The purpose of food is not just to fulfil you physically. The act of eating is so much more than just obtaining basic energy and satisfying a physiological need; there is a greater purpose.
The new year is the perfect time to reflect on the simple things of life which we sometimes ignore, such as eating. Eating can nourish the soul as well as the body when you eat food mindfully and by taking part in a social act that binds us to other people.
History can show us that food holds a special meaning for many civilizations and religions. For the Aztecs, maize was essential in their lives and formed part of their staple diet. Festivals and offerings were offered to honour each stage of the plant’s growth. In Christianism, the intake of bread and wine signifies communion with God, while in in Judaism the challah, braided bread, represents the blessing over which the Sabbath meal begins. In the case of Muslims, dates are traditionally eaten to break the fast of Ramadan, which symbolically recalls the tradition that the prophet Muhammad broke his fast by eating three dates.
Food symbolism can also be found in the philosophy of Buddhism which considers all living beings to be sacred, a belief that has transcended into widely practiced vegetarianism and veg
anism and which considers that violence towards animals can translate into human aggression.
Buddha’s 5 Contemplations
One of the teachings attributed to Buddha is The Five Contemplations, which you can practice while eating. Practising this exercise will encourage you to stop and think about the food you are eating, become more present and connected with yourself so, in a way, you’ll be feeding your soul. The five questions are as follows:
- What am I eating?
- Why am I eating it?
- Where does it come from?
- When have I chosen to eat it?
- How do I eat it?
This practice requires you to think about how much work went into the food you are about to eat. Imagine the amount of work that was necessary to grow, process and transport the ingredients. What kind of preparation or cooking might have been involved in the making of your meal?
In more practical terms, you can ask yourself: are you actually hungry? Are you eating out of anxiety or to hide other feelings? You should have in mind that food is a biological need and a means of healing your body and without it you are more prone to illness. However, Buddhism also considers that food is more than that. Food is received and eaten for the purpose of “realizing the Way” or part of the path to reach enlightenment.
Contemplations in Practice
To put these into practice, try out these suggestions to make a greater connection with your food, yourself, and those around you.
1. Tea Time
Drinking (or sharing) a cup of something warm with someone is a great way to nurture the soul. Dedicating time for a break, a good conversation, or simply a time to sit by yourself can help focus your mind on the present moment. Many people use tea as a ritual to find some peace in moments of stress. While preparing and drinking your tea try to imagine the process it went through, or try to identify all the separate flavours.
2. Family Meals
Sometimes having a meal with your friends or family seems like a luxury that might only be viable on holidays. Other times it’s just a matter readjusting the schedule or tweaking your routine to make time for those that matter to us. Spending quality time with your family, while having a meal, can be fabulous for your digestion and your mind. Good mealtime conversation can also slow down the rate at which you eat so you can notice when you get full more easily.
3. A Date with Nature
Try treating yourself to a meal outdoors, like a picnic or even by just finding a seat by the window. Feel your surroundings and experience the essence of nature over your level of energy. Doing this can help you become more relaxed and in touch with your inner self. Scientific research indicates that when you are more relaxed vitamins and minerals are better absorbed.
4. Schedule Some Alone Time
Enjoying your favourite meal or something that makes you feel good can be a perfect time to be by yourself and listen to how you feel. It’s also a perfect time to practice experiencing your food in a different way discovering the feast in your palate and soul.
Remember that eating can be a moment for savouring and reconnecting with yourself and your loved ones. Don’t waste your time by focusing on details that obstruct this connection. Next time you take a bite, try these contemplations out by thinking of what you are actually feeding yourself, why you’re doing it, where your food comes from, and how and when you should eat it.