Check out this cool video from Sam Harris (author, neuroscientist, philosopher) explaining the need to “locate a feeling of fulfillment in the present.” Though the feelings of anxiousness creep up on me occasionally, mindfulness in daily activities takes me away from the what ifs of the future and past and allows me to enjoy the moment I’m in.
Mindfulness is easy to practice, and can even be done every time you eat, for example.
Turn off the radio, television, computer, tablet, and other gadgets or distractions that may take you away from where you are at in this moment in time. Sit down at the table, and look at your meal, becoming aware of the colors and textures as the light reflects off the food and passes through your cornea to your pupils that have already adjusted to accommodate the intensity of light in the room. The light travels through your eyes’ lenses and on to the optic nerve where this mix of visible spectrum, which we have evolved to perceive, passes on to the visual cortex and is processed into what we understand as the image of food in front of us.
Imagine what that food looked like before it was picked from the earth or taken from its pastures, and know it did not just magically appear in the supermarket or restaurant with the flick of the food fairy’s wand. Someone, or the earth itself, nurtured this meal before you chemically and physically altered and combined each part by all of the means we humans have learned throughout the millennia.
Notice how the food smells and distinguish the different accents throughout the dish. Appreciate the food as you wipe away the drainage coming out of your nose from the spices that have overwhelmed your mucous membranes and cleared your sinuses. Feel your tongue become lighter as your mouth waters and teeth begin to open, primally preparing your mouth to process the food from the inside. Notice your body’s temptations arising as your hand seems to involuntarily lift a fork in preparation for the food’s separation from the plate.
Place a small piece of the meal in your mouth and appreciate how it feels and tastes while rolls around your tongue and between your teeth, saliva assisting in the first step of the breakdown. The food becomes an unrecognizable amalgamation off all the beauty you had just perceived moments prior. Chew slowly. This meal, after all, grants you life. If this is one of the several meals you will have during the day, understand that you are fortunate to not be one of the nearly 850 million people worldwide currently suffering from food insecurity. Appreciate what you are tasting. Swallow. Repeat.
You get the picture. There is so much going on in every little thing we do throughout the day. From brushing our teeth to tying our shoes, mindfulness can bring us into every moment and allows us to set aside our “to-do” lists and obligations that we can’t effect at ALL times of the day anyway. Dwelling on these tasks often only makes things worse and causes our minds to jump from this thought to the next, like a monkey swinging from branch to branch. Let that monkey brain sit, and be in the moment!
Too often, we chew and swallow way so fast that we don’t even realize we are eating. The process has become programmed as something we’re supposed to do at this or that time of day. Survival itself doesn’t equate to the potential of appreciation and gratitude for life that we as humans are capable of. Know that you control your mind and that your mind DOES NOT control you. Knowing this dichotomy exists makes separation of your physical and conscious self so much easier.
Before coming to volunteer in Thailand, I constantly worried about the things I was going to see and possibly the stresses these things would cause. When I see Johns buying boys out of the bars or over 20 mostly underage boys dancing on stage in their underwear for the two farang men that had decided a good time for the night included sexual exploitation, a toll is definitely taken psychologically. Sometimes I don’t take time to process where I am at or what I just saw, but the worry that comes along with the calling of “I NEED TO DO SOMETHING FOR THESE KIDS” can overwhelm. The situation many of these boys are in can not be fixed quickly, and requires a shift in societal morals, improved infrastructure and investment in education, and investment in NGOs such as Urban Light or other vocational training. Allowing my mind to rest is so important and coming to peace with the fact that I won’t be able to solve most, if any, of these issues is something I need to accept. My type A personality that was sure to come out when I was put in any academic situation is hard to dampen when put in this type of environment, but I have come to accept that I may not have THAT BIG IDEA or fix; I know being here will make a difference at that my presence alone is enough. This is not to say I won’t do everything in my power to move forward, but I can not wear myself down with worry I won’t be able to do anything. We are making progress and that is something to be so hopeful and proud of!
Life is a big meal. Chew slower. I guarantee you’ll notice and feel so much more.