WEDNESDAY, JULY 8, 2009, 1:35 PM
Pam Tarlow, one of the student/facilitators, leads a daily mindful eating meditation session during lunch. I did it for the first time today. Ironically, lunch was uncharacteristically late being served. We waited in line at the buffet table, about 15 minutes, for the arrival of the last bowl of food (corn chips) to complete the turkey taco salad main course. I was sort of amused; another opportunity to focus on unpleasant emotions (in this case, IMPATIENCE). Finally, Chosin suggested to the kitchen staff that we not wait any longer; the chips would be brought to us at our tables.
Pam instructed us to wait until everyone was seated around the three large circular tables set up for this purpose at the bend in the “L” of the row of student dorm rooms. Then she launched into a Dharma talk, inviting us to focus on the visual field, referencing Shin Zen’s morning lesson to the Continuing Students on FOCUS OUT. (I knew about FOCUS OUT because I had done that meditation in one of Shin Zen’s Sunday teleconference retreats last year). Pam directed us to do FOCUS OUT, concentrating on the visual appeal of the food on our plate, on the tactile sense of our hands, at the moment inactive but expectantly holding the utensils that would bring the food to our lips, our mouth. We could focus on eating in terms of texture, of hot/cold, spicy or bland…
Yadda yadda yadda. I got annoyed as she went on and on, wishing she would shut up so I could start eating. I smiled to myself once again. This would make a good joke for “King of the Hill”. The Hills go to a meditation retreat, where they have to wait before eating while the teacher/facilitator gives an endless talk about eating while their food gets cold and they do a slow burn… I can totally see the comic possibilities. Yet it was all grist for the focusing mill.
As the meal progressed, (when we were finally allowed to eat) I realized, as other people have pointed out to me over the years, that I am a speed eater. Even slowed down as I was, I tied for first place in eating my taco salad.
Pam invited questions and sharing. I commented on my speed eating habits, and the woman who tied me chimed in, remarking on her “driven-ness around food”. Another student said she tries to recite at least one line from Tich Nat Han’s 5 Precepts About Eating before each meal, the first being, “The entire Universe has conspired to bring me this repast; may I be worthy of receiving it.”
I complained that mealtime is usually the only time I have to read. Another student re-joined, “It may be the only time you have to meditate.” “Touché’”, I replied.
A student related one of Shinzen’s anecdotes about the time he walked in on a Zen Monk who was reading the morning paper while eating breakfast. When Shizen commented on this, the monk objected, “Yes, but I’m ONLY eating and reading and NOTHING ELSE.” The student continued that reading is fairly all-consuming, making mindfulness in any other activity, including eating, extremely difficult.
At meal’s end, Pam announced that she was a facilitator, and that she’d love it if we scheduled sessions with her. The way it seems to work is, facilitators put a sheet on the sign in table listing available times; students sign up for the times they want. I hadn’t signed up on any of the facilitator lists, and they’d quickly filled up. I regretted this, but it seemed to be too late until Pam made her announcement. I quickly enrolled for a Thurday morning session.