Mindful eating is very pleasant. We sit beautifully. We are aware of the people that are sitting around us. We are aware of the food on our plates. This is a deep practice.
Each morsel of food is an ambassador from the cosmos. When we pick up a piece of a vegetable, we look at it for half a second. We look mindfully to really recognize the piece of food, the piece of carrot or string bean. We should know that this is a piece of carrot or a string bean. We identify it with our mindfulness: "I know this is a piece of carrot. This is a piece of string bean." It only takes a fraction of a second.
When we are mindful, we recognize what we are picking up. When we put it into our mouth, we know what we are putting into our mouth. When we chew it, we know what we are chewing. It's very simple.
Some of us, while looking at a piece of carrot, can see the whole cosmos in it, can see the sunshine in it, can see the earth in it. It has come from the whole cosmos for our nourishment. You may like to smile to it before you put it in your mouth. When you chew it, you are aware that you are chewing a piece of carrot.
Don't put anything else into your mouth, like your projects, your worries, your fear, just put the carrot in. And when you chew, chew only the carrot, not your projects or your ideas. You are capable of living in the present moment, in the here and the now. It is simple, but you need some training to just enjoy the piece of carrot. This is a miracle.
I often teach "orange meditation" to my students. We spend time sitting together, each enjoying an orange. Placing the orange on the palm of our hand, we look at it while breathing in and out, so that the orange becomes a reality. If we are not here, totally present, the orange isn't here either. There are some people who eat an orange but don't really eat it. They eat their sorrow, fear, anger, past, and future. They are not really present, with body and mind united.
When you practice mindful breathing, you become truly present. If you are here, life is also here. The orange is the ambassador of life. When you look at the orange, you discover that it is nothing less than a miracle. Visualize the orange as a blossom, the sunshine and rain passing through it, then the tiny green fruit growing, turning yellow, becoming orange, the acid becoming sugar. The orange tree took time to create this masterpiece.
When you are truly here, contemplating the orange, breathing and smiling, the orange becomes a miracle. It is enough to bring you a lot of happiness. You peel the orange, smell it, take a section, and put it in your mouth mindfully, fully aware of the juice on your tongue. This is eating an orange in mindfulness. It makes the miracle of life possible. It makes joy possible.
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The other miracle is the Sangha, the community in which everyone is practicing in the same way. The woman sitting next to me is also practicing mindfulness while eating her breakfast. How wonderful! She is touching the food with mindfulness. She is enjoying every morsel of her breakfast, like me. We are brother and sister on the path of practice.
From time to time we look at each other and smile. It is the smile of awareness. It proves that we are happy, that we are alive. It is not a diplomatic smile. It is a smile born from the ground of enlightenment, of happiness. That smile has the power to heal. It can heal you and your friend. When you smile like that, the woman next to you will smile back. Before that, maybe her smile was not completely ripe. It was ninety percent ripe.
If you offer her your mindful smile, you will give her the energy to smile one hundred percent. When she is smiling, healing begins to take place in her. You are very important for her transformation and healing. That is why the presence of brothers and sisters in the practice is so important.
This is also why we don't talk during breakfast. If we talk about the weather or the political situation in the Middle East, we can never say enough. We need the silence to enjoy our own presence and the presence of our Dharma brothers and sisters. This kind of silence is very alive, powerful, nourishing, and transforming. It is not oppressive or sad. Together we can create this kind of noble silence. Sometimes it is described as "thundering silence" because it is so powerful.
Mindful Walking, No Matter How Short the Distance
I would like to speak a little now about walking. When you move from one place to another, please practice mindful walking, no matter how short the distance.
Perhaps you have used a seal before. When you stamp a seal onto a piece of paper, you make sure that the whole seal prints on the paper, so that when you remove the seal, the image is perfect. When we practice walking, we do the same thing. Every step we take is like placing a seal on the ground. Mindfulness is the ink. We print our solidity and peace on the ground.
In our daily lives, we don't usually walk like that. We print our hurry, worry, depression, and anger on the ground. But here, together, we print our solidity, peace, and freedom on the ground. You know whether you succeed or not with each step. Bring all of your mindfulness to the soles of your feet and walk. Enjoy every step you take. Allow plenty of time to walk. Every step can be healing and transforming. Every step can help you cultivate more solidity, joy, and freedom.
We have only one style of walking in Plum Village: mindful walking. Whether we are having a retreat or not, everyone always walks the same way. That is why when our friends come to Plum Village, they naturally join in the practice and are supported by everyone else in their walking meditation.
Walking meditation is a wonderful way to learn how to live deeply each moment of our daily life. You will be surprised to find out that, when you return home, it is possible to implement this practice in the busy city. There are ways to put into practice what we learn during a retreat. When we leave Plum Village and go to the airport or the train station, we practice the same way. Everywhere is Plum Village. When I board an airplane, I walk in exactly the same way, printing peace and joy with every step.
Fifteen years ago, I led a mindfulness retreat in a center called Cosmos House in Amsterdam, where people practiced Tai Chi, Yoga, Zen, and so on. Our meditation room was on the top floor, and the staircase was quite narrow, especially up to the third and fourth floors. But I have only one style of walking. I cannot walk otherwise. My students and I blocked the stairs for hundreds of people behind us. On the third day of the retreat, everyone in Cosmos House had learned to walk like us.
I also remember when I marched for nuclear disarmament in New York City in 1982. There were a million Americans walking together that day. We were a group of thirty people. A Zen teacher, Richard Baker-roshi, asked me to join the march, and I said, "Will I be allowed to walk peacefully in the peace walk?" He said, "Yes, of course." So I joined, and our group walked mindfully, and we blocked more than two hundred thousand people behind us. Strangely enough, people accepted that, and they slowed down. Then the peace walk became more peaceful.
Please enjoy every step you take. Every mindful step is not only for your sake, but for the sake of the whole world. When you take a peaceful step, all of your ancestors in you take that step at the same time. You also walk for your children, whether they are born or unborn. Do not underestimate the strength, the value, of one step taken in mindfulness. One mindful step can produce healing and transformation for many generations. I promise to do my best. Peace is every step. All of us can do it. By the third or fourth day, you will have seen the difference.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Parallax Press, Berkeley, California.
The Path of Emancipation: Talks from a 21-Day Mindfulness Retreat
by Thich Nhat Hanh.
In The Path of Emancipation, Thich Nhat Hanh translates the Buddhist tradition into everyday life and makes it relevant and transforming for us all. Studying in-depth the Discourse on the Full Awareness of Breathing, he teaches how mindfulness can help us reduce stress, and live simply, confidently, and happily while dwelling in the present moment.The Path of Emancipation transcribes Thich Nhat Hanh's first twenty-one day retreat in North America in 1998, when more than four hundred practitioners from around the world joined him to experience mindfulness. This book deliberately preserves the tone and style of a retreat, including soundings of the bell, meditation breaks, and the question-and-answer sessions. This not only provides a genuine feeling of a retreat for those who have not had the chance to participate in one, but it also preserves this wonderful practice time for those who have attended.
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About the Author
Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, poet, and tireless worker for peace. Since the early 1980s, he has come to North America regularly to lecture and give retreats on the art of mindful living. He leads a meditation community, Plum Village, in southwestern France. He is author of more than 100 books in English. For more info., visit https://plumvillage.org/