“Each breath is an invitation back to this moment, back to this life, lived in this one and only moment”
The mornings this week have been some of the coldest of the winter. It was -2° C on Friday, and -1° C was forecast for the first day of the weekend and for our usual early Saturday morning bike ride with friends. Good sense meant a later start, and out of the cold and frosty morning emerged one of the glorious sunny, and nearly cloudless blue sky days the Central West is well known for.
Cycling is popular in our town. However riding in a group means everyone has preferences for how they like to ride; some like to go fast and get to the top of the hill first, others prefer to put their heads down and burn energy to the ‘max’, while many of us prefer to stay together and chat about the week’s past events. Sometime I choose to ride out mindfully – which means I am by myself and mostly last. But the rewards are plentiful – the majesty of the hills, the visual array of the farms, the sounds of the animals, the momentary whiff of a fragrant garden and the personality of the different vineyards we pass. Time spent mindfully rarely disappoints.
This weekend out of the cold and frosts of winter emerged the first daffodils of the season. I love Daffodils. A sign of spring. A sign of a new beginning.
No matter where we cycle, the end destination is always the same.
Again everyone in the peloton has preferences – some do fruit toast, some do a hot breakfast and we all do coffee. The problem of eating with a group is that the sight of enticing food on the menu, or on other’s plates , can make us want to eat, even if we’re not hungry and have eaten before leaving home.
The unhelpful thoughts inevitably arise (“I want to eat this..” ). The narrative builds (“I have done plenty of exercise surely I deserve a treat”). You probably know how it goes…on and on, until the thoughts take over and we end up mindlessly eating too much, or not eating want we want. All of which can leave us feeling guilty or cross.
Psychologists call this the abstinence violation effect (a sense of loss of control over our behaviour that has a demoralising effect). In mindfulness practice this is called life. Mindfulness helps us learn to accept and tolerate the urges and cravings that invariably arise when we are surrounded by eating cues such as freshly baked scones! Triggers for “…eating because it’s there”, “eating because it’s nice”, “eating because I’m too busy talking” or “eating because I just don’t have time to think before the waitress comes ” and “eating because it’s in my mouth before I even notice what I’m eating”.
Eating mindfully is easy in theory – in reality in an environment filled with readily available food it’s hard. Very hard. And it’s hardest of all when surrounded by friends, with our attention swirling around in the joys, and conversations, and social pressures of being with others.
What to do? I think we are all in situations when we could ask what ourselves what can we do?
I have a little Kelly Rae Roberts plate at home that reminds me what to do. It says: •B•R•E•A•T•H•E
By breathing we give ourselves the moment: to respond, not react.
Breathing helps bring us out of our heads and getting swayed by our thoughts (I notice the thought: “Hmm… my partner’s ordering scones perhaps I should order something too?”).
Focusing on the physical sensations of our breath helps bring our attention back into our body. It’s the reminder to turn inward: Am I hungry? How hungry am I? Am I thirsty? Am I emotional? What does my body need right now?
Each moment our breath is an opportunity for a new beginning.
Even once we have made the decision what to eat (or what not to eat), when we’re eating with friends, it can remain hard to stay mindful. If we’re drawn into our friends compelling stories (“… and then she said to me… “). Breathe. When we’re back in our heads and lost in our thoughts (“…humff… that looks nice why did I just order coffee…”). Breathe.
A breath is an invitation back to the mouthful, back to the body, back to the intention to eat or drink this mindfully.
Each breath is an invitation back. Back to this life, lived in this one and only moment.
And yes, then I’m reminded again about the pleasure of eating mindfully. Half a scone on the neighbouring plate is pushed towards me. Still warm, it’s topped with homemade raspberry jam. I add a dollop of cream. One, two, three slow and delicious mouthfuls. I smile and reflect and I’m thankful – for his mindfulness, and yes how well and truly he knows me….
Mindful eating invites us to consider more than how our food tastes. It’s also about taking the time to consider where, when and how our food comes to arrive at our door. And what better place to learn these lessons, than at the many local famers markets that now bless so many of our lives.
This morning our local Farmer’s Market was showered with rain, insistent winds and 13˚C temperatures. Yet the loyal farmers and the familiar faces of local producers still arrived. With their vibrant produce catching our attention, its so easy to remember to stop, ask and listen to their stories of what’s in season, how it’s grown and where it comes from.
Speaking to farmers, finding friends, experiencing the seasons and what they grow first hand is only the begining of what makes us turn up on the 3rd Saturday of every month. Today it was:
Apples crisped by the cold mornings of our Central West neighbours in Bathurst.
Oranges fragrant, plump and juicy from the water blessed Narromine.
Vegetables, shining with the knowledge of what is fresh, really fresh: Kale and celery at $2 a bunch
Artisan cheese from happy goats dancing with their kids
Finding new things that are delicious to drink: Raspberry and Mint Lemonade
It is is predicted to be the coldest weekend of the year for us here in the Central West so we retreat home.
Inside we unpack the bounty of the morning’s harvest with its promise of vital, delicious and nourishing meals for the coming week.
At last, sharing our simple local fare by the log fire- goat fetta with pesto and freshly baked sourdough.
Completed by the addition of a glass of regional red wine. But first, a mindful moment to remember our gratitude for the land and the food it produced. And for those who tended and nourished it, so it could tend and nourish us.
There are few things that are so simple, yet so full of pleasure as picking something from the garden, cooking it and serving it to yourself, family or friends.
Rhubarb is easy to grow and has become a staple in our garden, but you can also have fun buying it from your local farmers market.
Rhubarb is a nutrition treasure too. It’s naturally very low in carbohydrate, so if it’s poached with a little thought, it can offer a light fruit dessert and be ‘everyday’ fare.
With rhubarb something is needed for flavour and sweetness – I grate in lemon rind or fresh ginger. Sugar can be added to taste or use any sweetening alternative that you prefer. Someone once even suggested poaching it in ‘diet’ ginger beer – I haven’t tried it – but it highlights this point – growing and cooking your own food means you get to choose the gardening products and the ingredients that are added to the foods that you eat.
Today our rhubarb dish is a little different. We have a daughter returning home for a holiday break so it’s a special occasion. Sharing a meal again around the table is made a little more special by including a treat.
I pull out the family favorite recipes and top the lightly poached rhubarb with Mum’s ‘Oat Crumble’.
A delicious oaty mix, with brown sugar that caramelizes into a tantalising topping that can adorn any fruit; stewed rhubarb, apple or apricot are all yummy.
Eating mindfully means I can make less and enjoy it more, so unlike days past with enormous serving dishes that tempt ‘seconds’ or over large portions, I split the dessert and make two. One for this meal and the other to send home for loved ones elsewhere.
Finally, time to eat ! We serve it with vanilla yoghurt.
It’s wonderful how eating mindfully makes it easier to dwell in the sensual pleasures of a dessert like fresh rhubarb crumble. When we are fully awake in the moment of eating, we are not letting our thoughts entertain the idea of racing through this serve so we can have another, or that ‘someone else’ is eating more than their fair share – we can just stay here, now, fully in the moment.
A treat, when thoughtfully planned out and enjoyed, mouthful by mindful mouthful, leaves no time for feeling guilty – not before -or after – or ever – the only need is to sit replete in its joyful memory, tasting the last of the flavours as they linger, knowing this is just how all things delicious should be consumed.
Now all that’s left to do is to share this simple crumble recipe with those who wish to try it for themselves:
- 4 tablespoons butter (or a polyunsaturated margarine*)
- ½ cup self-raising flour
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½- 1½* cups rolled oats
* (I use an unsaturated margarine for those watching their cholesterol levels and I use more oats than less, to reduce the ratio of fat in the original recipe)
Method: Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs, then add in sugar and oats and mix through.
Top stewed fruit and bake for 30 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius.
Pause. Take a breath. Focus.
It’s so simple. Yet why do we forget this small, first step towards mindful eating?
It’s easy to forget to eat mindfully anytime, but at breakfast it’s more likely than most. Hurried. Routine. Same food often, day after day. Another workday and another meal with our minds more occupied by the “to-do list” than the food before us.
I was reminded to ‘pause’ at breakfast today by a wise teacher. The pause reminded me that breakfast is often the meal I enjoy most. Oats. Dried fruit. Yoghurt. Not much extra time was needed to taste, explore and fully experience it. A gratitude for the farmers and those who helped it arrive at my door. This moment. This food and it’s nutrition, nourishing and becoming me.
A pause takes exactly 3 seconds. Yes three. And this alone can make the difference between a mindful meal and a mindless one. The power of the pause is that its reminds us to ask: “Where is our mind right now?”
So perhaps a mindful eating practice may be:
- Pause before you start.
- Pause half way through the meal.
- Pause at the end of the meal.
- Pause when you notice you are distracted or eating out of habit.
Pausing may not be the only step – but it’s the first step – and without it, we spiral down into unconsciousness, with the loss of this one delicious moment forever. Mindless eating undermines not only our health but the qualities of our life. So if you do nothing else for yourself at your next meal, do this…
Pause. Take a breath. And focus on the food before you. It is such a simple way to bless yourself.
Welcome to ‘mindful-eating’ and to those interested in learning more about mindful eating and mindful living.
In the beautiful Central West of NSW we celebrate delicious regional foods and wines grown locally. This, when combined with the spaciousness that comes from being in the beauty and nature of an exquisite valley ‘nested in the hills’, gives us plenty of opportunities to reflect. Reflect on how to achieve the balance between pleasure and health, enjoyment and moderation, work and leisure.
Life, we are told, is the best teacher. And life here, like living in all places, has plenty of lessons. Like our ancient hills, life has its up and downs with daily journeys that can go from hilltop to valley floor. Mindfulness, I have found, is an ancient wisdom that we can use to ease our path and to guide our way.
For those who like to seek, write, understand or explore I have found this valley to be a source of great inspiration. It gives us many moments to be mindful and nature offers many metaphors. So, whether you’re here for a few days or a lifetime, I hope this countryside can become your classroom too. It has a wonderful array of lifestyle moments and events – a harvest of abundant, delicious foods and wines, – and time, if we choose to take it, to reflect and re-consider our relationship with our lives, with our food and with ourselves. The cafes, the country lanes, the people and the places help us remember what’s important in life. Time spent here shows us how food, healthy activity and life can be a source of both great nourishment and great joy. May your moments in the beautiful Central West be many; may your moments in the beautiful Central West be blessed.
Twitter: Mindful Eating Moments @eatingmindfully