If you’re in the US this Thursday and fortunate enough to have the opportunity, chances are you’ll sit down to one of the biggest meals you’ve had all year. Of course, in addition to food, Thanksgiving is about gratitude – a helpful reminder for those of us who tend to ignore the good in our lives in favor of worrying, complaining, regretting and wallowing in self-pity.
Here’s an idea: Try practicing mindfulness, starting with how you attack your Thanksgiving dinner.
I was once guided through a mindfulness exercise that changed how I eat. When I have a chance to express gratitude before a Thanksgiving meal, I like to propose this experience to my fellow diners. They say they appreciate it. The exercise takes a good amount of self-control, and let’s be honest – we could all do with a little more of that.
Here’s how it works: Once you’ve sat down and put food on your plate, simply …
- Look. Study your plate like you’ve never seen food before. What are the shapes, colors and textures?
- Smell. Lean down and breathe in each food’s aroma. You can’t be rude if you’re being mindful.
- Look & smell again. Take a forkful of one food – maybe the turkey (or tofurky, if you’re not a carnivore). Look at it up close. Bring it up to your nose, close your eyes and inhale deeply. What sensations does this create?
- Taste. Touch the food to the tip of your tongue and enjoy the first taste. Is it what you expected? Probably not exactly, since those are funny taste buds.
- Feel. Put that first bite into your mouth, and let it sit there a moment before chewing. Your mouth will water like crazy.
- Savor. Chew it very, very slowly, taking your time to observe everything this bite has to offer. When it’s just about to turn to mush, go to the next step.
- Enjoy. Swallow, paying attention to the feeling as it makes its way toward your stomach. Before you even think about the next bite, ponder how this bite will nourish you.
- Repeat. If you really want the full experience, follow these steps with the first bite of each dish on your plate. (Note: This will take some time. It’s much more fun if everyone is doing it and comparing notes. Otherwise you get left behind and might not get seconds. But then again, maybe you’ll be so satisfied you won’t want more.)
- Dig in. Obviously it would be silly to try to eat your entire dinner this way. So once you’ve mindfully appreciated what you have on your plate, go ahead and gobble gobble to your heart’s content. You might notice that you’re not snarfing. You could even find yourself stopping between pleasantly-full and miserably-stuffed for a change. There could be more leftovers that will be even tastier on Friday.
Mindfulness isn’t a virtue or a character trait. It’s a way of being and a skill most of us need to learn and continually practice. Among its many benefits are the ability to make better choices and to replace negative feelings (see my post about guilt) with positive ones.
I’ll have more on mindfulness in future blogs. For now, just give this a try. I promise you a bit of enlightenment. Let us know how it goes.