Rev. Jan Chozen Bays

The power of self-kindness

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How we look at ourselves makes a huge difference to how we feel. I’m talking principally about how we regard ourselves internally—how we each relate to ourselves as an individual human being—rather than the way we look at ourselves in a mirror, although the two are of course related.

For a moment, think what it’s like to sit having a conversation with a friendly person. We get lots of little signals from them, acknowledging us. They smile. They nod. They make little noises to let us know we’re being heard. They look concerned when we talk about our difficulties.

Now think of what it’s like to talk to someone who is staring blankly at you, not giving you any feedback. Although it’s a neutral gaze, we perceive neutrality as hostile. The other person is failing to acknowledge your reality as a feeling being. It may become difficult to speak. Your bodies produces adrenalin, and you’ll feel our heart racing, there will be butterflies in your tummy, and you’ll feel shaky.

An actual hostile encounter, where we’re faced with contempt, sneering, eye-rolling, and put downs, can leave us emotionally reeling for weeks.

Now, which of these three scenarios — the positive, neutral, or overtly hostile encounter — best describes the way that you relate to your own being?

For many people it’s the third. Our self-talk can be brutally contemptuous. “Oh, I’m such an idiot. There I go again! I’ll never get this right.” Imagine if we had someone following us around saying, “You know you’re going to fail. There’s no point trying. Nobody likes you anyway.” We’d describe such a relationship as abusive. And yet, for many of us, that’s the way we talk to ourselves. Most of us are in an abusive relationship with ourselves.

This is something we can undo.

Jan Chozen Bays, in her lovely book of weekly mindfulness exercises, “How to Train a Wild Elephant,” suggests a practice called “Loving Eyes.” It’s a beautiful and simply way to evoke a sense of kindness, so that we’re looking at ourselves in the way a dear friend would, rather than the way a neutral interviewer or a critic would.

Chozen suggests that we recall an experience of looking with love, kindness, or affection. I usually think about what it’s like to look at my children while they’re sleeping, but you can think of looking at a lover, a dear friend, or even a pet. As you recall an experience of that sort, notice how it feels around your eyes, and around your heart.

Now, stay in touch with those feelings as you turn your attention toward yourself. Looking with the “inner eye” of awareness, become conscious of your body, and the sensations arising within in. Regard your body with friendliness, with kindness, with love.

Try placing a hand gently on your heart, and say to yourself things like, “I care about you. I want you to be happy. You deserve happiness. I want to support you and offer you kindness.”

What we’re doing here is being a friend to ourselves. Rather than treating our own being as if it were an enemy that needs to be relentlessly criticized, we treat ourselves as someone whose happiness and wellbeing is important to us.

Treating ourselves this way is not selfish. When we treat ourselves with kindness, this naturally becomes the way we treat others too. And letting go of self-criticism frees up our emotional energy so that we can be more engaged with and concerned about others.

Remember the way that you feel when someone is looking at you in a friendly, encouraging way, smiling, nodding, and giving visible signs of support and encouragement? You can access that anytime, just by changing the way you look at yourself.

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Mindfulness of doors (and more!)

Series of doorways seen through doorways

Some of us in Wildmind’s online community are working our way through exercises from Jan Chozen Bays’ book, How to Train a Wild Elephant. We’re now on week 17 of the book, and this week’s exercise is called “Entering New Spaces.”

Here’s a brief outline of the practice:

The Exercise: Our shorthand for this mindfulness practice is “mindfulness of doors,” but it actually involves bringing awareness to any transition between spaces, when you leave one kind of space and enter another. Before you walk through a door, pause, even for a second, and take one breath. Be aware of the differences you might feel in each new space you enter.

This has been one of the hardest exercises for me, because I keep forgetting to do it! I’ll be in the Wildmind online community and I’ll read about being mindful while walking through doors, and I’ll think, “Drat! I’ve forgotten to do the exercise. I’ll make sure to be mindful next time I walk through a door.”

Then I forget all about the practice, and at some point I find myself back in the community, get another reminder of the exercise, and have the exact same thought.

So this time I decided I’d just get up and walk through a door just to begin engraving the experience of walking mindfully through a door into my brain, so that I build up the habit.

The experience was lovely: Being aware of approaching the door; mindfully taking a breath; being aware of pushing down on the door handle; being aware of pulling the door open, of stepping through, of being on the other side; mindfully closing the door; mindfully hearing the different sounds in the corridor.

The practice turned into a practice of realizing anatta (not-self) because I had the joyful experience of noticing that the being who arrived in the new space was not exactly the same being that had left the old one. There was no “self” that was transported across the threshold. And that experience was repeated as I stepped back into the office.

I’ve found that “rehearsing” practices is a useful thing to do. For example, you might hear about a practice like paying mindful and compassionate attention to feelings of hurt. (This is something I do — and teach — a lot.) But when someone says something hurtful, your normal automatic defense mechanisms may kick in, and you lose your mindfulness. Maybe you get angry, or maybe you get very upset. Rehearsal can help with that: you can deliberately call to mind an experience that you found hurtful, mindfully notice the sense of hurt, and then direct compassionate and kindly attention to the pain. That way you’re building up an association: feel hurt, be mindful. In time you can engrave that pattern into your brain so that it becomes automatic.

Excuse me a moment while I go walk through a door again…

So there are two things I’m suggesting:

1. Generally, if you want to cultivate a new mindfulness habit, rehearse, either in your imagination (as with becoming compassionate toward feelings of hurt) or by acting out the exercise (as in walking through a doorway).

2. Mindfully walking through doors is a delightful exercise, and if you want to get a feel for just how delightful it is then get up and do it — right now!

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Taking care of the present moment

fall leaves sitting on tree rings

I’ve been having a well-earned rest from blogging after completing our 100 Days of Lovingkindness, during which time I managed to contribute a blog post every day, despite also, for the last month, having an intensive schedule of teaching and family responsibilities.

But practice goes on.

In the Wildmind community we’re working through a book called How to Train a Wild Elephant, which is an excellent book of mindfulness practices written by Jan Chozen Bays.

Week 2’s exercise is as follows:

Leave No Trace

Choose one room of your house and for one week try leaving no trace that you’ve used that space. The bathroom or kitchen works best for most people. If you’ve been doing something in that room, cooking a meal or taking a shower, clean up in such a way that you leave no signs that you’ve been there, except perhaps the odor or food or fragrance of soap.

(In Zen paintings turtles symbolize this practice of leaving no traces, because they sweep the sand with their tails as they creep along wiping out their footprints.)

So this has been very interesting for me, because I like to get things done, but I’m often so keen to move onto the next thing that I don’t finish off earlier tasks properly, and end up leaving paper and other objects lying around. There’s a sense of urgency and even anxiety about moving on to the next thing. There’s an anxiety to “get on with things.” When I’m doing one thing I’m already thinking about the next. And I don’t even finish that first task! I’m always leaning into the future, and away from the present.

The exercise is not necessarily about leaving no trace, though! When we tidy up a mess we’ve created in the past we are obviously leaving a trace, but we’re still doing the exercise, because “leave no trace” is really about bringing to completion tasks we’re working on now — for example putting the toothbrush away, the top back on the toothpaste tube, rinsing out and drying the sink — before moving (not rushing!) on to the next thing. The exercise is more about bringing task to completion, and about taking care of the present moment.

But when you start doing this exercise you realize how many tasks you currently have that are unfinished. So I ended up putting away laundry, putting away a bag I’d unpacked and left lying on the bedroom floor, tidying my desk, etc. In one sense I’m “leaving a trace” of tidiness, but on a deeper level I’m catching unfinished tasks that have left traces, and bringing the tasks home. And in so doing, the traces vanish.

The problem is that we live surrounded by the traces of half-finished tasks, and we take these traces for granted. So tidying up is, in fact, “leaving no trace.”

So I’ve been focusing on finishing tasks, whether I’m starting them now or whether I started them months ago and then left them incomplete.

I feel like I’m becoming more “upright” — standing in the present moment — as I leave no trace. There’s less leaning forward into the future, and more just being in the present. There’s less of that anxiety about getting on to the next thing. There’s more care and love. Something as simple as wiping down the sink after I’ve used it is like taking care of the present moment. Through doing this exercise I realize that I often see the present moment as an inconvenient obstacle that I have to rush through as quickly as possible in order to get onto more interesting future events. Now I’m finding that I like the present moment just fine!

You might want to take up the practice of leaving no trace, even just for a week, just to see how it goes.

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Looking with loving eyes (Day 3)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

For today’s adventure in 100 Days of Lovingkindness I’m going to share a way of relating that I call “loving gaze.” This is borrowed from Jan Chozen Bays, who writes in How to Train a Wild Elephant of the practice of “Loving Eyes.”

In her book she says:

We know how to use loving eyes when we are falling in love, when we see a new baby or a cute animal. Why do we not use loving eyes more often?

So what we can do is to recall, or even just imagine, the experience of looking with loving eyes. You can recall (or imagine) looking at a beloved child, or a lover, or even a pet. I find that the sense of care, and appreciation, and non-judgement is very transferrable, so once you’ve evoked a loving gaze you can turn that sense of looking lovingly upon yourself. As you notice the body, your breathing, your thoughts, etc., you can look at them with loving eyes.

And once you’ve evoked that for yourself, you can now turn your loving gaze upon others: friends, people you don’t know, people you have difficulty with, animals, all beings…

This, I find, is a very quick way to help lovingkindness to emerge.

And when we do this, everything we experience seems to become gentler and softer. The world appears to be a lovelier, sometimes heartbreakingly beautiful, place. Even the ugly bits of life seem beautiful in their ugliness. And we start to realize that the world is our experience of the world, which is not separable from ourselves. And so when we change, the world we perceive changes too. The world of our experience becomes more loving, more tender.

There’s something Chozen says about this that always blows me away:

Seeing with loving eyes is not a one-way experience, nor is it just a visual experience. When we touch something with loving eyes, we bring a certain warmth from our side, but we may also be surprised to feel warmth radiating back to us. We begin to wonder, is everything in the world made of love? And have I been blocking that out? [Emphasis added]

Give it a try, both in your sitting practice and as you go about your daily life. You can start right now, as your eyes scan the words in front of you. Look with love. And then carry that loving gaze into your next activity.

[See the previous 100 Days post : See the next 100 Days of Lovingkindness post]
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Mindful eating: a teacher responds to readers

Readers have posted comments on Jeff Gordinier’s article on mindful eating, along with questions for Dr. Jan Chozen Bays, a pediatrician and meditation teacher in Oregon. Dr. Bays, the author of ”Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food,” responded to a first batch of comments.

News Flash — Mindful eating has been practiced for thousands of years by Jews. Prayer of thanks depends on the contents of the food, with multiple requirements on preparation, etc. Not sure why it’s described here as Buddhist, per se — philiphdc, Washington, D.C.

Yes, you are right. Mindful eating doesn’t belong …

Read the original article »

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Seven ways to eat more mindfully

1. WHEN YOU EAT, JUST EAT. Unplug the electronica. For now, at least, focus on the food.

2. CONSIDER SILENCE. Avoiding chatter for 30 minutes might be impossible in some families, especially with young children, but specialists suggest that greenhorns start with short periods of quiet.

3. TRY IT WEEKLY. Sometimes there’s no way to avoid wolfing down onion rings in your cubicle. But if you set aside one sit-down meal a week as an experiment in mindfulness, the insights may influence everything else you do.

4. PLANT A GARDEN, AND COOK. Anything that reconnects you with the process of creating food will magnify your mindfulness.

5. CHEW PATIENTLY. It’s not easy, but try to slow down, aiming for 25 to 30 chews for each mouthful.

6. USE FLOWERS AND CANDLES. Put them on the table before dinner. Rituals that create a serene environment help foster what one advocate calls “that moment of gratitude.”

7. FIND A BUDDHIST CONGREGATION where the members invite people in for a day of mindfulness.

From the New York Times article, Mindful Eating as Food for Thought, Feb 7, 2012.

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Loving Touch: An extract from “How to Train a Wild Elephant”

elephantThe following extract from Jan Chozen Bays’ How to Train a Wild Elephant is reproduced with the permission of the publisher, Shambhala Publications, Inc.

The Exercise: Use loving hands and a loving touch, even with inanimate objects.

REMINDING YOURSELF

Put something unusual on a finger of your dominant hand. Some possibilities include a different ring, a Band-aid, a dot of nail polish on one nail, or a small mark made with a colored pen. Each time you notice the marker, remember to use loving hands, loving touch.

DISCOVERIES

When we do this practice, we soon become aware of when we or others are not using loving hands. We notice how groceries are thrown into the shopping cart, luggage is hurled onto a conveyor belt at the airport, and silverware is tossed into a bin.

Title: How to Train a Wild Elephant
Author: Jan Chozen Bays
Publisher: Shambhala
ISBN: 978-1590308172
Available from: Shambhala, Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

We hear metal bowls singing out when stacked carelessly and doors slamming when we rush.
a particular dilemma arose at our monastery for people who were weeding the garden. how can we practice loving hands when we are pulling a living plant out of the ground by its roots? Can we keep our heart open to it, placing it in the compost with a prayer that its life (and ours) will benefit others?

As a medical student, I worked with a number of surgeons who were known for their “surgical temperament.” If any difficulty arose during an operation, they would act like two-year-olds, throwing expensive instruments and cursing at nurses. I noticed that one surgeon was different. he remained calm under stress, but more importantly, he handled the tissue of each unconscious patient as if it were precious. I resolved that if I needed surgery, I would insist he do it.

As we do this practice, mindfulness of loving touch expands to include awareness not just of how we touch things, but awareness also of how we are touched. This includes not just how we are touched by human hands, but also how we are touched by our clothing, the wind, the food and drink in our mouth, the floor under our feet, and many other things.
We know how to use loving hands and touch. We touch babies, faithful dogs, crying children, and lovers with tenderness and care. Why don’t we use loving touch all the time? This is the essential question of mindfulness. Why can’t I live like this all the time? Once we discover how much richer our life is when we are more present, why do we fall back into our old habits and space out?

DEEPER LESSONS

We are being touched all the time, but we are largely unaware of it. Touch usually only enters our awareness when it is uncomfortable (a rock in my sandal) or associated with intense desire (when she or he kisses me for the first time). When we begin to open our awareness to all the touch sensations, both inside and outside of our bodies, we might feel frightened. It can be overwhelming.

Ordinarily we are more aware of using loving touch with people than with objects. however, when we are in a hurry or upset with someone, we turn him or her into an object. We rush out of the house without saying good-bye to someone we love, we ignore a coworker’s greeting because of a disagreement the day before.This is how other people become objectified, a nuisance, an obstacle, and ultimately, an enemy.

In Japan objects are often personified. Many things are honored and treated with loving care, things we would consider inanimate and therefore not deserving of respect, let alone love. Money is handed to cashiers with two hands, tea whisks are given personal names, broken sewing needles are given a funeral and laid to rest in a soft block of tofu, the honorific “o-” is attached to mundane things such as water (o-kane), water (o-mizu), tea (o-cha), and even chopsticks (o-hashi). This may come from the Shinto tradition of honoring the kami or spirits that reside in waterfalls, large trees, and mountains. If water, wood, and stone are seen as holy, then all things that arise from them are also holy.

My Zen teachers taught me, through example, how to handle all things as if they were alive. Zen master Maezumi Roshi opened envelopes, even junk mail, using a letter opener in order to make a clean cut, and removed the contents with careful attention. he became upset when people used their feet to drag meditation cushions around the floor or banged their plates down on the table. “I can feel it in my body,” he once said. While most modern priests use clothes hangers, Zen master harada Roshi takes time to fold his monk’s robes each night, and to “press” them under his mattress or suitcase. his everyday robe is always crisp. There are robes hundreds of years old in his care. he treats each robe as the robe of the Buddha.

Can we imagine the touch-awareness of enlightened beings? how sensitive and how wide might their field of awareness be? Jesus became immediately aware of when a sick woman had touched the hem of his garment and had been healed.

Final Words: “When you handle rice, water, or anything else, have the affectionate and caring concern of a parent raising a child.” —Zen master Dogen

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How to Train a Wild Elephant, by Jan Chozen Bays

elephantI remember that “wow” moment when I first read Thich Nhat Hanh’s now-classic The Miracle of Mindfulness, in which he outlines, very simply and with a sense of authenticity, powerful and effective methods of bringing mindfulness practice into daily life, such as washing the dishes as if they were sacred objects, and eating mindfully.

That “wow,” was uttered repeatedly, in with an even greater degree or reverence and appreciation, while I was reading How to Train a Wild Elephant, which is a worthy successor to Thich Nhat Hanh’s earlier work, taking the teaching of mindfulness practice to a new level.

I had heard of Jan Chozen Bays, mainly in the context of quotations floating around on Facebook and Twitter, but I wasn’t very aware of her as an author. That turns out not to be surprising since she hasn’t published many books: one on mindful eating and two works on the topic — obscure to many westerners — of Jizo, the Japanese Bodhisattva of children. Having read the book currently under review, I’m strongly tempted to seek out all of her previous work, for Chozen is an skilled writer and a consummate teacher.

Title: How to Train a Wild Elephant
Author: Jan Chozen Bays
Publisher: Shambhala
ISBN: 978-1590308172
Available from: Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

Chozen is a Zen master in the White Plum lineage of the late Maezumi Roshi. She is also a pediatrician who specializes in the evaluation of children for abuse and neglect. She is a wife, mother and grandmother. Along with her husband, Hogen Bays, she serves as an abbot and teacher at Great Vow Zen Monastery in Oregon. How to Train a Wild Elephant is rooted in twenty years of collective practice at the monastery, and this intense, prolonged, and repeated exploration of mindfulness is what gives the book its depth.

The book contains 53 exercises (one for each week of the year and one for luck?) in mindfulness, each of which has been practiced at Great Vow repeatedly, for a week at a time, year after year. The depth of this exploration shows both in the nature of the exercises themselves, and in the reflections that Chozen brings to them. Each exercise — which Chozen says we can regard as “seeds” that can be planted in the many nooks and corners of our life in order to “grow mindfulness” — has several sections. First there is a simple description of the task, in just a few sentences or paragraphs. The tasks might involve using your non-dominant hand (exercise 1) or seeing the color blue (exercise 21), or looking deeply into food (exercise 47).

The description is followed by a section called “Reminding Yourself,” which shows how we can use notes, images, or other supportive practices in order to help remind us of the mindfulness exercise we’ve committed to doing. After all, one of the most challenging tasks in developing mindfulness is remembering to be mindful! As Chozen says, “This is the essential question of mindfulness. Why can’t I live like this all the time?” Indeed.

The next section, “Discoveries,” includes observations, insights, and common challenges of following that task — drawn both from Chozen’s own experience and from the reports of her students. It’s particularly useful to hear of people’s resistances in order to learn that you’re not alone, and to learn that these resistances can be overcome. The “Discoveries” section also frequently alludes to scientific research on the topic at hand. It’s fascinating to learn, in the section “Smile” (exercise 52), for example, that “people who smile in a wholehearted way live, on average, seven years longer than people who do not have a habit of smiling.” (A minor nit-pick: I would have loved references for these kinds of statements).

Each exercise has a “Deeper Lessons” section that explores the “themes and larger life lessons” connected to it. These are often breathtakingly profound. Here, for example, is part of the reflection from “Loving Eyes” (exercise 14):

Seeing with loving eyes is not a one-way experience, nor is it just a visual experience. When we touch something with loving eyes, we bring a certain warmth from our side, but we may also be surprised to feel warmth radiating back to us. We begin to wonder, is everything in the world made of love? And have I been blocking that out? [Emphasis added]

Or from “Notice Trees” (exercise 18):

Whenever I am working on a tangled mind-problem, I go into the woods and sit down, leaning up against a tree. I merge my awareness with the awareness of the tree, stretching my imagination from the ends of the roots deep in the damp earth to the tips of the topmost leaves blowing about in the breeze.Then I ask for the tree’s perspective on my dilemma. It always helps.

Or from “Entering New Spaces” (exercise 17):

As we walk toward a door, our mind moves ahead to the future, toward what we will be encountering and doing on the other side. This mind movement is not obvious. It takes careful watching. It makes us go unconscious, just briefly, of what we are doing in the present. The unconscious or semiconscious mind, however, is able to steer us through the movements of opening the door and making our way safely through.

Finally, each exercise concludes with a few “Final Words,” which are pithy reminders that drive home the import of the exercise. Sometimes these are hilarious, as in this Suzuki Roshi quote that sums up an exercise on mindful speech: “I think you’re all enlightened until you open your mouths.” Often they are simple slogans that could be borne in mind as teachings: “Don’t be annoyed when you have time to wait; rejoice in extra time to practice being present.”

“How to Train a Wild Elephant” is a rich resource for anyone interested in practicing mindfulness in daily life. The exercises, although they are rooted in monastic practices, are skillfully related to the activities of ordinary life; remember that Chozen, as well as being an abbess, is a pediatrician and a mother (and anyway, let me tell you from experience that running a monastery — or in my case a retreat center — is no easy task). You’ll learn how to be more mindful in the supermarket, in the car, and while working in an office.

I have minor reservations that focus on some of the language used in the introduction. Chozen, in her prefatory essay on mindfulness, uses phrases such as “the eternal presence we call the Divine,” or “we are looking for the Divine in all appearances.” In the exercises themselves (which constitute the vast bulk of the book) this language is rare and cast in terms of being the language of other traditions (“This is called our Buddha Nature; in other religions [emphasis added] it is called our divine nature,” for example). It’s puzzling why Chozen opted to use this terminology so frequently in the introduction, especially since she never says there what she actually means by it. There are similar expressions as well that I didn’t understand: “Great Presence” for example. While I see no problem with making a nod to the language of other traditions, and thus helping non-Buddhists orient themselves in a world of perhaps unfamiliar terminology, it’s a shame to end up disorienting Buddhist readers.

This minor quibble aside (and it’s possible these questions of terminology may be changed before the book hits the shelves in July), “How to Train a Wild Elephant” is an indispensable guide for those who have been attempting to practice mindfulness in daily life and who appreciate the guidance of a master in taking them deeper.

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Buddhists say you aren’t what you eat, but how

With his round cheeks and ample belly, the Buddha may rank somewhere close to sumo wrestlers on most Americans’ list of go-to sources for healthful eating tips.

But the ever-present image of a fat and happy Buddha owes more to China’s ideal of prosperity and ability to mass-produce figurines than to historical accuracy. In Japan and India, the Buddha is depicted as trim and lithe, said the Rev. Jan Chozen Bays, a Zen priest and pediatrician, and his teachings may be key to overcoming Americans’ increasingly troubled eating habits.

Bays, who goes by the Dharma name Chozen (“clear meditation”), is a student and teacher of “mindful eating,” a practice that borrows liberally from Buddhist psychology and meditation techniques.

For calorie-counting Americans, mindful eating preaches an alert, moment-by-moment focus on emotions, food and fullness. Buddhism teaches that “right mindfulness” is a step on the path to nirvana; in mindful eating, it could be a step toward a smaller waistline, especially for people struggling to keep those New Year’s resolutions to shed a few pounds.

Bay says hunger is only one of several reasons people eat.

Read the rest of this article…

Frustration, sadness, irritation, boredom, anxiety, anger and insecurity are all additional — if somewhat hidden — spurs to snacking.

“There’s no guarantee that mindful eating will help you lose weight,” said Bays, author of the 2009 book Mindful Eating. “But it will help you enter a balanced, helpful relationship with food again.”

Aside from the Buddha, mindful eating also draws lessons and inspiration from Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program, which introduced the masses to a secularized form of meditation in 1979. Since then, studies have shown the positive effects of mindfulness meditation on everything from substance abuse to psoriasis, and hundreds of hospitals have established mindfulness clinics.

Dr. Jean Kristeller, a psychologist and director of the Center for the Study of Health, Religion, and Spirituality at Indiana State University, has studied meditation for 30 years. As co-founder of the Center for Mindful Eating, Kristeller has also received two grants from the National Institutes of Health to study the effects of mindful eating. Though the studies’ results have not yet been published, Kristeller said she has seen firsthand that mindful eating works.

Some, but not all, proponents of mindful eating are Buddhists, said Dr. Brian Shelley, who developed a mindful-eating program at the University of New Mexico. And though advocates are open about the Buddhist roots of mindfulness, they are not out to gain converts.

“It’s more like a cognitive therapy than a spiritual practice,” said Shelley, who meditates and studies the Buddha’s teachings but does not consider himself a Buddhist. “We are very clear that this is not a course in Buddhism or spirituality.”

Many nutritionists — including mindful-eating teachers — now think the problem with American diets is not only the food we eat — it’s also how we consume it.

The Buddha told monks to take meals silently, with no books or conversations to distract them, only an awareness of what their body needs to get through the day. When they felt full, they stopped eating, even if that meant leaving food in the bowl, Bays said.

Studies have shown that people tend to eat more when they are given larger portions and are distracted.

Bays begins mindful-eating retreats with a single raisin, asking practitioners to consider how hungry they are on a scale of one to 10 while they investigate the color, texture and taste of the raisin. The goal, she said, is to replace thinking with awareness.

“In Christian terms, it’s called communion,” Bays said, “coming into union with everything happening at that moment.”

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