Yesterday I tried something new. Instead of reading the paper or checking email while I ate breakfast, I decided to just eat breakfast. I’ve been longing to slow down time and I figured one way to do so was to eat more slowly, more mindfully.
The words of my mother, (z’l), who had only an eighth grade education but knew more about life than many PhD’s, echoed in my mind:
“You’re eating. Eat.”
She would say this whenever I tried to do something else while eating.
I learned a few tips about eating mindfully from Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, writer, and teacher who visited Israel in the late 1990’s. There are now “sanghas”, groups that practice his brand of mindfulness meditation throughout the country and twice yearly meditation retreats with teachers from Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh’s home.
I tried to put my fork down between bites and really chew. To be aware of the colors, the taste, the origins of and work that went into the vegetables in my Israeli salad (recipe below.) The miracle that is a cucumber, a red pepper, a scallion, a cherry tomato. It was hard! I noticed that I kept both thinking about and wanting the next bite even before I’d had a chance to enjoy this one.
I noticed, too, that I take the next bite before I’ve completely swallowed the one before. It’s a habit.
Putting my fork down between bites and consciously slowing down, helped me to remember to finish chewing and swallowing before giving in to what feels like gluttony – even tho it’s just a healthy salad – and shoveling in that next bite before I’m physically ready for it.
Isn’t that the trap in which so many of us are caught? Isn’t thinking about the next thing on our agenda while doing whatever we’re doing, one reason so many of us feel pressured, stressed and overwhelmed?
When you’re washing dishes, wash the dishes, Thich Nhat Hanh says, echoing my mother. When you’re drinking tea, drink your tea. Sounds easy.
I did succeed in slowing down breakfast. In fact, it felt interminable. But I also got to really take in the multi-colored pansies and other flowers celebrating spring on my porch. I had the time and space to wonder what flowers would say if they could talk, or better yet, sing. And then, for the first time in a year, a haiku came to me.
This is what I’ve been wanting: to make more time and space so the muse can visit.
I discussed my new eating regimen (and I admit it feels like a regimen) with my friend Eve, as we walked on the wonderful new promenade fashioned out of the old railroad tracks in Baka.
Isn’t it hard? she asked.
I admitted it was.
I can’t just eat, she said. I have to read or watch something or talk to somebody. Otherwise it’s boring.
That’s the thing. If you can really eat – or do anything – mindfully, it would never be boring. If you’re really mindful when you eat, says Thich Nhat Hanh, you’ll actually taste and enjoy every bite. You’ll feel both grateful and amazed when you realize what it took to get that piece of salmon, those orange and red cherry tomatoes (an invention of the Hebrew University), red onion, hot peppers, lemon, avocado, parsley and chives on your plate: the sun, the fuel, the labor, the birds ands the bees, the photosynthesis, the fisherman, the boat, the myriad people circumstances and conditions that brought that meal to your plate.
OK. I admit it. I’m eating that poached salmon and spontaneous salsa (recipes below) as I write. That’s what the talk with Eve did for me this morning, after I’d eaten a more or less mindful breakfast on the porch, trying not to get up to just send that quick email, not to take a minute to give that nasturtium the attention it needed.
It was hard! And since I’m not all that good at being mindful — yes, a little boring. So I decided I would eat just one meal a day with more attention. At least in the beginning. Who was it that said moderation in all things?
20 hard, ripe cherry tomatoes
4 narrow cucumbers
1 red pepper
1 scallion or ¼ small red onion
Juice of ½ – 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: ½ tsp. olive oil; parsley; fresh coriander; a bit of feta cheese
Dice all vegetables, add lemon and spices, mix and enjoy!
Salmon filet (200 grams per person)
½ – 1 cup water (depending on how much salmon_
½ – 1 cup white wine
½ – 1 cup soy sauce
Fresh garlic slices
Black pepper to taste
Optional: tomato, onion and lemon slices; parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (really!)
Bring liquids to a boil in frying pan
Add salmon, covering it with the vegetables and herbs
Bring to a second boil. Lower flame and cook, covered for about 20 minutes or until the salmon flakes when you take a fork to it
Spontaneous salsa for one
On a cutting board, cut 5 cherry tomatoes, ¼ avocado, a bit of red onion, some sour or hot red or green pickled peppers, fresh cilantro and some olives. Douse with fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper. Mix right on the board and pour over the salmon when ready to serve.