A long while ago, I read an anecdote about a “potato chip mediation” that Edward Espe Brown, the Zen Buddhist and teacher who authored most of the Tassajara cookbooks, led with Andre Patsalides, a Lacanian psychoanalyst, as part of an “Eating Orders and Disorders” workshop. The idea was that everyone in the meditation group would take one potato chip, eat it slowly, and savor it.
When Brown explained the exercise to the participants, he was met with much griping: “I can’t eat just one”, “You’re going to leave us with unsatisfied desire”, etc. Eventually, though, he got everyone to take and eat their potato chip slowly and consciously. Their comments were astonishing. Instead of desiring more and more potato chips, the participants registered ambivalence or disgust: “It really wasn’t very tasty”, “there’s nothing to it”, “There’s an instant of salt and grease, and then some tasteless pulpy stuff in your mouth”, “I can see why you might have trouble eating just one, because you take another and another to try to find some satisfaction where there is no real satisfaction to be found”, “When I actually experience what’s in my mouth, it’s kind of distasteful.”
Brown summarized his experience with the meditation moralizing that he is now able to walk past the myriad of chips in the grocery without feeling longings or feeling deprived when he passes them by (The Complete Tassajara Cookbook 424-425). Which is an excellent thing to remember when one is trying to diet: carefully experiencing favorite foods and learning how you respond to their sensuality can totally change your food desires. When Brown repeated this meditation with a fresh orange and with a Hydrox (Oreo) cookie, the participants found the orange “succulent” and “rapturous”, but at least half the participants couldn’t finish the processed cookie.
Roderick’s exercise today shares a great deal with Brown’s. Though Roderick requests that we “find a delicious piece of fruit or some other appetizing food” instead of a potato chip, the attention to that fruit is largely the same:
Begin by simply taking time to visually regard the food. Look at its shape, size, and color–all without making up a story line by thinking about the food. Simply use the eyes to behold the food item. Now use your fingers to touch the food. After that, spend time smelling it. Finally, eat the food slowly, without mental comments. Allow your tongue and taste buds to speak for themselves.
Were you able to sense the divinity within this food item? Try this exercise with sexual activity, putting on clothing, taking a shower or bath, petting the dog, or any other activity that involves bodily sensation. Leave the thinking-brain out of the mix while you engage with the body. How does doing this change your mental state? Does removing the inner, mental commentary change your way of experiencing? How?
Seeing as I ate breakfast just before reading this exercise, I really wasn’t in the mood to eat much of anything–even so much as a strawberry. I was, however, quite thirsty and in need of a cup of tea.
Lately, I’ve been drinking a lot of genmaicha–a Japanese type of tea that uses bancha leaves (low quality) or old sencha leaves and combines them with genmai, or roasted brown rice–since I had a lot of 3-year-old samples of senchas lying about my place and genmai was dirt cheap at Sunrise grocery. I usually drink two or three cups at a time while working on the Internet or reading or grading, so it’s become a tea I don’t really think about all that much. So in a way, it was kind of perfect for this exercise.
I started by watching the leaves unfurl in the hot water. Senchas are a really broken-up tea, so there’s not much in the way of intact leaves, but the pieces and the rice have a great deal of movement as they hydrate. In fact, many Asian cultures use a word for “dance” to describe this movement. I was astonished at the amount of life that appeared in my cup, especially when I saw how green the steeping leaves were becoming. They looked as verdant and soft as spring lawns. The smell of the brewing tea was lovely, too. The senchas brought a ‘marine’ sensation to the mix: slightly briny and reminiscent of seaweed curing on a windy beach. Yet they were also couched with a sweet vegetal complement–like freshly mown hay on a sun-soaked, wild-flower strewn field. The rice brought a roasted, savory chord to the composition. On the tongue, I felt a strong sweet sensation across the front of my tongue, an astringency over the whole of the tongue after swallowing, and a slight bitter twang across the back. I tasted bread and grass and summer.
Was I able to sense the divinity? I think so. This tea felt like sunlight, which is one thing that can instantly ground me to divine energies, and it was highly appealing, which I also associate with divinity. As far as changing my mental state, it did make me feel much more present in my body instead of worrying about all the abstracts I must accomplish today.