All you’ll do is think of pink elephants. If you’re looking to eliminate something from diet then what is your mind going to choose? You have not instructed you about what to put in the mouth and stomach. If, instead, you give yourself instructions like the old saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” then you have definitely given your mind instructions based on addition instead of subtraction. You a putting helpful things to your diet. This is much better than only telling your mind what not to do. Make a decision that you will eat certain foods each day. That is affirmation. Vow to yourself that you will eat fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, beans, and whole grains every day, without exception. Then the other stuff, the subtractive stuff, will fall away on its own.
It is important to accept the fact that fresh vegetables, beans, and whole grain are unavailable in many, if not most, restaurants. Not understanding and accepting this reality will lead to frustration. You’re not supposed to be able to find a good food selection from a menu that does not offer these choices. Look around, you’ll probably find a restaurant that offers fresh foods.
Nutrition and cleansing work together. Each has two polarities. You can have food that is nutritious or not, and you can have food that easily digests and facilitates cleansing and detoxifying, but you can have food that is hard to digest and blocks cleansing and detoxifying. It is useful to to ask yourself two questions:
  1. Does it provide good nutrition?
  2. Does it facilitate cleansing?
Many of start the day with a hurried breakfast, sometime latter we’ll grab a junk food snack, and still later a fast food lunch. Somehow we think we’re getting fed. One way to counter this tendency is to start the day with the good food.
Imagine that you arose in the morning and had some sugary, salty breakfast cereal. Then, midmorning, you had some tasty bread roll that is made with white flour and sugar. Then, you had a junk food lunch at one of those restaurants that doesn’t have fresh vegetables, beans, or whole grain meals. Then, mid afternoon, you had another one of those questionable snacks. It’s very easy to think we will have our good food in the evening, for dinner, when there is more time to cook in the leisure of our own home. We may never get around to eating the good food, thinking if that we now eat this, after the other food during the day, we will be overeating. One solution is to train your mind to eat the good food first. Start the day with healthy food, and have healthy snacks early. You may then discover that there is not as much room for the lesser food.
Bodhi is the aspect that knows, decides and discriminates. This quality of mind is clouded over by the habitual inner noise of attractions and aversions. Actions end up unregulated, being the mere playing out of unconscious mental conditionings. One of the finest things we can do for food practices is to cultivate the clarity of Bodhi, becoming ever more aware of what is useful and what is not useful. Literally ask yourself, “Is this useful or not useful?” Your inner wisdom of Bodhi really does have good perspective, regardless of surface level actions, speech, or thinking process. Cultivate this aspect of mind, gradually, gently, lovingly, though persistently and intently learning to listen and act on this inner wisdom.

About Sensei Mui

Sensei Mui is a Buddhist monk who took formal refuge and bhikkhu ordination as a Theravada monk in Thailand during the early 1970s. Since those days he has both studied and was ordained in multiple Mahayana lineages. Today the main focus of his practice and teaching is from the Pure Land perspective. He currently acts as the Director and Administrator for Hongaku Jodo, an educational and practice oriented organization of Buddhist teachers of Dharma, pure and simple.
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